Big Benefits in Small Classes

Deals with a study on the significance of class size and age to the academic performance of students. Methodology used; Theories on the effectiveness of small class size.

By Nida Elley, published on November 1, 2001 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016


It's well known that small classes spawn star pupils, but new research suggests that the age of the child matters as well. Students enrolled in small classes in kindergarten through third grade outperform their peers in larger classes throughout high school. Young minority students and inner city youths fared two to three times better in streamlined classrooms than did white students in similar sized classes, according to the latest findings in the ongoing Project STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio). The study was published earlier this year in Teachers College Record.

Jeremy Finn, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Buffalo Graduate School of Education, followed 12,000 students in kindergarten through third grade from urban, rural and inner city backgrounds. The children were randomly assigned to either a small class (13 to 17 students per teacher) or a regular-size class (22 to 25 students per teacher). Twelve years later, children who spent their K-3 years in small classes scored better on all tests of academic performance than did students in larger classes. Children who began in small classes graduated from high school on time and with honors at a higher rate than their peers, even when placed back into large classes after the third grade.

There are two competing theories as to why small class size is so effective, according to Finn. The first theory says that teachers give more individualized instruction in small classes, while the second holds that kids feel challenged to become better students in more intimate academic settings.