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Smaller class size may not be better for students: Study

December 17, 2019

According to a study published in the journal Research Papers in Education, smaller class sizes are not always associated with better pupil performance and achievement. Says researcher Spyros Konstantopoulos from Michigan State University, US, “This finding is perhaps due to the fact that class size effects are more likely to be detected in countries with limited school resources where teacher quality is lower on average.”

Although smaller class sizes are usually preferred by parents as well teachers, who find it more easy to maintain control and give more attention to each pupil, the study suggests that the precise effect of smaller class sizes can vary between countries, academic subjects, years, cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Some countries have also limited the maximum size of a class to around 30 pupils.

For the study, the researchers analysed data produced by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Every four years since 1995, TIMSS monitored the performance and achievement of fourth grade (age 9-10) and eighth grade (age 13-14) pupils from around 50 countries in subjects such as mathematics and science. The research records students academic ability in these subjects and their self-reported interest in them. Furthermore, it contains information on class sizes.

To make the research more manageable, they have limited it to data from eighth-grade pupils in four European countries – Hungary, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia, collected in 2003, 2007 and 2011. These four countries were chosen because they all mandate maximum class sizes, which would help to make statistical analysis more reliable.

Despite these limitations, the data still encompassed 4,277 pupils from 231 classes in 151 schools. The analysis revealed that smaller class sizes were associated with benefits in Romania and Lithuania, but not in Hungary and Slovenia.

The beneficial effects were most marked in Romania, where smaller classes were associated with greater academic achievement in mathematics, physics, chemistry and earth science. It also recorded greater enjoyment of learning mathematics.

Meanwhile, in Lithuania smaller class sizes were mainly associated with improvements in non-cognitive skills such as greater enjoyment in learning biology and chemistry, rather than higher academic achievement in these subjects. The beneficial effects were also only seen in certain years.

Researcher Konstantopoulos also added, “Most class size effects were not different than zero, which suggests that reducing class size does not automatically guarantee improvements in student performance. Many other classroom processes and dynamics factor in and have to work well together to achieve successful outcomes in student learning.”

The researchers think smaller class sizes may have had greater beneficial effects on pupils in Romania and Lithuania than in Hungary and Slovenia because schools in Romania and Lithuania have fewer resources.

Source: IANS

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