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Small Elementary Class Size Boosts High School Grad Rates

Teacher attention in the early years reaps rewards, study finds

MONDAY, May 9, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Small class size in elementary school raises the likelihood that children will graduate from high school, a new study finds. The researchers say this is especially true for students from low-income homes.

Reporting in the May issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology, researchers tracked nearly 5,000 students in 165 schools in Tennessee as they moved from kindergarten through grade 12, beginning in the 1980s.

As they entered kindergarten, the students were randomly assigned to either a small class (13 to 17 students), a full-size class (22 to 26 students), or a full-size class with a fulltime teacher's aide. The students were kept in the same class arrangements for up to four years.

Spending four years in a small class from kindergarten to grade 3 was associated with an 11.5 percent increase in high school graduation rates, the study found. This effect was even more pronounced among students from low-income homes, doubling their odds of becoming high school graduates.

The study also identified a strong association between reading and mathematics achievement in kindergarten to grade 3 and graduation from high school.

"Our results contradict arguments that just one year in a small class is enough to reap long-term academic benefits. Three or four years of small classes are needed to affect graduation rates, and three or four years have been found necessary to sustain long-term achievement goals," study co-author Jeremy D. Finn of the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York, said in a prepared statement.

He and his colleagues said further research is needed to fully understand how early school experiences can provide long-term benefits to students.

"The long-term benefits of small classes on dropout rates were not explained entirely by improvements in academic performance, even if the improvements carried through later grades. Other dynamics must have been occurring as well, for example, effects on students' attitudes and motivation, students' pro- or antisocial behavior, or students' learning behavior," the study authors wrote.

More information

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has information about starting school.

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, May 8, 2005
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