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The school year is off to a great start at the Highland Community School District. We are thrilled with the new programs and the first in the state of Iowa Aerospace Engineering courses.
We saw increases in the numbers of our elementary classes which created some interesting dilemmas in terms of what to do with class sizes.
The purpose of this article is to discuss class sizes. What is the ideal? Are there legal requirements? What might be considered too small of a class size and what is considered too large?
The majority of my career as a superintendent has been in districts with two-section grade level classrooms. The majority of classes in those districts ranged between 40-50 students, which makes two sections very naturally.
Once in a while you would have the unusual situation where you have a class which is much smaller or much larger and you need to make a decision as to what you will do.
What is the ideal? It depends on the grade level. Districts try to protect the primary grades of kindergarten, first and second grade because reading instruction is so critical to those grades. The ideal class sizes in these grades is 18-22 students.
Class sizes up to 25 are acceptable, but I would recommend a third section beyond that.
Once students enter third grade and above, class sizes up to 30 students are not unusual and manageable. When the numbers get to more than 28 students on the upper elementary level, I would begin to explore having an additional section.
For example, a class of 60 students is probably best served as three sections of 20 as opposed to two sections of 30. A class of 56 students probably is fine as two sections of 28.
There are no legal requirements for class size once students get into kindergarten. There are some restrictions in terms of size of preschool classrooms to 20 and below. The number of students in a particular grade level who have special needs might also influence how large a class might be.
If there is a proportionally large special needs population in a grade level, a smaller class size may be necessary. I have seen districts that hire an associate to assist in a classroom based on class size.
Unfortunately, sometimes these decisions have to be weighed based on state funding, which is disappointing.
Is it possible for a class to be too small? In my opinion the answer is yes. When a class is below 12 students I believe it lacks the diversity and hampers social interactions, which are as much a part of the educational process as the lessons being taught.
Classroom discussions, lessons on tolerance, student relationships and learning to take turns are all important to the learning process. I have never been a fan of high school classes being less than 10 students, but sometimes the uniqueness of a class is such that we have to instruct so few students.
Highland faced one of these unique situations this year. Early registration showed a very small third grade of only 27 students and a fairly large kindergarten class of 49.
Do you break 27 students into two very small sections or do you keep all 27 together? What happens if the kindergarten class would grow to 50 or more?
These were decisions the district was facing in July based on pre-registration. The decision was to hire an additional teacher. If either class were to show growth prior to the first day, we could expand to another section.
If the numbers remained stable, the teacher could potentially be a floater to assist on both grade levels. Fortunately things worked out as the third grade grew beyond 30 students while the kindergarten settled in below the 50 student mark, leaving two-section classrooms intact.
Construction on several new homes is evident in the Highland district, and the impact is already being seen in the growth in the elementary. It won’t be long and the district will be expanding to three section classrooms, which will create new questions on facilities and grade placement.
Fortunately, the district is well aware of the situation and will be able to monitor and prepare for the future. While decisions based on growing populations are not easy, it is a nice problem for the future of the district.