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The Tennessee Study of Class Size in the Early School Grades

Frederick Mosteller
The Future of Children
Vol. 5, No. 2, Critical Issues for Children and Youths (Summer - Autumn, 1995), pp. 113-127
Published by: Princeton University
DOI: 10.2307/1602360
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1602360
Page Count: 15
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The Tennessee Study of Class Size in the Early School Grades
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Abstract

The Tennessee class size project is a three-phase study designed to determine the effect of smaller class size in the earliest grades on short-term and long-term pupil performance. The first phase of this project, termed Project STAR (for Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio), was begun in 1985, when Lamar Alexander was governor of Tennessee. Governor Alexander, who later served as secretary of education in the cabinet of President George Bush, had made education a top priority for his second term. The legislature and the educational community of Tennessee were mindful of a promising study of the benefits of small class size carried out in nearby Indiana, but were also aware of the costs associated with additional classrooms and teachers. Wishing to obtain data on the effectiveness of reduced class size before committing additional funds, the Tennesse legislature authorized this four-year study in which results obtained in kindergarten, first, second, and third grade classrooms of 13 to 17 pupils were compared with those obtained in classrooms of 22 to 25 pupils and in classrooms of this larger size where the teacher was assisted by a paid aide. Both standardized and curriculum-based tests were used to assess and compare the performance of some 6,500 pupils in about 330 classrooms at approximately 80 schools in the areas of reading, mathematics, and basic study skills. After four years, it was clear that smaller classes did produce substantial improvement in early learning and cognitive studies and that the effect of small class size on the achievement of minority children was initially about double that observed for majority children, but in later years, it was about the same. The second phase of the project, called the Lasting Benefits Study, was begun in 1989 to determine whether these perceived benefits persisted. Observations made as a part of this phase confirmed that the children who were originally enrolled in smaller classes continued to perform better than their grade-mates (whose school experience had begun in larger classes) when they were returned to regular-sized classes in later grades. Under the third phase, Project Challenge, the 17 economically poorest school districts were given small classes in kindergarten, first, second, and third grades. These districts improved their end-of-year standing in rank among the 139 districts from well below average to above average in reading and mathematics. This article briefly summarizes the Tennessee class size project, a controlled experiment which is one of the most important educational investigations ever carried out and illustrates the kind and magnitude of research needed in the field of education to strengthen schools.

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