Smaller class sizes benefit both teachers and students

October 11, 2016 — by Michael Zhang

As the saying goes, “The more the merrier.” However, this phrase doesn’t apply to the number of students in a classroom. Although large classes do have some benefits, a stricter limit for class sizes is the ideal.

The average class size in Saratoga High this year is 29, compared to 27 from the 2015-16 school year according to assistant principal Brian Safine. Although the influx may not seem significant, some classes feel — and are — much larger. For instance, teacher Richard Ellis’s seventh-period sports P.E. class now contains nearly 80 students, which led to the school hiring an assistant to help him with the huge group.

But even the addition of a handful of students forces teachers to clock in more hours grading assignments and tests.

For instance, English teacher Amy Keys said she takes at least 20 minutes to grade an essay. If each of her five classes added three more students, she would have to spend a minimum of five extra hours grading one essay assignment.

The hours quickly accumulate, resulting in overwhelming workloads. In larger classes, students sometimes receive delayed feedback and less one-on-one attention from teachers, leaving struggling students with unanswered questions.

Large classes can lead to a shortage of materials as well. In many math classes, textbooks have to be shared between two or three students. Also, a lack of space can be a problem, especially in science classes, when students are forced to stand on chairs or tables just to see a teacher’s demonstration.

Beyond just Saratoga High, schools across the country have also experienced the effects of large class sizes. Perhaps most importantly, students in smaller classroom settings tend to score better on standardized tests. For example, the Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) experiment done in Tennessee has concluded that smaller class sizes directly correlate to higher test scores. This experiment also revealed that a high teacher-to-student ratio especially benefits those who need help most: students from low-income families.

However, larger class sizes may benefit some subjects. An extreme example is band, where large groups can result in bigger, more impressive performances and sound. Physical education classes can also be slightly larger, since the lessons are rather straightforward and do not elicit many questions.

While the optimal teacher-to-student ratio is still widely debated among experts, there is no threshold that has to be reached before class size reduction provides benefits. Whether a group of 40 is reduced to 20 or a group of 30 is reduced to 27 does not matter: Both scenarios increase the probability that students will engage more in learning,.

Rather than campaigning for a drastic, unrealistic change, though, educational leaders should recognize that every step toward a smaller classroom, no matter how small, is still a step in the right direction.

The average class size at Saratoga High has increased by two from the past school year. But if each classroom were two students smaller, there would be appreciable benefits for both teachers and students.