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Study Links N.Y.C. Class-Size Increase With Skills Decline for Needy Students

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An increase in class sizes in resource rooms for struggling students in New York City schools may have caused the students' reading and math skills to decline, according to a study.

Two researchers from New York University's school of education found that raising the number of students taught in special education resource rooms appeared to have triggered a marked decrease in particular in their state assessment scores in reading.

Resource rooms are classrooms where students are sometimes sent for supplemental tutoring in subjects that give them difficulty.

The growth in class sizes stemmed from a September 1995 district regulation, which allowed the New York City schools to increase from five to eight the number of students receiving special education services in each of the special classrooms.

The move, which city officials believed would help streamline services and save money, decreased the amount of time each student spent with the instructors, the study released last week found.

After the regulation was adopted, class sizes rose in nearly all resource rooms, the researchers found.

Although the change saves the city about $26 million each year, the researchers recommend that the city return to its policy of allowing no more than five students at a time in resource rooms.

New York City Board of Education officials did not return calls for comment.

Drops in Scores

The study found substantial decreases in the students' reading-achievement scores, particularly at the 6th grade level.

The percentage of 6th grade resource-room students who were able to meet the state's reference point in reading dropped by nearly half in one year, from 29 percent in the 1994-95 school year to 15.8 percent in 1995-96.

Other grade levels showed similar effects.

Among 3rd grade resource-room students, the proportion meeting the state reference point dropped from 19.5 percent in 1994-95 to 14.2 percent in 1995-96. In 8th grade, it dropped to 47.2 percent in 1995-96, from 56.4 percent the year before.

About 40,000 students receive resource-room services in the New York City schools. Third, 6th, and 8th grades were the only grades studied.

Resource-room students' math scores also dropped slightly in the same time period, according to the study.

The study focused on 45 public elementary, middle, and high schools. Researchers talked to teachers and administrators.

"This study shows that the increases in resource-room sizes appear to have adversely affected the instructional process," Mark Alter, the chairman of the NYU education school's teaching and learning department, in a news release.

"With less time for instruction, it's not surprising that reading scores have suffered," Mr. Alter said.

"This regulatory change did not meet the goal of making resource room services more effective," he added.

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