School starts in Worthington on Monday! That means that all across Worthington elementary students and parents have been examining class lists with a fine tooth comb to determine which students were grouped with which teacher, and how many students are in a class. Inevitably this creates questions regarding the number of students in each class. Sometimes it’s the teacher who is asking the questions!
Mr. George Joseph in our district office manages student enrollment and sectioning of classes. It is an ever changing landscape and George manages it expertly. At the elementary level determining how many students to put in a class is both very easy, and very difficult. We have BOE guidelines IHB-R for class size averages and those guide our thought process. But in the simplest form the number of students in a grade level is divided by the number of teachers and classrooms available in that grade level at that particular school. If there are 75 first grade students and there are 3 teachers and 3 classrooms available, there will be 25 students in each class. If there is an empty classroom in the school a decision needs to be made. Should we add a first grade teacher and reduce the class size to 19 per class, or should those resources go somewhere else with greater need?
In Worthington you often will see disparities between the class sizes by building. This is a function of having K-6 elementary schools and small groups of students at each grade level. When there are only three teachers per grade level at each school the students don’t often come in neat packages that divide easily. If we had larger elementary schools, or leveled schools (K-3, 4-6), you would have 6 or 7 teachers per grade level and class sizes more easily equalized. For example Bluffsview and Evening Street have 6th grade classes that average 29.5 and 22.7. If they were combined and not in separate schools the average class size would be 25.4. However, in Worthington we value our K-6 elementary schools and the strong connection and community they provide. Unfortunately a bi-product of this system is inequities in class size. Sometimes your group is the low group, sometimes the high group.
Likewise, every year we deal with grade levels at school where we do not feel we can add any more students. When this happens and a new family moves in we use a process we call “overflow.” When a student is “overflowed” they are bused to a school other than their home school where there is more space. A few years ago we were overflowing over 100 elementary students each year. Several years ago we made a decision to try to limit overflow and keep students in their home schools whenever possible. In doing this we valued keeping a family in their home school over keeping class size down or equal. Therefore where we may have overflowed students in the past when we got to number 23 or 24 in primary classrooms we are now keeping those students in their home school and going up to 26 students in a class to do so. Obviously we are prioritizing keeping kids in their home school over small class sizes.
For this year there are the usual disparities across the district. Here are the highest class size, lowest class size, and average class size for each elementary grade level: (disclaimer: these numbers change a little every single day)
½ K 23, 15, Average 19
FDK 25, 17, Average 22
1st 26, 20, Average 23
2nd 26, 17, Average 21
3rd 26, 18, Average 22
4th 27, 20, Average 23
5th 28, 19, Average 23
6th 30, 19, Average 23
A couple more points…. The classes of 28 (5th grade) and 30 (6th grade) are both in our smallest school and therefore the divisor is only 2. If we had a classroom we could decide to take the 59 kids and put them in 3 classes of 19.6 or the 56 and put them in 3 classes of 18.6. This may or may not make sense, but in any case there is no regular classroom available for that choice to be made.
Finally, while we all feel better with a smaller class size, (as a parent I do as well) we have seen no correlations between student growth or achievement data and class size. Our students in smaller classes are not scoring higher than our students in larger classes. Therefore, when faced with the choice of lowering class size, or providing more leveled literacy intervention to students who need help, or adding an AP course at the high school, we have typically chosen one of the later options.
As we begin a new year the questions on class sizes and equity are inevitable. We may not be able to answer those questions to the satisfaction of all stakeholders, but we do commit to make certain that every Worthington student will receive an outstanding education regardless of the size of their homeroom class.