Class sizes

September 23rd, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald on Sunday reports:

Primary schools have disclosed controversial data about pupil achievement, with the surprise revelation that children in bigger classes and bigger schools get better grades.

The Herald on Sunday has conducted a comprehensive survey of schools’ results, before the Ministry of Education publishes them this week.

At schools with fewer pupils for each teacher, around 70 per cent of children are achieving national standards in reading, writing and arithmetic. But at schools with more pupils for each teacher – in effect, bigger classes – the pass rates rise to about 80 per cent.

What would be interesting is to have the results broken down by decile and size. As low decile schools get more funding, they may have a smaller . That is only if they spend it on more teachers and not operational costs.

But regardless it backs my view that the impact of smaller class sizes is minimal, unless it is a massive difference. In other words a size of 15 will make a big difference compared to 30, but a class of 25 compared to a class of 27 will not.

It would have been nice of the HoS has told us their definitions of smaller and larger class sizes, so the calculation can be checked. There isn’t enough info in the story to verify it.

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20 Responses to “Class sizes”

  1. HB (267 comments) says:

    herald article useless rubbish

    http://dimpost.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/well-below-standard-in-analysis/#comments

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  2. HB (267 comments) says:

    another blog post on national standards and the media

    http://publicaddress.net/onpoint/because-statistical-rigour/

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  3. KJ (1 comment) says:

    This data might tell us that smaller class sizes have a minimal impact on national standards results. Unfortunately, because national standards results don’t tell us anything about the quality of education, it is impossible to say, from this data what impact class size might have on the quality of education.

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  4. trout (865 comments) says:

    So we now know that very small low decile schools in rural areas are not great for kids. Why is this? These kids are getting plenty of one on one teaching in an environment largely free of distractions. A Ch.Ch. school that fits this category (38 kids and 3 teachers – imagine the cost!), is fighting to avoid closure. The protests in Ch. Ch. seem to be about saving teacher’s jobs or community warm fuzzies about having a local school; not a lot to do with educating kids.

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  5. Falafulu Fisi (2,176 comments) says:

    Useful general reading from ScienceDaily 2010 article, coming from the domain of Complex Systems’ Theory :

    Using a Complex Systems Approach to Study Educational Policy

    The original short paper that the article above was based on , is available freely here:

    Complex Systems View of Educational Policy Research

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  6. Brian Smaller (3,915 comments) says:

    I was looking at old school photos. I was in a class with 42 kids run by a teacher who looked about twenty years old. I would bet that every kid could read.

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  7. Paul Walker (41 comments) says:

    I note some research that shows that class size does affect educational outcomes here.

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  8. Rightandleft (574 comments) says:

    Again this is proving why releasing National Standards data as is, has been a terrible idea. The article doesn’t mention anywhere that the data is not moderated and every school interprets standards differently. It could be used to compare a single school from year to year, but not different schools, not until they base the standard on some actual standardised testing or introduce a moderation regime.

    Secondly the reason schools with smaller classes perform worse is the same reason smaller classes within schools perform worse, streaming. The bottom stream class is smaller because kids need more individual attention, but of course they are least likely to be at national standard. The low-decile schools also get the most funding, thus the most support staff and smallest class sizes. And they are trying to help the students already least likely to meet national standard when they show up. And as Dim Post’s analysis pointed out they included many special schools for disabled children in their analysis, ruining the whole thing.

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  9. Inky_the_Red (719 comments) says:

    The data here shows that schools that start with the letter I do best
    http://www.ben.geek.nz/2012/09/schools-names-starting-with-i-work/

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  10. Mark (1,303 comments) says:

    inky that is statistically as valid as any argument submitted on this blog so far. I wonder what the results are for schools with a northerly aspect?

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  11. seanmaitland (406 comments) says:

    Rightandleft – bullshit, streamed classes don’t have more students. Making stuff up doesn’t help your argument.

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  12. Hamnida (905 comments) says:

    National standards – very “ropey”

    Class size – backdown

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  13. Keeping Stock (9,791 comments) says:

    Hamnida – shill for the NZEI and PPTA

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  14. HB (267 comments) says:

    seanmaitland Says:

    “Rightandleft – bullshit, streamed classes don’t have more students. Making stuff up doesn’t help your argument.”

    I think he is talking about how often smaller classes reflect that they are for less able students.
    At our school there are 9 classes in one year group. The ‘A’ class has 29 students and ‘H’ and ‘I’ have only 15 each. He then said as lower decile schools have more funding they are likely to have smaller average class sizes. Also ‘special’ schools would have a very good student/teacher ratio.

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  15. MH (558 comments) says:

    I’ve measured some of these class sizes and as far as I am concerned most meet OSH and UN specs for volume of air consumed but the few that don’t perform I put down to global warming. It’s the ceilings I’m most worried about,some are 2.6m and others are 8.53′. Where the hell is Dear old Derek Quigley when you need a report,oh that’s right he left for Aussie, probably flying aroundin a third hand skyhawk or checking on smoke detectors in retirement homes.

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  16. questlove (241 comments) says:

    These standards are NOT MODERATED and EVERY SCHOOL CAN INTERPRET THEM DIFFERENTLY.

    In no way does this data back the view that the impact of smaller class sizes is minimal.

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  17. HB (267 comments) says:

    Well, I suppose the classes with high ceilings could put in tiered seating like in a lecture theatre. Then you could squeeze in lots of kids and have a return to the lecture ‘chalk and talk’ style of teaching that worked so well in the old days. ;)

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  18. Scott Chris (5,687 comments) says:

    Any meaningful analysis of the impact of class size on children’s learning can only be conducted by academic experts trained in the field of academic measurement and evaluation. For starters, there are a multitude of variables that need to be considered and taken account of.

    This Herald survey is meaningless.

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  19. Rightandleft (574 comments) says:

    seanmaitland,

    Lower stream classes always have fewer students in them and often qualify for a teacher aide as well. My top stream classes over the last two years have had between 28 and 34 students in them (at Year 9 and 10 level), while my bottom stream classes have had between 13 and 18 students. That’s the same year level, same subject. We have between 5 and 7 streams per year group depending on the size of the cohort at our mid-decile high school.

    The whole point of streaming is to provide more support for the struggling students by giving teachers more one on one time with them. The same logic is used when we fund low-decile schools more than high-decile, allowing them to have overall lower class sizes.

    Now in my bottom stream Year 9 class this year currently has 16 students (though it has been as high as 18 and low as 14 over the year as kids move in an out of the class and the school). Of those kids 1 passed our common exam at the start of the year, most got below 20% on it. By mid-year there were two who earned Merits and three Achieved, the rest still failed but many doubled their scores. In my top stream class all but one passed the exam at the start of the year, by mid-year all passed and most showed a 10% or so improvement. So the bigger class scores higher than the smaller one, but the smaller one made by far the biggest improvements. The Herald would look only at the final test and conclude the bigger class did better and thus class size made no difference!

    Now in this bottom-stream class by the way, I have one student with early childhood brain damage, one with a genetic disorder causing sub-normal IQ, one is Autistic, one has a conduct disorder, two are ADHD, two are recent immigrants with little English language ability, one has severe dyslexia that went untreated as a child and they can now barely read. Three are truant at least once a week, one rarely ever comes to school before second period. Most of them show up to form class with their breakfast of dairy pies and generic brightly coloured fizzy drink. But when they test below the national standard the school and teacher take all the blame.

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  20. frankflintstone (69 comments) says:

    I would like to do a study on the effects of global warming on the national standards. Where do I send my grant application to? I’m not qualified in climate, education or statistics, but I heard that shouldn’t be an issue.

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