School Climate & Safety

Wis. Class-Size Study Yields Advice On Teachers’ Methods

By Linda Jacobson — January 24, 2001 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

New findings on a state initiative in Wisconsin suggest that to make the most out of smaller class sizes in the early grades, teachers should focus on basic skills when they have one-on-one contact with students, ask children to discuss and demonstrate what they know, and have a firm, but nurturing, approach to classroom management.

For More Information

Read the “1999-2000 Results of the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) Evaluation,” from the Center for Education Research, Analysis and Innovation.

Teachers in higher-achieving 1st grade classrooms also tended to establish routines, set goals, and provide frequent feedback, according to the study released last week by the Center for Education Research, Analysis, and Innovation at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee.

The study, which focuses on Wisconsin’s 4-year-old class-size- reduction effort, called SAGE, concludes that such teaching strategies appear to be more effective than project-oriented activities, problem-solving lessons, and efforts to give students more freedom in the classroom—approaches advocated by large numbers of educators.

The fourth in a series of evaluations of SAGE, the new study confirms the findings of previous reports that students in the program are achieving at higher levels than those who are not in the smaller classes.

But it is the first to offer such guidance on what teachers should be doing with students in the smaller classes.

“Making classes smaller was the first step in improving academic achievement, especially for low-income children,” Wisconsin state Superintendent John T. Benson said about the report. “Helping teachers to improve their teaching is the second step, and this report is providing some preliminary data to set the direction for that activity.”

Thomas Hruz, a resident fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute outside Milwaukee, who takes issue with some of CERAI’s findings, described this as the first class-size-reduction study to quantify those effective instructional practices.

A Popular Strategy

Reducing class sizes in the early grades continues to be a popular strategy among state policymakers. California, for instance, is in the fifth year of a huge push for smaller K-3 classes.

Wisconsin’s SAGE, which stands for Student Achievement Guarantee in Education, started as a pilot project in the fall of 1996. The program aims to increase achievement among low-income children by bringing the pupil-teacher ratio down to 15-to-1.

A major expansion took place this school year, bringing annual funding for the program close to $55 million and the number of children served to roughly 60,000. More than 550 schools are now participating.

For the study, the researchers administered the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills to students in 89 classes in the 2nd grade and 83 classes in the 3rd grade. The results show that African-American students in the SAGE program have higher test scores than their counterparts who do not attend SAGE schools. And while white students still score higher than their black classmates in SAGE schools, the gap between the two groups is larger in comparison schools that do not take part in the program.

In no subject were students in the comparison schools scoring higher than students in SAGE schools. But in a few cases, the SAGE students’ achievement gains were not statistically significant.

Mr. Hruz said he believes the newest findings support the belief of some researchers that the greatest benefits are occurring in 1st grade, but that class-size-reduction efforts are not as effective in 2nd and 3rd grade.

But Alex Molnar, one of the three principal investigators for the SAGE study and CERAI’S executive director, said further research was needed to answer that question (“Wis. Researchers Question Findings on Class Sizes,” Oct. 18, 2000.)

Emphasizing Academics

To learn more about teaching practices, the researchers observed 76 1st grade classrooms and surveyed all SAGE teachers and principals. They concluded that staff-development efforts should train teachers to emphasize basic academic skills when they work individually with students.

But Michael W. Kirst, an education professor at Stanford University and a member of a consortium of research groups following California’s class-size initiative, doesn’t agree that staff development is always necessary. Smaller class sizes, he said, allow teachers to teach more effectively because they have fewer discipline problems and can spot students’ weaknesses sooner.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 24, 2001 edition of Education Week as Wis. Class-Size Study Yields Advice On Teachers’ Methods


School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Another State Will Let Teachers Carry Guns. What We Know About the Strategy
Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill allowing teachers to carry guns with administrators' permission a year after the Covenant School shooting.
5 min read
People protest outside the House chamber after legislation passed that would allow some teachers to be armed in schools during a legislative session on April 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn.
People protest outside the House chamber after legislation passed that would allow some teachers to be armed in schools during a legislative session on April 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. Tennessee could join more than 30 other states in allowing certain teachers to carry guns on campus. There's virtually no research on the strategy's effectiveness, and it remains uncommon despite the proliferation of state laws allowing it.
George Walker IV/AP
School Climate & Safety Video WATCH: Columbine Author on Myths, Lessons, and Warning Signs of Violence
David Cullen discusses how educators still grapple with painful lessons from the 1999 shooting.
1 min read
School Climate & Safety From Our Research Center How Much Educators Say They Use Suspensions, Expulsions, and Restorative Justice
With student behavior a top concern among educators now, a new survey points to many schools using less exclusionary discipline.
4 min read
Audrey Wright, right, quizzes fellow members of the Peace Warriors group at Chicago's North Lawndale College Prep High School on Thursday, April 19, 2018. Wright, who is a junior and the group's current president, was asking the students, from left, freshmen Otto Lewellyn III and Simone Johnson and sophomore Nia Bell, about a symbol used in the group's training on conflict resolution and team building. The students also must memorize and regularly recite the Rev. Martin Luther King's "Six Principles of Nonviolence."
A group of students at Chicago's North Lawndale College Prep High School participates in a training on conflict resolution and team building on Thursday, April 19, 2018. Nearly half of educators in a recent EdWeek Research Center survey said their schools are using restorative justice more now than they did five years ago.
Martha Irvine/AP
School Climate & Safety 25 Years After Columbine, America Spends Billions to Prevent Shootings That Keep Happening
Districts have invested in more personnel and physical security measures to keep students safe, but shootings have continued unabated.
9 min read
A group protesting school safety in Laurel County, K.Y., on Feb. 21, 2018. In the wake of a mass shooting at a Florida high school, parents and educators are mobilizing to demand more school safety measures, including armed officers, security cameras, door locks, etc.
A group calls for additional school safety measures in Laurel County, Ky., on Feb. 21, 2018, following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 14 students and three staff members died. Districts have invested billions in personnel and physical security measures in the 25 years since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.
Claire Crouch/Lex18News via AP