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District 833 Viewpoint: The difference between class size and student-teacher ratio

What’s the difference between class size and student-teacher ratio?

As District 833 works to explain the impact of the proposed referendum this fall, conversations include the recent budget reduction of teaching staff across the district. The second question on the referendum calls for $1.4 million additional dollars to support students which would allow for the return of licensed staff to support individual building needs. The licensed staff may or may not be individual teachers in the classroom, but a licensed professional to suit other student needs.

What does this have to do with class size and the student-teacher ratio? The information below will clarify these terms and more.

Class size refers to the number of students in each class. Some classes may be larger or smaller depending on the attendance boundary and student schedules.

In addition to class size in the district, other terms used include: staffing ratio, academic services, class size reduction, licensed staff to student ratio, FTE (full-time equivalent), and thresholds. All of these relate to providing the optimal class size for students within the available resources.

Through the budgeting process, the School Board approves the staffing ratio which accounts for a total of 55 percent of the district’s budget. The staffing radio is based on the number of licensed teachers to the student schedule. Currently, elementary is at 29.5 students to 1 teacher, middle is at 31.5 to 1, and high school is at 32.5 to 1. The staffing ratio is the same from building to building; however it does not mean that each class size is at the same number.

Staffing ratio areas include K—5 classroom teachers, vocal music, physical education, world language and art at the elementary level. At the secondary level this includes math, science, social studies, language arts, health, physical education, art, world language, business, family and consumer science, STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math), CCR (College and Career Readiness), reading and music.

Academic services include licensed staff required to support students outside of the schedule. At elementary schools, this includes reading recovery and specialists, and media. At middle schools, this includes literacy coaches, gifted programming, orchestra, AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination), guidance and media. At the high school this includes AFJROTC (Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps), literacy, gifted/advanced placement, orchestra, AVID, guidance and teacher cadet.

Supporting class size at the elementary level, the state provides class size reduction funds to reduce the ratio in grades K-3. The need is greater in the early grades more than any other grade level to ensure the future success of students.

While the staffing ratio may be 29:1 at the elementary, a threshold is in place to assist with keeping class size as low as possible in all district classrooms. The current elementary thresholds are: 23 students in kindergarten; 24 in first grade; 26 in second grade; 27 in third grade; 32 in fourth grade; and 32 in fifth grade.

The high school schedules are student driven. We may choose to run a course with a small number of students due to their academic needs. If we do run a course with small numbers, other courses throughout the schedule may have more students and a larger number of students enrolled.

As educators, we too would like the lowest class size possible. However, we also recognize that small class size alone does not ensure a good education. The quality of the teaching, school leadership and parent involvement are some of the other factors to also be considered. South Washington County Schools are committed to igniting a passion for lifelong learning in all our students in each and every class.

- Dave Bernhardson and Keith Ryskoski

Bernhardson is District 833 assistant superintendent for elementary education; Ryskoski holds that title for secondary education.