Educational Significance Of Class Size Differences Education Essay

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Everyone concerned about student education has questioned; how many pupils should be in the class and if there are any benefits of small classes? However, one of the most commonly asked questions that have been investigated and debated for several decades;'' Do small classes make a disparity/ difference in the academic achievement of students?''. Many researchers and educators constantly still ask and investigate this question. Opinions fluctuate from groups to others, those academic and policy makers argue that class size reduction is not very effective to those who argue that it should be a basis of educational policy.

The debate has sparked and continued for many years and has motivated supporter and opponents divisions. Some devotees believe and argue the number of students in the class has an impact on student's achievements and how much is taught and learned, in other word, the smaller the class size, the more attention can be given to individuals. Furthermore, it affects the level of student's engagement and the way they interact with each other, in a different ways it could affect how much time the teacher is able to focus on individual students and their specific requirements rather than on the group. It could also affect the kinds of activities the teacher is able to complete and in turn lead to efficient learning and better teaching; this was consistent with some earlier research (Cooper, 1989, Achilles 1999), and teacher's view (Bennett. 1996, Achilles, et el 1992). On the other side of the debate, are the opponents who argue that studies of the class size effects found little difference between large and small classes on student achievements; moreover, class size reduction is not very effective on the educational practice. Furthermore, they dispute that, the effectiveness of class size reductions is uncertain, costs too much and produce minimum results.

Parents and teachers have long believed in the benefits of small classes, parents are eager supporters of small class, they looking for the best conditions for their children. The other supporters are teachers for whom class sizes are a workload and considered as a factor that affect student learning. This point of view was argued by David Carter (2000) the head of the 'National Remolding Team' who claimed that large class size comprising up to eighty students could actually lead to improved standard. However, most of debates and researches on class size have been about relations between class sizes and academic consequence and has not much to say about classroom processes that might clarify the effect, which would be found.

In several countries over the world, the debate was over the educational significance of class size differences, whilst in the UK the debate has been more about the negative effects of large classes (Blatchford, et el 2008). The OECD (Organization for Economic CO- Operation and Development) report has revealed that pupil-teacher and class sizes ratios in the UK are still among the highest ratio in terms of comparison with many other countries (OECD, 2002). The educational policy in the UK and other countries has put emphasis on the initiation to reduce class sizes. The policies obtained (to a great extent) from research reviews and recent research that have established reasonable learning gains from reductions of class size (Goldstein 2000). However, recently, the policy context in the UK has changed for an attention in class size difference. At the age 5 -7 years, the government introduced a maximum of 30 pupils to a class (Blatchford, et el, 2004)


Throughout the previous years, there have been many comprehensive and well-balanced research reviews with ample attempts to explore other research findings considering class size reduction. A number of these studies show class size reduction is a flushed glows whilst others, make the point that class size reduction is not a magic solution, that its effects are reliant upon local conditions. Therefore, there have been uncertain and inconsistent findings related to researches on class size. Some studies findings have supported smaller class size while other have not and little studies compare one intervention with another. Many of the research in this area were focused on the primary education and conducted in the USA, rather than the UK.

There is a wealth number of comprehensive reviews and studies of the relative value of smaller classes on student's achievement in elementary schools. Prior to 1950, literatures on class size were analyzed in Howard Black's 1954 inquiry. Black choose eighty five reports of researches on secondary and elementary school students, of these studies, 18 concluded that large classes were better, while 35 concluded that small classes were better and 32 did not support either conclusion (Black, 1954). Black further analyzed these studies; he established minimum requirements to assess their scientific competence, for instances; adequacy of the sample, adequacy of criterion variable measurement, adequacy of size of the independent variable, thoroughness of data examined and the suitability of the conclusions. It was found that, only 22 of the 85 earlier studies met these minimum requirements. Of the 22, only 16 were in favors of small classes, 3 in favors of large classes, and three were uncertain. Since 1950, researches dealt with class sizes increased proportionately, and over two hundreds and fifty studies dealt with class size by 1950, but not all the questions about the effect of small class size have been answered, nor have all the debates been resolved. Yet a small number of studies have proposed reliable or satisfactory results about the educational advantages of small class sizes (STAR 1996-1997).

The most widely cited results about the effects of class size on the early grade, were provided by Project STAR (Student Teacher Achievement Ratio). The project was conducted in 80 Tennessee schools In the US in the midis of 1980s in 3 phases. Seven thousands students (from kinder- garden to k3) were selected and randomly placed in small and large classes. Students' tests scores in math, readings and writing were measured and recorded. It was found that in small classes (13-17) students performed better than students in regular (22-25), large classes, and regular classes with a full-time teacher aide. On re-analyzing of STAR project (Ding and Lehrer 2004), it was found that, the benefits from attending a smaller class in either kindergarten or grade one in all subject areas students in STAR project had vanished by the time they finished grade 2 and 3 whether the students had been in small or regular classes.

The results of STAR Project were a very rich field for argument. However, there were arguments about the results of the STAR project; some were related with the design and implementation, whilst others were related to different process of data evaluation. Hanushek (1998) argued that, not only the scientific support for reduced class sizes is feeble but also not existents. Additionally, Hoxby (2000) concluded that, there was no significant improvement in test outcomes from reduction in the class sizes. Glass and Smith (1979) conducted extensive reviews of the literature of the effects of class size on student achievement using meta-analysis. They concluded that the optimum class size is less than 15 and it is most effective for children under 12 years. However, their findings drew plans for future research about class size and for the development of class size reduction's programs later on. Many studies' comments were followed, these comments agreed that most reported studies were deficient, either because sampling inadequacies or they were ineffective to regulate the key factors, such as previous achievement in entirely cross sectional observational studies (Goldstein and Blatchford 1998, Blatchford et al., 1998). Moreover, Hanushek, kain and Rivikin (1998) concluded that class size variation can explain an extremely small part if the variation in student achievement and that variation in teachers quality are greatly significant. Studies of the class size effects found little difference between large and small classes on student achievements.

A number of comprehensive potential factors that link class size to student achievement have been set out, for instances, more instructional time, greater knowledge of students, and greater student engagement. (Anderson 2000). Some suggested that for class size reduction to be efficient, teachers must amend their practice (Hopkins, 1998, Finn, 2002). For my own part, I would suggest that class size reduction is not enough on its own to yield an achievement gain. Definitely, there are many other important factors such as, supplying the teacher with the proper curriculum, tools to teach and the teaching quality. Generally, it is currently appreciated that, it is needed to alter attention to better understanding of the classroom performance that might be related to class size differences (Grissmer, 1999; Anderson, 2000; Finn, Pannozzo & Achilles, 2003).

Rise in student's achievement in smaller class might be correlated to classroom practice circumstances such as, classroom instruction and teacher allocation time in the class. Smaller classes may allow more contact with the students and more interaction to occur, permit more activities and allow for more teaching time. Additionally, it reduces teachers' discipline load and other non-instructional responsibilities. However, Barr & Dreeben, (1983) concluded that the class size effects on student's achievement are most liable to occur if class size linkage to instruction is manifested t in two ways. Firstly, class size would be the indirect cause if the teachers change what to do and teach differently and these changes were more useful for students for instances; more exchange of ideas, more support and more assessment. Secondly, some practices may work better in smaller classes even though; teachers do not modify instructional practices; for instances, reducing grouping in the class will allow for better students' attention and more content covered.


There were some difficulties with the conduction of experimental study; the alternative approach was to set up a theoretical study in order to investigate a suitable number of the full range of class sizes previous researches, which statistically justify if there are any effects of class size on student achievements.

Design and Data

The main indispensable questions about effect of class size upon student's achievements had received plenty of interest in researches. In deed, conducting empirical studies in which students were randomly assigned to a range of different sizes of classes and followed over time on a number of outcome measures, was the best way to determine this fundamental relationship. This study explores and analyzes two of large scales well-controlled and well-designed studies, these two studies raised broad suggestion that might be important to think about class size reduction in light of the other. Data were collected from teachers and / or students about their own be­havior in both Blatchford and STAR project.

What does class size mean?

Some researcher in their studies about class size focused on number of students working with a teacher in the class, while other researchers concerned with the ratio of the number of students in a school compared to the number of adults; i.e. pupil to - adult ratio. Indeed class sizes refer to the actual number of pupils taught by a teacher at a particular time and not considered the same thing as the pupil/teacher ratio. The variation between the two fluctuate, depend on the amount of time that teachers spend in the classroom during the school day and their roles, thus pupil/teacher ratio is always lower than the average class size. (Ronald. et el 2001). I would believe that the classroom instruction time is not only time that teacher spent in the class but it should also include time spent out side the class by either the teacher on planning or parents and students on home work. But the question is, whether achieve­ment gains depends completely on it own or another variable, moreover rises in achievement happens with more years in small classes throughout the school years? Ferguson & Ladd (1996) established that, effects of class size are not linear across class sizes from twelve to thirty, as well as this effects depend on other variables, for instances, grade, teacher character, instruction time…etc...

The other well-controlled and well-designed research was a comprehensive study for the first time in the UK (Blatchford, et el 2002 - 2003). The project was funded by the DCSF (was DfES), Local Authorities and the (CSPAR) project ''Institute of Education Class Size and Pupil Adult Ratios''

The study was conducted into two stages; the first stage of the study investigated the effect of class size from the age (4 and 5 years) of school entry in the reception year and through Key Stage 1 (5 -7 years). The second section of the study extended to an investigation of 7-11 years, (Key Stage 2) to explore the effect of class size and pupil/adult ratios on pupils' academic achievement and on classroom processes such as (pupil attention teaching, classroom behavior). The research was conducted on a random sample of 11,386 students, it used sophisticated multi level statistical techniques, and multi method approach to data on classroom processes such as (children's behavior and teaching interactions and in the class), demographic variables were recorded along with class size, and tests score. It also built on measures and hypothesis developed in earlier research.


In term of the first phase of the project, students of all achievement levels in small classes gained 10 percentile points in math test higher their equivalents in large classes. On reading tests, students in small classes achieved up to 14 percentile points compared to the other students in large classes, while the low achievement students had the higher results. There was some interruption effect for students when they moved into different class size class (from Reception to Year 1), especially when they moved to bigger classes, this effect was exaggerated. The suggestion was, it is advisable to maintain stability (in small classes) from the Reception year to the future classes.

The second phase of the study investigated the class size effects on student's achievements and classroom processes (as teacher / student behavior and within groupings in the class) through Years 4- 6 in English schools. The results were obtained from a large-scale study of class size and pupil adult ratio differences that followed up students throughout Key Stage 2.

The study had not demonstrated any further progress for pupils in smaller class in either mathematics, or literacy in Y4 or Y5. Additionally, there was not any evidence of class size effects on progress in science and math in year 6. Nevertheless, students in Y6in larger classes achieved more progress in literacy than their counterpart in smaller classes. Furthermore, during Years 4 - 6 there was not any evidence that any of the teacher's characteristics (experience level, age or duration of time they spend in school) had any affect upon pupil achievement in any school subject.

Class size effects on classroom processes are multiple, as the class size increases, groups within the class increase in number or/and in size, consequently supervision and managements of the groups seems to be more critical. The obvious effect of class size was likely on teaching; students in smaller classes were more liable to be within the teacher's attention focus and generally practicing more in teaching math.

Students in small classes in KS2 were more liable to act actively with their teachers. Not only were they able to respond to the teacher and sustain interaction with them but also initiate contacts, in the contrary with the students in larger classes who were found to act passively in the class.

There was a little evidence that the presence of TAs had a measurable statistical effect on students' achievement in the class, and this was compatible with results obtained from the KS1stage of the project.

Graphs are adopted from;

British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 29, No. 5, 'In Praise of Educational Research' (Oct., 2003), pp. 709-730 Are Class Size Differences Related to Pupils' Educational Progress and Classroom Processes? Peter Blatchford, Paul Bassett, Harvey Goldstein, Clare Martin: Taylor & Francis,


Graphs are adopted from;

British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 29, No. 5, 'In Praise of Educational Research' (Oct., 2003), pp. 709-730 Are Class Size Differences Related to Pupils' Educational Progress and Classroom Processes? Peter Blatchford, Paul Bassett, Harvey Goldstein, Clare Martin: Taylor & Francis,


Analysis of literature

Findings of STAR Project were confirmed by Whitmore (1999) who indicated that about ¼ of the early improvement gained in the early years maintained in the later years. As well as, students attended small classes in the early years have slightly advanced than average high school completion and partaking in entrance exams for colleges. Additional confirmation of the cumulative effect of small classes on student's achievement was concluded by (Nye et al 2001a, 2002b).

The 'STAR' project was reanalyzed and corrected for some weakness in the methodology by Blatchford (1998), Krueger (1999), and Goldstein (2000), but Krueger confirmed the project positive results. He found that, the fist year, students attend small classes, not only the students' outcomes extensively increased but the improvement was also progressed to the subsequent years. Although the initial impact of participation in small classes was strong in the first year, but additional time spent in small classes after the first year has a much smaller positive effect on student's outcomes. On reviewing of the project research evidences, has concluded that better student performance is systematically related to smaller class size. Goldstein (2000) and Blatchford (1998), found a significant differences between school, that support the influence of additional factors as teacher quality and school organization, but they agreed that smaller classes size has a positive impact on student outcomes.

Although, the STAR Project researchers results indicated that the difference in students outcomes between the small and regular classes was large, the Goldstein's review of the results indicated that, the improvement was "modest" Whilst, Krueger's reviews of the results indicated that average outcomes gap among the small classes and the regular classes is about 5 - 8 percentile points. On the contrary, the SAGE project found that, raises of percentage for average test score was between 1.5 to 5 percentages points for the smaller classes, this differences are significant, although, they may be observed as modest.

Analysis of the first phase's of Blatchford' s study findings demonstrated that there was an obvious effect of class size differences on children's academic achievements, mostly in classes below 25 students and the most significant effects for class size were in the Reception year and this was compatible with the results obtained in STAR project. Another point was, in contrast with STAR Project findings, in the first year and at the end of the second year of school, the class size effects were still clear on literacy improvement, but by the end of the third year, the effects were not obvious. In addition the children's educational improvement, mainly in the Reception year, was mostly a result of class size, and there was no obvious effect of extra (TA's) on children's educational improvement in any of the three years of KS1.

In addition, analysis of the findings of the second stage demonstrated that, the main benefits of small class size were obtained immediately after entry to school, but there were not many evidences of longer term effects of class size differences especially on math's' achievement, in contrast with the STAR project. Although, these findings indicated that the early benefits faded out after two years in school, there were no limitations of which size of class they moved to from year to year, however his findings confirmed earlier studies. Finn and Achilles (1998) reported significant statistical effect for student in Grades four to seven although there were moved to larger classes, but the long-term effect show declined slightly from the time students left smaller classes. Additionally, It was inter­esting to find out that the eighth grade results showed not only higher achievement in reading and math for those in smaller K-3 classes but also in some subjects not taught in K-3.

In addition, Nye et al. (1999) analyzed the short-term effects across the third grade, compared the findings for four groups, carried out comparable estimate for long-term effects at the fourth, sixth, and eighth grade. The results demonstrated continuing statistically signifi­cant effects in all grades and in three subjects, with increased effects for longer time spent in small classes in grade three. Furthermore, effect for the eighth grade slightly increased for students in small classes for all the four years. It is important to recognize if smaller classes do really raise achievement and to what extent, what changes inside the small or large class might affect short/ long-term student learning and whether the effect sustains and extend to the higher age groups.

In a study conducted by Robinson & Wittebols (1986), was found, that class size has a positive effect on students in the primary grades but this effect decreased in the older grades i.e. from grades k3, to grades 4 to 8 and almost nonexistent for grade 9 to 12. In addition, Robinson (1990) in his analysis of other earlier studies, conducted on students older than grade four, found that about 50% of these studies concluded that smaller class sizes had a positive effect on student's achievement for grades K-3. About 38% of these studies had the same conclusion for grades four to eight, while about eighteen percent of these studies found positive impact for class size for grades 9-12. In fact, I believe, we need to know if there any difference in relation between teacher and students in small or larger classes, in a different way try to understand what teachers and students do differently in large and small classes. This understanding may help to determine whether these differences could be related to the class size and would it lead to achieve short-term and/or long- term gains. A recent confirmation of Blatchford findings was by Cannon (2006), who conducted study to detect the effect of class size on student achievement among grades 4- 6, and grades 7-12. He concluded that, small class size had a positive effect on student achievements for students in the primary grades although this effect was small. On the other, hand the spectacular effect for small class size was on the math computation, indicating that small class size might have partially grater effect on certain contents. In concern of higher grades 7-12, there were no impact for small class size on student's achievements; moreover, he suggested,'' The positive correlations between class size and academic achievement would suggest that achievement would actually be hindered by reductions in class size''. However other variables as teaching ability (which might have positive effect on students' achievements) was not accounted in this study