NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Smaller Class Size Prompts Test Score Increases

March 6, 2001

Smaller class sizes can help schools narrow the black-white achievement gap, lower teen birth rates and possibly reduce crime, according to a new study by Princeton University researchers Alan Kreuger and Diane Whitmore.

The study found that when class sizes were reduced from an average of 22 to 25 students to between 13 and 17:

  • Average test scores increased by 7-10 percentile points for black students and 3-4 points for white students.
  • The likelihood of black students taking the ACT or SAT tests rose from 31.8 percent to 41.3 percent, and that of white students went from 44.7 percent to 46.4 percent -- with the average score for each group increasing slightly.
  • The teen birth rate was one-third less for white females and fatherhood rate was 40 percent lower for black teenage males.

The Princeton study is a follow-up to a class-size experiment of 11,600 elementary school students and teachers in Tennessee. From 1985 to 1989, students were tracked from kindergarten through third grade. All students returned to regular-sized classes in fourth grade. Students in smaller classes outperformed their peers in larger classes both through and after third grade.

Christopher Cross, chairman of the Council for Basic Education, says the study shows there are more than transitory gains to reducing class sizes, but noted that when California tried to reduce class size, the number of unaccredited teachers skyrocketed and "problems of space multiplied."

Source: Tamara Henry, "Study: Smaller Class Size is Racial Equalizer, Social Salve," USA Today March 6, 2001.


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