Smaller Class Sizes May Not Help

A new study suggests that smaller class sizes may not level the playing field for struggling students.

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Putting fewer children in classrooms has long been a popular option for schools trying to narrow the achievement gap for struggling students. But a new study suggests that smaller class sizes may not level the playing field.

The study, published in the March issue of the Elementary School Journal, shows that small classes benefit high-achieving kids more than low-performing students. In fact, the achievement gap between the two groups in kindergarten and first grade is larger in small classes than in regular classes, says Spyros Konstantopoulos, assistant professor of learning sciences at Northwestern University and author of the study.

The research—based on data that tracked the performance of thousands of elementary school children in Tennessee over four years starting in 1985—notes, however, that the results do "not necessarily mean that lower-achieving students are better off in larger classes." High achievers, he says, may do better possibly because they are more engaged or take more advantage of the learning opportunities.