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

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
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.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
The Key to Better Learning: Indoor Air Quality
Learn about the importance of improved indoor air quality in schools, and how to pick the right solutions for educators, students, and staff.
Content provided by Delos
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.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leading Systemic Redesign: Strategies from the Field
Learn how your school community can work together to redesign the school system, reengineer instruction, & co-author personalized 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 ‘Their Vote Matters’: Schools Provide Training to Students on Working the Polls
“We just want to make sure that our youth ... know that they’re important, their vote matters, their vote counts, they can get involved."
Jenny Roberts, The Morning Call
4 min read
Allen student Yovian Torres Gomez makes notes on his packet during a poll worker training Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, at Allen High School. Allen students will be working as clerks, handing out paper ballots and directing them where to go, when voting concludes Tuesday in the general election. Some will also be translating for voters.
Allen student Yovian Torres Gomez makes notes on his packet during a poll worker training Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, at Allen High School. Allen students will be working as clerks, handing out paper ballots and directing them where to go, when voting concludes Tuesday in the general election. Some will also be translating for voters.
Amy Shortell/The Morning Call via TNS
School Climate & Safety A Parkland Dad Pleads for Action on School Safety
A father whose daughter was killed in the 2018 mass shooting spoke at a summit the day after the gunman was sentenced.
3 min read
A women in a black t-shirt lifts small painted stones out of a cardboard box, placing them on the ground at a memorial covered in flowers in front of a large white masonry sign that says "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School."
Suzanne Devine Clark, an elementary school art teacher, places painted stones at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2019, one year after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
School Climate & Safety A School Safety Challenge: Keeping Crowds Secure Under the Glare of Friday Night Lights
Districts aim to keep students and spectators safe during sporting events, which draw large crowds to a less predictable environment.
5 min read
A police officer stands between rows of caution tape outside of a white high school football stadium that is brightly lit against the night sky.
A Tulsa Police officer films the area outside of the McLain High School football stadium in Tulsa, Okla., after a shooting during a Sept. 30 football game.
Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP
School Climate & Safety What School Is Like for LGBTQ Students, By the Numbers
Here are survey statistics on harassment, support, and fears experienced by LGBTQ students during pandemic-era schooling.
4 min read
Image of a student with rainbow straps on their backpack.
iSTock/Getty