A research reported in a paper in Research Papers in Education has determined by statistically analyzing data from a long-term study that smaller class sizes do not necessarily have an impact on pupil performance and achievement in areas like mathematics and science.
It was found that the effect of smaller class-sizes vary from country-to-country, grade-level, subject choices and different cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Even though, smaller class are often believed to be highly desirable, mostly by parents. The assumption is that in smaller classes, teachers can maintain decorum with greater ease and pay attention to each individual pupil more closely. Interestingly, many countries limit the maximum size of a class, often at around 30 pupils.
However, most of the prior researches into the effects of class size have proved to be inconclusive with one study suggesting one thing and the other determining otherwise. The reason being these studies have often been rather small scale, have tended to focus purely on reading and mathematics, and have not considered the effect of class size on non-cognitive skills such as interest and attentiveness.
To fully understand the role of class-sizes, Professor Spyros Konstantopoulos and Ting Shen at Michigan State University, U.S., decided to analyze data produced by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). TIMSS has monitored the performance and achievement of fourth grade (age 9-10) and eighth grade (age 13-14) pupils from around 50 countries in mathematics and science, every four years since 1995. The test records academic ability, attitude and interest of students in these subjects, also taking in account information on class sizes.
The researchers limited the analysis to data from eighth grade pupils in four European countries Hungary, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia collected in 2003, 2007 and 2011. The reason for choosing these countries was they all mandate maximum class sizes, which would help to make the statistical analysis more reliable. Despite limitations, the data still encompassed 4,277 pupils from 231 classes in 151 schools, making it much larger than most previous studies on class size. It was also the first study to investigate the effects of class size on both specific science subjects, comprising biology, chemistry, physics and earth science, and non-cognitive skills.
The analysis showed that smaller class sizes had benefits for students in countries Romania and Lithuania, but not in Hungary and Slovenia. Romania seemed to have benefited the most, where smaller classes were associated with greater academic achievement in mathematics, physics, chemistry and earth science. In Lithuania, however, smaller class sizes were mainly associated with improvements in non-cognitive skills such as greater enjoyment in learning biology and chemistry, rather than higher academic achievement in these subjects.
The researchers think smaller class sizes Romania and Lithuania have a greater impact because these countries have fewer resources.