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School & District Management

Smaller Classes in L.A. Seen Lifting Test Scores, Especially Among Poor

By Debra Viadero — April 25, 2001 | Corrected: February 23, 2019 1 min read

Corrected: The company Vital Research was incorrectly identified as Vital Search in portions of this story.

Students in Los Angeles are learning more in small classes.

Researchers from Vital Search reached that conclusion after they were hired to study the impact of California’s $1.5 billion-a-year class-size-reduction initiative on students in the nation’s second-largest school district. The Los Angeles-based research firm released some preliminary findings from its evaluation here during the April 10-14 meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

Begun in 1996, the state’s effort aimed to reduce classes in kindergarten through 3rd grade from an average of 30 pupils to about 20. To gauge the impact in Los Angeles, the researchers gathered test scores for 20,000 students who were in 3rd grade during the 1998-99 school year, about two years into the initiative. They compared the scores with those for students who had been in 3rd grade in 1996-97, the last school year before smaller classes were fully instituted.

In keeping with most other studies on the educational impact of shrinking classes, the researchers found that scores were higher for students in the trimmed-down classes—particularly in mathematics and language arts.

The effects were greatest, they found, in low-achieving, year- round schools with large poor and Hispanic enrollments. In those schools, the effect sizes were nearly double those for children in better-off neighborhoods.

The improvements were even larger than those announced last year by a consortium of research groups conducting a separate, statewide evaluation of the program.(“Smaller Class Sizes Get Mixed Review,” July 12, 2000.)

Even so, the Los Angeles researchers say they may have underestimated the gains. One reason, they noted, is that their study did not include students with limited English proficiency, a sizable group in the 723,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District.

“The policy implications of our data are clear,” said Harold N. Urman, a research partner at Vital Research. “Class-size reduction helps, and it helps low-income students the most.”

Coverage of research is underwritten in part by a grant from the Spencer Foundation.

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A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 2001 edition of Education Week as Smaller Classes in L.A. Seen Lifting Test Scores, Especially Among Poor


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