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Class size does matter: at least for disadvantaged students

Written by Dr David Zyngier, Monash University, for The Conversation

A recent report by the Victorian Competition & Efficiency Commission has suggested that reducing class sizes in the state has not improved student academic performance.

The report said that despite 50% of increases in funding Victoria’s teaching workforce over the past decade going towards reducing class sizes, the impact of smaller classes has been negligible. It suggested that increasing class sizes to the maximum levels would save around $300 million a year.

The reasonable conclusion to draw from this report is that smaller classes do not equal better learning environments.

But is this really the case?

Size does matter

My research has shown that class size has a significant effect on academic achievement. The impact of a small class is particularly strong in the early years of schooling, and it is especially important for students who are traditionally disadvantaged in education.

I recently completed a meta study of 112 papers on class size and academic achievement, and found that:

  • Small class sizes in the early grades are significantly beneficial for students, especially when a class is reduced to fewer than 20 pupils
  • These gains are particularly strong for disadvantaged and minority groups
  • The longer students are in small classes, the greater the benefits. However, even when students are returned to larger classes in later grades, the benefits of small early classes persist
  • The benefits can be seen in both tests of measured achievement and other measures of success
  • The evidence for the advantages of small classes in the upper grades and high school is so far inconclusive.

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Posted 10 September 2014 Posted in Editorial, General