Elementary Class Size investigated 2018/19


With every new Blog entry we have been learning more and more about the ins and outs of how TSD is running.  There are many moving parts and each one is working with, or has an effect on, something else.  One of those moving parts is class size.  Last summer the community heard a lot of concerns, and reduction of class sizes was negotiated at length.  This entry looks at elementary class size in TSD.  


There have been many studies on how class size effects student learning.  You can find studies like STAR that show smaller class size results in an increase in academic performance.   The STAR study used 13-17 students or 22-26 students with a full-time teaching aide as a “small class” and 22-26 students as a regular size class.  SAGE was a multi year study that followed students from K-12,  and also found smaller class size increases academic performance, decreased in high school dropouts and resulted in greater retention of teachers.  An interest sidenote is that both studies showed the increases in academic achievement were larger with minority and lower income students.  

Some main points from an article on the STAR study by Jayne Boyd-Zaharias: 

“The state of Tennessee took seriously the findings about the benefit of small classes for low-income and minority children. In 1989, it established Project Challenge, which provided funds to the sixteen poorest counties (based on per-capita income) for reduced class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. This project was not an experiment like STAR; it was a policy application of the STAR findings, and it got excellent results. Charles Achilles, a member of the consortium that created the original STAR design, followed student achievement in these counties (1997)6 and found that “on average , the Challenge systems that started the 1:15 treatment in 1989 ranked well below the state average.  By 1995 they ranked near or above the state average .”

“The benefit of the SAGE program is especially strong for African-American students. In 1997-98, African-American students in SAGE classes increased their average total score by 52 points, compared with 33 points for African-American
students in control schools.These higher scores in SAGE schools narrowed the achievement gap between white and
African-American students;”

“Interviews of teachers and principals, classroom observations, and other qualitative comparisons of teachers in SAGE and regular schools suggest that SAGE teachers know each of their students better,spend less time managing their classes, have more time for instruction, and are more likely to individualize their instruction.”

You can read her full report here. The complete final SAGE study can be found here

Interestingly, class size impact is even more detrimental on lower income and/or minority students.  I found multiple articles on this topic.  While the general consensus is that students benefit from smaller class sizes, with lower income and minority students the benefit is increased significantly.   On the other hand, larger class sizes do not provide an ideal learning environment for students, and the negative impact is increased with lower income and minority students.


Class size management is an important component of the budgeting process.  For example, the simplest way to reduce class sizes is to provide more teachers.  With budgeting, the “impact” number is also an important component.  Having classes at, or over, impact comes at a financial cost to TSD.    

Depending on grade level impact numbers at TSD are 22-27 for elementary age.  The following table is from the current TEA/TSD contract from this fall. This is the list of impact numbers at each grade level.  Once a class exceeds this number it is considered at impact.

The contract negotiated between TEA and TSD specifies an ideal maximum class sizes, which varies with grades/classes.  Once enrollment in a class is over impact, TSD is required to (1) provide a paraprofessional in the class for 2.75 hours of the day (it is unclear to me if this is a per student or a total regardless of how many students over impact this would make a significant difference in the cost), or (2)compensate the affected teacher with an “overload payment”(elementary: $22 per day per student over impact).  The wording in the contract appears to allow the teacher to choose which option he or she prefers.  

From contract Article 37.D.2:

“Impact Paraprofessional Time.
The District and the Association are committed to work toward class sizes that do not exceed the class size levels shown in the chart below. If a level is exceeded, elementary teachers shall be entitled to two and three quarter (2.75) hours of “impact paraprofessional” time, assigned to the individual classes that exceed the class size level, unless other creative solutions are /developed at the site. Teachers may elect to receive overload payment or other flexible options in lieu of paraprofessional time

As noted above, classes being at or over impact results in a less than ideal learning environment(unless a paraprofessional is also in the class).  As an example, test scores in the studies cited above increased with the smaller class sizes overall and a larger increase for low income and minority students.  


See the chart below, the red numbers indicate the class is over impact.  

22% of the classes at the elementary level are over impact and another 17% are at impact.  Some elementary schools have more classes at and over impact than others.  PGS, THE and LR have the highest numbers of classes at or over impact, where MTS, BL and EO have the fewest classes at or over impact. The chart below breaks down the percentage of classes at and over impact by school.

It should also be noted, that beginning next school year 2019-2020, TSD will be required to have K-3 classes at a maximum of 17 or forfeit significant funding.  Currently, only 8 of the 85  K-3 classes in TSD(11%) meet this criteria.  Accordingly, assuming enrollment and class size  are the same in 2018-19 as 2019-20, 89% of TSD classes in the K-3 grades would be over the 17 student maximum.  This topic came up at a recent Board meeting and there was some discussion about how many school districts are opting to forgo the funding as it is not financially prudent to make sure all K-3 classes meet the 17 student maximum.    


At the time of our records request the elementary schools had a total of 27 classes over impact and a total of 47 students over impact.  So that is 27 classes that either have a paraprofessional or provide extra compensation to the teacher.  Providing the extra compensation to teachers pursuant to the contract is $22 per day, per student, which would result in a total of $186,120 for the school year.  If, instead, TSD paid 27 paraprofessionals the required 2.75 hours in each class the would cost somewhere between $213,000-$294,000.  Notably, these numbers do not factor in the cost of benefits, which is probably at least another 20% or so.   

In the scheme of a $85 million dollar budget, the financial cost is minimal, and probably requires little consideration.  However, the greater cost is to the students in each of those over-crowded classrooms, especially low income and minority students.  While the financial cost to pay a teacher impact fees would be less costly than assigning a paraprofessional in the classroom, from a student’s perspective, studies support the position that another professional in the classroom mitigates the negative impacts of overcrowded classrooms.  I was unable to find a study that investigated whether paying a teacher more to have a larger class also mitigates the impact.  With the current budget situation, TSD schools will likely be faced with some difficult decisions regarding which of these choices is best for the students in TSD.

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