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Early Grades: Actions To Reduce Class Size

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Lawmakers in at least 15 states have passed measures aimed at reducing student-teacher ratios in the elementary grades.

The states include Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

In most, the measures have called for class sizes of from 20 to 29 in grades K-3 and from 25 to 31 in grades 4-6.

The first program to reduce student-teacher ratios was Indiana's "Project Prime Time," which is now in its fourth year. The program, first funded in 1982-83 as a pilot project in nine districts, has received $125 million in state funds and is designed to reduce ratios in grades K-3 by 1990.

"Evaluations of the first three years of the Prime Time program show happier, more productive teachers, more responsive students, and very satisfied parents," according to Kay Harmless, director of the program in the Indiana Department of Education.

According to the recently completed evaluation, reducing pupil-teacher ratios in the early elementary grades has allowed teachers to be more flexible and innovative, Ms. Harmless reported.

"Teachers report less reliance on textbooks, a move toward individualization, with more time for creative experiences, hands-on activities, drama, science exploration, and the use of learning centers," she said. "There's definite evidence that the program offers op-portunity for prompt and immediate feedback for all learners."

In other recent developments:

Montana lawmakers this past summer allocated $6.5 million to reduce class sizes; under the state's Education Improvement Act of 1985, classes in grades 1-3 must be reduced from 24 pupils to 20 by 1989-90.

In Nevada, lawmakers earmarked $12 million in school-improvement funds for fiscal 1986 and 1987 and gave districts the option to use the money to reduce class sizes in grades 1-3. Washington legislators also allocated $12 million for such efforts.

In New York and Wisconsin, similar initiatives earmarked funding for large-city districts.

In other states, including South Dakota and Tennessee, educators are conducting class-size studies.

In Utah, lawmakers next year will consider a recommendation by Gov. Norman H. Bangerter to provide $5.8 million to hold classes to 27 students.

Several states have also appropriated funds for other elementary-school initiatives:

Virginia has allocated $109,270 to establish a model elementary school.

Arizona passed an $11.7-million program to provide special academic assistance to children in grades K-3 who demonstrate learning problems.

And Tennessee appropriated $4 million to expand the state board-approved "Basic Skills First" project, a curriculum program for elementary students.


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