Subject: Class Size
Thank you for listening today. The state of the size of classes in the Beaverton School District today is reproachable! Over the past four years, but more rapidly since the budget cuts of last year, class size has increased dramatically. Where 35 students in a high school class once was considered large, today, 40 students are the norm, with outliers with as much as 60 students in one classroom. At the elementary level, no one would dream of teaching a 6-year-old to read in a first grade class of 30; today, many first grade teachers report upwards of 33 in a first grade class. This nonsense must end!
Class size has enormous effects on the ability of students to learn and teachers to effectively teach. Numerous studies have been released that reconfirm the value of smaller class size. For example, a 2011 study by Dynarski et al found that for “students with the lowest predicted probability of attending college, a small class increased rate of college attendance by 11 percentage points.” Another study in 2009 by Konstantopoulos and Chun revealed that, “class size reduction appears to be an intervention that increases the achievement levels for all students while simultaneously reducing the achievement gap.”
The increase in class size across the Beaverton School District has some very real effects on teachers and students every day. Teachers report anecdotally that more and more students are falling through the cracks, as they “hide” in the back of the overstuffed classroom, not actively participating in the discussion filled with the voices of countless other students strained for individual attention. Effective teaching often relies on building teacher-student and student-student relationships. These relationships create a safe space where students feel comfortable to explore new ideas and test out new skills. However, as class sizes grow, these relationships become harder to create and maintain. For example, it becomes physically impossible for each student to speak in class. In class of 40, if each student spent 3 minutes speaking, the entire 90-minute period would have elapsed. So, of course, teachers use pair-share and small group discussions. But of course, this also poses new challenges. Now, when dividing student into groups of 3-5, there must be about 10 different groups in each class. Group presentations of projects now spill into two 90-minute periods, further delaying progress in the curriculum.
The dramatic increase in class size directly affects teacher workload, even as teachers are paid less because of budget-reduction days. A high school history class where one teacher has 5 sections of 40 students equates to 200 total students on the teacher’s caseload, not including study hall or advisory. When that teacher assigns an essay, it takes approximately 10 minutes to grade each essay with the proficiency rubric and make comments. That means 2000 minutes of grading, or about 33 hours of work, outside of the school day which is spent meeting with students and teachers, planning, and preparing. A teacher quickly learns that one can only reasonably get through about 5-6 hours of nonstop grading before going braindead. 33 hours means about 5 sittings of 5-6 hours to grade just one set of papers. At the earliest, students may expect to receive their papers back in three-weeks time, if the teacher has no family obligations. But even three weeks is far too long for students to learn from the feedback on the essay. Plus, the teacher cannot assign more assessments during that time to add to the piles of grading. Many teachers in the district report assigning less work, fewer big assessments, no longer grading individual formative assessment, and giving verbal feedback to the whole class about trends rather than individual comments. Students can no longer expect to receive personal feedback during the learning process, which makes all the assessments high stakes. This increase in class size has not created positive methods of learning for our students.
I would encourage the board to ask the district to pull the statistics of the number of 9th graders with one or more Fs after the semester closes at the end of January. In 2007, Allensworth and Easton, of the University of Chicago found that a 9th grader with just 2 Fs freshman year has only a 55% likelihood of graduating from high school in four years.
Returning teachers to the classroom and reducing class size can mitigate this grave concern. We all recognize that the budget had to be cut, but the dramatic increase in class size because of the loss of classroom teachers is the outcome of the choices that you, the school board, have determined by valuing other programs over classroom teachers. Please consider the implications of this testimony as you make choices about cuts to teachers this coming year.