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Study indicates school crowding worse than feared

May 29, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION

Concern over school class size, which has been an issue recently in Washington County, was discussed Thursday when a state teachers organization released a report showing classes are more crowded than state officials suggest.

The study by the Maryland State Teachers Assocation showed class sizes across the state ranged from 22 students to 29 students compared to the 15-student to 18-student average reported by the Maryland State Department of Education.

Karl Pence, president of the state teachers association, said the study shows that state figures are "too far from reality."

The association developed its figures based on teacher responses, officials with the group said.

The state, however, developed its numbers by dividing the number of students by the number of certified employees in a school district, even though many certified employees do not supervise a class, the association said.

"We concur with that," said Washington County Superintendent of Schools Herman G. Bartlett Jr.

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Bartlett said students need more individualized attention now because demands for student performance are greater.

The study shows that the average class size for grades kindergarten through five in Washington County is 23.4, which is better than the state average of 25.6. The average class size for grades 6-8 in the county is 27.1, which is higher than the state average of 25.3.

The average class size in grades 9-12 in the county is 26.2, below the state average of 27.4, the study said.

Overall, the county's average class size is 26.9 students, just under the state average of 27.1.

Pence said an ideal class size for all grades is 15 students, although he realizes that would be a "significant effort." President Clinton only proposed lowering class sizes to 18 in kindergarten through third grade.

Teachers may have been able to handle larger classes decades ago, but the needs of students have changed, Pence said. Students need more attention now because they get little help outside school and television has caused them to have shorter attention spans, Pence said.

Pence said many college classes have 15 to 20 students, and there is no reason that shouldn't be done in public schools, especially when school officials are "trying to mold minds" at that level.

Many parents have pleaded with local school officials this year to add more teachers to the school system. At Williamsport Elementary, for example, class sizes range from 28 to 32 students, and one parent complained to school officials in a meeting there this month that her son's first-grade class is noisy and disruptive.

Principals in some high schools do not seem bothered by class sizes.

Although class sizes are in the mid-20s at Clear Spring High School, it is not a problem, said Principal John Peckyno. A band class at the school has 100 students, but that's normal for that course, said Peckyno.

"There's a lot of factors that have to be taken into consideration," said Peckyno.

North Hagerstown High School Principal David Reeder said some courses can be successfully taught with 30 students. Some classes at North High are nearing that number, but it is not a problem, Reeder said.

Charles Herndon, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said the study's numbers are interesting, but it does not determine what makes a classroom crowded.

Other issues that need to be considered are the different staffing systems used in school districts and the conditions of schools.

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