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Study backs earlier class-size findings
Younger children benefit most from lower
Posted: June 1, 2004
A new study of Wisconsin's popular class-size
reduction program supports earlier findings that the program prompts achievement
gains for students in the earliest grades, particularly kindergarten and first
But the study showed no gains for students in
the program, called SAGE, beyond the third grade, and researchers say the
results for fourth-graders were inconclusive because of the small number of
schools in the study.
"The sample size was too small to come to any
firm conclusions about anything," said Norman Webb, a senior research scientist
at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison, which conducted the study.
If anything, the researchers say, the study
shows the need for further research of SAGE at a time when the program costs the
state about $95 million a year and involves more than 500 schools statewide.
The study, commissioned and funded by the
state Department of Public Instruction, cost about $250,000.
SAGE, the Student Achievement Guarantee in
Education, gives schools extra money to make sure that the student-teacher
ratios in kindergarten through third-grade classes are 15-to-1 or less, among
The researchers analyzed test scores from the
original 30 schools involved in the SAGE program as well as a comparison group
of 17 other schools. They looked at results on the TerraNova test, as well as on
the state reading test for third-graders and the Wisconsin Knowledge and
Concepts Examination for fourth-graders.
Some of their findings mirrored those of Alex
Molnar, a former University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor instrumental in
starting SAGE, who found that students in the program make more progress than
comparable students not in the program, particularly in kindergarten and first
Although SAGE has remained politically popular
over the last few years, critics have argued the money could be better spent on
other ventures, such as teacher training.
Webb said he believes the study confirmed
previous research that SAGE has a positive effect for first-graders, but he
wanted to find out more about the long-term effects. An upcoming study will
significantly broaden the sample size, he said.
Tony Evers, the deputy state superintendent of
schools, said the study showed how important it is for researchers to gather
data for a larger group than the 30 original schools.
"It is time to do something where we know we
can get reasonable data out of it," he said.