Do low attaining and younger students benefit most from small classes?

Results from a systematic observation study of class size effects on pupil classroom​ | Blatchford, Peter et al. | American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, 2008

The authors argue that research on class sizes should shift focus away from academic outcomes such as standardized tests and toward classroom processes. They ask, for example, whether class size influences the amount of time students spend on-task, how often students interact directly with the teacher, and whether they are actively participating in class or passively listening.

In line with most research on class size, the authors found that low attaining pupils benefit most from smaller class sizes. The authors found:

     Low attainers spend more than twice as much time off task in a large class, compared to low attainers in small classes.

     At the secondary level, increasing a class by five pupils results in a nearly 25% reduction in the odds of the pupil being the direct focus of the teacher.

     Small secondary classes also increased the likelihood of students having an active interaction with the teacher, as opposed to passive listening.

The authors conclude that, “the main implication of this study is that smaller classes can benefit all pupils in terms of individual, active attention from teachers, but that the lower attaining pupils in particular can benefit from small classes at secondary level. This suggests that small classes can be a valuable educational initiative right through school, but could be particularly targeted, at secondary level, at lower attaining pupils. If not, the evidence is that they will be more prone to go off task and teachers will have to use up more time bringing them back on task.”

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