Newton Class Sizes Down Slightly; School Committee Focuses on Need for Override

Several Newton School Committee members said class sizes will only remain stable if the March 12 override package passes.

Although the district showed slight improvement in this year's class size numbers, Newton School Committee members Monday night said the March 12 override must pass in order to keep class sizes stable.

"The overall conversation is about how our class sizes are holding steady, but there are 250 more kids coming in next year and there are many teachers we need to hire to serve those children well," School Committee Chair Claire Sokoloff said.

According to the district's annual class size report, which was presented last night by Deputy Superintendent/Chief Administrative Officer Sandy Guryan, both the elementary and middle school class sizes are down after a ten-year high reported last year. High school class sizes are also down slightly.

The average elementary school class size is down from 22.3 students last year to 22 students this year, Guryan said. The middle school average class size, which Guryan said showed the most improvement, is down from 22.8 to 21.9 this year. 

"This is an improvement," Guryan said. "It's reflective of steps we've taken to handle rising enrollment." 

Those steps include "targeted" staffing additions that were, for the most part, funded through extra state aid awarded to Newton last year, Superintendent David Fleishman said. 

The average middle school team size is also down from 92 students to 91 students this year, however, there are still some large teams in the district including sixth grade at Brown (95 students), sixth grade at F.A. Day (93 students) and eighth grade at F.A. Day (96 students).

The target team size is around 88-90 students.

Nevertheless, Guryan said the team sizes are more balanced between the three grades (6-8) and four middle schools this year. The numbers also show an improvement from some Oak Hill and F.A. Day teams that exceeded 100 students last year.

At the high schools, the average class size (five major subject areas) is down slightly from 22 to 21.9, but still remains at a high point for the decade, the report says.

Moving forward, keeping classes at a size "that we know will help [students] learn," Sokoloff said the district needs funding from the proposed override.

Newton voters will head the polls on March 12 to vote on Mayor Setti Warren's $11.4 million override package. The override consists of three ballot questions, including an $8.4 million operating override and two debt exclusion overrides for the rebuilding of Angier and Cabot elementary schools. 

Within the $8.4 million operating override, the mayor has designated $4.5 million to handle growth and enrollment in the Newton Public Schools, which has led to higher class sizes, school officials say. The $4.5 million is slated to cover costs for additional teachers, professional development, technology and some short-term facilities needs.

"The override will allow us to keep the class sizes at around what they are now, and solve some of the more egregious problems of larger class sizes," Sokoloff said.

The Numbers

The district's full class size report is included in the .pdf section above.

Elementary class sizes (last three years)

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 Elementary 21.9 22.0 22.3 22.3 22

Middle school class and team sizes

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 Middle School class size 21.2 21.7 21.7 22.8 21.9 Middle School team size 87 90 90 92 91

High school class sizes

2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 High Schools 21.4 21.3 21.6 22.0 21.9

Classrooms with 25 students or more

Level 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 Elementary 19% 17% 16% 18% 16% Middle 14% 14% 13% 26% 17% High 28% 25% 26% 29% 27%

Classrooms with fewer than 20 students

Level 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-2012 2012-13 Elementary 16% 18% 12% 11% 15% Middle 25% 20% 16% 11% 18% High 29% 30% 26% 24% 25%
Really? February 27, 2013 at 06:53 PM
You wouldn't happen to have any evidence to back up your claim that "College Board scores" were higher back in the days of 30 students per class? Or that "boosting class sizes" would improve educational outcomes?
Dan Fahey February 27, 2013 at 07:03 PM
To the contrary, the research points out that at least in the lower grades lower class size is quite important. Less so at the high school level.
Jan Huffman February 27, 2013 at 07:56 PM
Answer to question 1: Yes. See the chart "Mean SAT Scores of College-Bound Seniors, 1972–2010" on page 7 or 8 of the report "SAT® Trends" by the College Board at http://professionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/2010-sat-trends.pdf . Between 1972 and 2010 the "All" Critical Reading mean score dropped 29 points from 530 to 501 and the Mathematics score increased by 7 points from 509 to 516, for a net decrease of 22 points. These scores are presented adjusted to account for scoring changes over the years. Answer to question 2: I did not make this claim. Please re-read what I said that boosting class sizes would accomplish.
Suzanne Rourke February 27, 2013 at 08:11 PM
Bravo, Jan! The goal here is high test scores, not small class size.
Really? February 27, 2013 at 09:39 PM
You did read the footnote on that report - the one that warns against using aggregate SAT data to draw conclusions about educational attainment? You must realize that in 1972, the number of students who attended college (and therefore took the SAT) was much lower, and was a self-selected group of the higher-performing students. The group taking the SAT in 2010 was much larger and much more diverse; many more students now attend college as fewer careers are available to people without a college degree. You can't draw any conclusion on the impact of class size on test scores from this data. And I know you said that boosting class size would reduce costs; I assumed you also believed that outcomes would be maintained or improved since you asserted that "test scores" were higher back when class sizes were larger. But maybe you're not interested in maintaining or improving outcomes - just reducing costs.


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