Monday, January 25, 2010

APP class size

Going back to the original list of topics APP parents wanted to discuss, I would like to open a thread on class sizes in APP.

Class sizes at some APP schools appear to be quite high. For example, one parent noted:
My son is at Lowell, 3rd grade. There are 29 children in his class which is a big group for one teacher at that level.
More generally, please comment with your experience and thoughts on whether class sizes in APP are unusually large, whether class sizes are a serious issue for attracting potential APP students, the impact you see of class size on learning in the classrooms, and what might be able to be done to improve the situation both immediately and for next year.

Update: Six months later, it sounds like the APP class size problem is expected to be even more severe in our next school year. In the APP Advisory Committee notes from June 1, 2010, the committee wrote:
Classroom sizes are expected to increase and teachers still have to work with new APP students who often have gaps that need to be addressed. With larger classes and a wider range of student abilities and academic backgrounds, it is very hard for teachers to meet all individual student needs. Families can help by volunteering in the classroom and by working with their own students to address specific issues/gaps.


Limes said...

Isn't class size something we should be concerned about as a District? Why should APP kids receive smaller class sizes compared to other programs?

dj said...

Limes, the question is whether or not APP class sizes are larger than district averages, not whether or not APP kids deserve smaller classes.

Greg Linden said...

Hi, Limes. The issue is that APP has larger class sizes than other programs. In particular, this third grade class the APP parent mentioned at Lowell is out of district policy (which sets the limit at 26 for K-3) and may be the largest 3rd grade class in the entire district.

Class size is an issue to be concerned about across the district, yes. But class sizes appear to be substantially higher in some parts of the APP program than at neighborhood schools or other programs.

hschinske said...

Class size in APP has historically be much more variable than in other schools, due to the commitment to serving every student who comes in, and then jury-rigging class sizes to fit whatever you get that year. They've quite often been smaller than average (particularly the year or two they had a classroom in what was practically a closet). I realize that doesn't actually help, but it's not the *same* problem as class sizes being consistently too high.

Helen Schinske

lendlees said...

I think there is also a corollary to big are classes going to be next year when the budget is cut even more?

What Helen says is true--since APP has to accept all of the students that test in, class sizes will always be variable. And throw in the need to have at least one ALO per grade makes it even more challenging.

How to mitigate? Having a lot of parents in to help work with kids in smaller groups is one...any other ideas?

I do know of an extremely large Kindergarten class at Laurelhurst last year that had 30 kids, so Lowell is not alone in big classes. Might just be more of the North end overcrowding syndrome...

Anonymous said...

Large class size won't keep us out of APP.

There are 29 kids in my kid's Kindergarten class. It's not optimal, but it's not a disaster either -- especially not with kids that are well supported at home.

Lori said...

I'm not sure APP class sizes are any larger than other places. I thought the current district policy was 28 kids/class K-2, and if above that number, the teacher gets extra pay. The number is slightly higher for grades 3-5, if I remember correctly. (anyone know for sure? I though it was low-30-something for those higher grades)

My daughter's 1st grade class in the NE is 27 kids right now. We've been told by school staff to expect even larger class sizes next year because of the new assignment plan and perhaps the contract renegotiation. There is a huge budget deficit to close, and one way to do that is fewer teachers and more children per class.

My problem with large class sizes is that it's harder for teachers to differentiate learning among children of various abilities. I would expect that to be less of an issue in APP where the population is more homogeneous. If in fact APP class sizes are larger than elsewhere, could that be the thinking?

ArchStanton said...

My daughter's 2nd grade class at Lowell has 28 kids. Her friend's 2nd grade class at T. Marshall has 14 kids. For arguments sake, if the program had not been split they could each be in classrooms of 21 kids.

Yes, I know this doesn't account for mixed grade classes. I'm not sure how many 2nd graders are in 1-2 or 2-3 split classes.

Still, by splitting APP into smaller chunks, I think we'll see greater variability in class sizes and more instances of mixed grade classes.

It does make me wonder how much variability there will be within an age peer group, though. (i.e. will my daughter always be in large classes because there won't be much variation in the number of kids entering or leaving APP at her grade level?)

My problem with large class sizes is that it's harder for teachers to differentiate learning among children of various abilities. I would expect that to be less of an issue in APP where the population is more homogeneous.

I don't think that's accurate. At the far end of the bell curve, I think you have more outliers so while APP classes wind up with what seems like a small percentage, the there is no endpoint. Teachers can have a mix of kids capable of doing some things anywhere from 2-12 years ahead. Add to that, that some will have gifts in one area, but not another and I think there may be less homogeneity in APP than in Gen. Ed. and therefore harder to differentiate.

Lori said...

found this in an article from the PI last year, so my earlier caps appear to have been wrong:

"In contrast, the Seattle teachers union contract caps class sizes at 26 students in kindergarten through third grade, and 28 students in fourth and fifth grades. (Teachers may have larger class sizes, but the district will provide more help in the classroom or more pay.)"

lauramiddl said...

The third grade classroom with 29 kids at Lowell also has a seven-year differentiation in "grade readiness" (the teacher's term) in math and a five-year differentiation in reading. MAP testing revealed this information (as well as, I'm sure, in-class teacher evaluations). There is a fairly even distribution among the grade levels (i.e. four kids at seventh grade, four at sixth grade, etc.).

Lori said...

Does Lowell do pull-out for certain subjects based on ability? If a 3rd grade class has a 7-year spread in Math and a 5-year spread in Reading, wouldn't it make sense to group children by ability rather than age for better challenge in these core subjects?

I'm sure this has been discussed in the APP community before, but as someone new to all things SPS, I don't know the answers or the pros and cons of such an approach. thanks.

Anonymous said...

State law caps classroom size at 28 for K-3 and 32 for grades 3-5 for one teacher. If over these numbers they are suppose to have an aide. I am guessing Laurelhurst had the aide last year, but was not used in the Kindergarten classroom all day, but was shared as a resource for the whole school. Two years ago Sacajawea was over the 28 in a class for 2nd grade so they moved 4 children into 3rd grade and they were taught the 3rd grade curriculum.

Class sizes are large at almost all of the schools in the NE. It is expected that they will be even larger at many schools next year.

Anonymous said...

Two years ago Sacajawea was over the 28 in a class for 2nd grade so they moved 4 children into 3rd grade and they were taught the 3rd grade curriculum.

That's an odd solution for a class size problem. What happened to those 4 children after that? Were they permanently promoted?

Anonymous said...

Do the APP schools have many parent volunteers in the classes?

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:21

Many APP classes are so overrun with parent volunteers that parents are only able to work in their kid's class every other week. Volunteering is huge at the school.

In response to Lori, I know that there is talk of doing ability grouping in APP at Lowell. The lack of differentiation as been a long-standing complaint of APP. As someone else mentioned, there is a huge spread of abilities within the program.

ArchStanton said...

I can make a few guesses as to why an APP pullout program hasn't bee done.

1. Pullout programs are considered inferior solutions for dealing with gifted kids and can serve to further stigmatize gifted kids by drawing attention to them in a Gen. Ed. setting. APP parents and faculty may hold negative associations as a result.

2. I don't think that there has been any real useful data that shows the spread in abilities that APP kids have. A parent may try to convince staff that there child is doing math or reading at an unusually high level, but even in APP those stories are (not always unjustifiably) taken with a grain of salt. My sense from some of the people I have spoken with is that the new MAP test is providing some interesting data. Whether it will be put to good use is a different question.

3. The usual issues of money for teachers and space for a pullout program.

4. Some people have a misguided concern about letting gifted kids get too far ahead. They worry that school will run out of things to teach them and they'll get bored and hate school.

Personally I think that a pullout program in APP would work fine. I think that the culture around academics and giftedness is different enough that it wouldn't carry the same baggage.

A more realistic solution might be to emulate the "walk-to-math" or "walk-to-reading" in ALOs that lets kids go to a higher grade class for subjects they are capable of doing advance work in. I don't see why it shouldn't work in APP.

Skeptic said...

To Lori and other new APP parents wondering about differentiation: My experience is that teachers and other staff tend to treat it like a dirty word for some reason.

I hate to assume the worst, but all I can figure after having had several maddening discussions at Thurgood Marshall on this topic is that the teachers and administrators have decided that if they pretend that everyone is working at exactly the same level, they won't have to do any of the extra work that differentiation would involve or earmark any money for extra aides to handle pull-out learning.

And it goes all the way up the chain of command: I am never going to forget the infuriating conversation I had with Bob Vaughan about my son when he looked at my son's achievement test scores and observed that "sometimes, well intentioned parents allow too much learning to go on in a home." So it's somehow my fault if my kid is bored out of his mind in the district's gifted program. It's certainly not the fault of his mediocre teacher. And it certainly couldn't be that sometimes, well intentioned administrators allow too little learning to go on in a school.

Lori said...

thanks, ArchStanton. When I asked about "pull out" earlier, I should have said "walk-to" instead; that's the model I'm familiar with as our school does it for Reading right now (and if we're still there next year, hopefully for math too). That certainly would be less "stigmatizing" and resource-intense than pulling aside individual children for one-on-one instruction.

I'm surprised to see some of the same issues going on in APP that go on elsewhere: concerns about class size, lack of differentiation, gifted kids who are bored...

ArchStanton said...


When I was referring to pull-out, I wasn't thinking of individual instruction, although I suppose that might be another model. In my experience, pull-out usually refers to programs where maybe one or two kids leave their regular classroom and are grouped with other gifted kids (often from different schools - maybe same grade or mixed grades) for some form of enrichment. Usually, once a week.

The general opinion of those that I know who have been in this sort of program has been that they didn't get much academically, but maybe did find some peers and learned that they weren't alone in their abilities.

Limes said...

Let's do some math.

If there are 2 sections per grade, with 29 kids per class, that'd be 58 students. Add a third teacher to that, and the ratio goes down to 1:19.

If there are 3 sections, add a 4th teacher, it goes to 21.75.

I'm really not ok with APP having class sizes at 19 or 21. That is not fair to other programs in the District.

Again, I think it's more important to have a hard line with the District about class size. It would benefit all classes in all schools.

Skeptic said...

Limes, perhaps you're an APP parent, but if you're not, I'm not sure you're in the loop as to why class sizes at Thurgood Marshall are so small. It's not some gift the district bestowed on a chosen few. It's because the district arbitrarily cut its APP elementary population in half by zip code and ordered the unlucky half to leave the school they had been attending. At that point, some people left the district; some people--and who can blame them?--found a way back into the school they had been kicked out of through the "walk zone" designation. And when last September rolled around, lo and behold, the half kicked out of Lowell and sent to Thurgood Marshall suddenly wasn't half anymore. That's the only reason why there are tiny class sizes at TM. Many parents simply wanted their kids at the school they had chosen for them, not one the school district had picked for reasons that had nothing to do with their kids.

Maureen said...

Re tiny class sizes at TM, I was under the impression that, when that happened at Lowell, multi grade splits were created (so instead of 14 in 2nd and 36 in 3rd, there would be something like a 2/3 split with 25 (perhaps including the low outliers in 3rd grade) and 25 in 3rd (with the above above average 3rd grade students.)

Is the problem that there aren't the right number of 3rd (or 1st) graders to go with the TM 2nd graders? Or are all the classes tiny to keep people happy to be there?

Anonymous said...

"Two years ago Sacajawea was over the 28 in a class for 2nd grade so they moved 4 children into 3rd grade and they were taught the 3rd grade curriculum.

That's an odd solution for a class size problem. What happened to those 4 children after that? Were they permanently promoted?"

Well, three of the four students have elected to leave SPS.

agibean1958 said...

Just to be clear, not ALL the classes at TM are tiny-the two 5th grades are large-my daughter's is either 29 or 30, though the teacher handles them quite well, from what I've seen.

And we do not consider ourselves "the unlucky half". The move has been a good one for us, and for at least several parents that we know.

There was a tiny 4th grade class at Lowell last year-my understanding is that the numbers are bound to fluctuate as kids test into APP and must be given a seat in the program.

Greg Linden said...

I'd like to make an attempt to summarize what has been said so far in this thread.

It sounds like there are some unusually large APP classes at Lowell, but not at TM, Hamilton, Washington, or Garfield.

Several parents noted this may be a temporary imbalance due to the elementary APP split this year and the long wait list at Lowell.

Other parents pointed out that some non-APP schools in the NE also had unusually large class sizes in recent years, again perhaps due to wait lists for parents wanting to get into those schools.

There appears to be some debate about how much of a problem large class sizes are for APP when they do occur. Some parents argued they aggravated existing problems with differentiation and attracting parents into the APP program. Others argued that large APP class sizes are temporary, unusual, and can be dealt with by willing parent volunteers.

Does that all sound right?

Ben said...

Quick correction, Arch:

Your daughter's friend's 2nd grade class at TM has 16 kids. Or maybe 17? (We recently "lost" one to homeschooling.)

And Limes: If class sizes in APP are "too small"—and are thus somehow unfair to the rest of the kids in SPS—what would your solution be?

For the record, we do consider ourselves part of "the unlucky half."

ArchStanton said...

re: Ben - I stand corrected.

re: Greg - I would add that the split aggravates fluctuations in APP class size and makes it harder for the staff to "right-size" the classes - so we wind up with all sorts of mixed grade classes.

I think that parent volunteers can help mitigate the adult:child ratio, if they are put to good use. My experience has been varied: one teacher had me working directly with students, another had me checking in homework and preparing materials.

From this point on, I don't think that we'll be able to consider large classes as temporary or unusual from this point on given SPS' budget woes.

Anonymous said...

Just so you know - one of the WMS section of math is at 37 students - in a portable. The other section only has about 26, I think.
Varying class sizes will continue to be an issue - at elementary and middle school (not Garfield - as there are not "stand-alone" APP classes) as the cohort size fluctuates year-to-year.
Another note - waitlist at Lowell? They can't waitlist APP students - so you must be referring to families in the TM zone that are waitlisted to get back into Lowell?
The district can't continue to allow that - walk-zone or not - as it obviously has added to the class size problem at Lowell.

hschinske said...

Limes wrote: "If there are 2 sections per grade, with 29 kids per class, that'd be 58 students. Add a third teacher to that, and the ratio goes down to 1:19."

That's why there are so many multi-grade classes: what frequently happens is that *half* a teacher (so to speak) is added to each grade, so that you have, say, 23 third-graders in each of two classes, while another 12 third-graders go off to join 10 or 12 fourth-graders in a 3/4 split. But that's not always a possible solution, and you don't want to go having an absolute ton of split classes one year just because the numbers were particularly odd.

Helen Schinske

Mercermom said...

My son's 6th grade math class at WMS is very small, but I assume that's a result of music scheduling and number of kids who tested to be in the high sixth class.

The much-expanded Walk Zone at Lowell means that the group of kids who are entitled to go to Lowell is all "North" kids plus any eligible kids in the Capitol Hill area. In theory, you could have families from North who wanted TM, or South who wanted Lowell. Those requests would be on a space-available basis, and could result in a waitlist. But that doesn't mean anyone is waitlisted for APP.

Meg said...

K and 1st are 23:1, 2nd/3rd (which are at the core of the proposed WSS cuts this year, so likely to go bigger across the district if those cuts are approved) are 1:24, 4th is 1:26 (a rise over the previous year) and 5th is 1:28 (again, a rise over the previous year).

This is where I've pulled this from:

Lori said...

I went on the Lowell tour yesterday, and the class sizes that I saw sure looked smaller than at our current school. I believe that in some cases, children had been pulled out of class to go with the math specialist, for example. But definitely the classes did not look or feel crowded to me.

And as an aside, I spoke to one of my dearest friends yesterday who teaches first grade at a public school in Baltimore. She was appalled to hear that we have 27 children in my daughter's 1st grade class. She has 21 children in her class AND a full time aide. In a public school. In a large urban setting. That sounds wonderful to me. She questioned how our teachers can be effective in this setting. I question how it's going to be next year when budgets make class sizes even larger.

Anonymous said...

Of course ALL of the problems of class size, at all locations, under discussion here were predicted when the district insisted on splitting APP and APP families were mostly opposed to splitting. These problematic results are all part of the set of "broken promises" about supporting split populations. Parents argued that splitting would leave many classes with too many or too few students, and they did. This is very much like the district's "surprise" at Garfield being overcrowded when they expanded the geographic boundaries.

The Lowell walk zone should be done away with. It should never have been allowed in the first place, and it causes a very uneven split between Lowell (with too many kids) and TM (with too few kids) which makes it foolish. The original proposal for a walk zone was within one block of Lowell, now kids take buses (not exactly walking, right?) from close to Madison Park to addend APP at Lowell rather than attend school in the 'hood. Kind of a specialized "white flight" within APP. So, fix some of the problems by doing away with the walk zone.

Greg Linden said...

I don't normally comment as the moderator, but let me just say that others have argued elsewhere that the walk zone was made necessary by putting the APP elementary school for the north end not in the north end. In general, it doesn't make much sense to have schools that do not draw from populations immediately surrounding the school, which is what was done in this case. The solution, then, would seem to be to make Lowell draw from the central or central/south areas and open another APP elementary for the north that is located in the north end.

Also, I have to say, Anonymous, your implication that anyone who uses the Lowell walk zone is a racist is absurd and offensive. In the future, if you are going to make such accusations, I'd ask you to at least have the courage to put your real name on them.