CHICAGO (AP) _ Smaller classes are more important than longer school days in helping kindergarten students from poor neighborhoods perform well academically, a new Board of Education study concludes.
The study of standardized test scores of 6,922 kindergarten children from 106 poverty-area schools found that youngsters in half-day kindergarten classes that averaged only 16 pupils consistently outscored those in classes of 22 to 28 pupils who attended school for the entire day.
Children in half-day classes that averaged 28 pupils performed the worst, the study found.
″There are two factors involved, class size and length of time in school, and the first appears to be more of a determinant,″ Dr. Irving Brauer, director of the school board’s Department of Research and Evaluation, said Tuesday.
″We are assuming from this that the optimal situation would be small classes for a full day. But given the fixed amount of dollars available to education and asking, ‘Where would you rather put the money, in all-day classes or smaller class size?’ this obviously favors smaller class sizes for disadvantaged kids.″
The study comes at a time when all-day kindergarten is being considered as part of school reforms across the nation. Supporters contend longer school days will result in better academic performance, especially for children from disadvantaged homes where preschool education is often deficient.
As part of a school reform package passed last summer, the Illinois General Assembly voted to encourage local school districts to hold full-day kindergarten classes, promising extra state aid for children in those classes beginning next fall.
But the study suggests lengthening the school day could backfire unless the money is used to keep class sizes down.
The study found that children in small half-day classes averaged at or above national standards for their grade level in language, word analysis and mathematics, and one month below grade level in vocabulary.
Children in all-day classes with an average of between 22 and 28 pupils scored above level in word analysis, but below in the three other categories.
Pupils in large, half-day classes lagged below average in all four areas. They already were one year below the national norm in vocabulary near the end of their first year of schooling.
Board evaluators also observed 123 kindergarten classes to learn how much individual attention was given to children in the different-sized classes; interviewed 134 teachers about they allocated times between academic and recreational activities; and surveyed 800 parents about their preference for half-day or full-day classes.
The study noted that 90 percent of the parents favored full-day classes, but ″none of them stated the obvious advantage ... of being relieved of responsibility of caring for the child for the other half-day.″
″That’s something we didn’t try to quantify,″ said Brauer, ″but it has to be advantageous for working parents.″