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Class Size Effects on Student Achievement


There are multiple purposes associated with schooling. The long run effects of schooling relate to high earning potential, better health, economic mobility, high level of economic mobility and increased democratic participation. As a result, it is paramount for societies to ensure that their children attend school for a given number of years. Through learning, students are able to acquire new skills which enhance their decision making capacity and hence efficiency in solving problems. According to Ehrenberg, Brewer,Gamoran and Willms(2001, p.1), there has been increased debate in relation to how schooling can enhance the capacity of student learning which is measured by different assessment tools such as achievement tools. Due to scarcity of resources such as time, the society viewpoint is that learning should be maximized at minimal cost. Most of the schools systems have incorporated a common mode of learning which entails interaction of students of approximately the same age within a class room setting. The number of students in a given class varies. For instance, there can be 1 or more teachers facilitating learning of 1 or 2 students. On the other hand, a single teacher may be facilitating learning of more than 100 students.

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Problem statement

Class size has a potential of influencing the learning process of students and hence the achievement. There are diverse definitions which have been advanced in relation to class size. Flake, Vondohlen and Gifford (1995, p.2) define class size to include the students per class or the student to teacher ratio. Student to teacher ratio is calculated by dividing the all the schools certified personnel with the total all the students. On the other hand, student per class is defined as the number of student attended by an individual teacher during a single period of instruction. This gives a more accurate definition of class size. The class size has an effect on the interaction amongst the students. The degree of interaction has an effect on the intensity of social engagement attained. Alternatively, class size has an effect on the ability of the teacher to focus on a particular student hence addressing their specific needs. There is a high probability of the teachers attaining individual focus in a small class. Ehrenberg (2001, p.1) asserts that a smaller class size increase the likelihood of individual attention. Class size has an effect on the effectiveness with which the teachers allocate the time. Both educators and parents universally agree that small classes contribute towards the education system being successful. As a result, there has been numerous efforts by various education systems to reduce the class size.

However, there has been a division amongst the researchers on whether there are any positive effects of smaller classes on students’ outcomes. Most of the debates on schools systems have been focusing on the contribution of increasing resources as an effort to improve student achievement. This discussion has been prevalent on a global scale. As a result, different frameworks have been incorporated in conducting the study across the developed and developing countries. For instance, the developed countries are incorporating measures such as increasing teacher salaries, reducing class size or expanding teacher training. The learning environment towards which the student is exposed has long term effects such as the students self esteem. It is important for the relevant authorities to consider making changes on class size, in an effort to improve the learning process and hence the student achievement.

Purpose statement

The research paper focuses on the effect of class size on student achievement. The study considers class size to be the independent variable while student achievement is the dependent variable. By evaluating the effects of class size on student achievement, the research will give more insight on how class size matters. In addition, the research will give insight on how the mechanisms involved in creating the respective difference between smaller and large class size. In addition, the research will increase our understanding on why there are variations on the effects of class size.

Limitation of the study

Due to time, human resource and financial constraints, it was not possible to conduct a research on the entire population. As a result, the research was only limited to only a small geographical location within the country. However, it was assumed that the sample considered was an effective representative of the entire population.

Literature review

According to Dilon and Kokkelenberg (2002, p.2), there was a general consensus which prevailed during the 1970’s within the educational research community in relation to class size and student achievement. It was generally agreed that class size have minimal effect on the extent of student achievement. However, studies conducted by Glass and Smith during this period revealed that there is a negative relationship between student achievement and class size. Dillon and Kokklenberg (2002,p.3) are of the opinion that small class sizes culminate into high positive effects compared to large class sizes. This difference is associated with the attitude created between the teachers and students. The attitude developed by the students towards certain subjects has an influence on the achievement of the students (Guseman, 1985, p.5).

According to a study conducted on a marketing class on the effects of class size on student’s attitude and learning, the findings revealed that there is a direct effect. The study entailed comparison of the extent of attitude change developed and cognitive learning between a small and large marketing class. There was no difference evident between the small and large class in relation to high and low level cognitive learning. However, a significant difference was evident between the large and small class size in relation to attitude. Students in the small class size developed positive attitude towards marketing compared to the large class size. In addition, a large percentage of these students majored in marketing. A study conducted in Nevada on class size revealed that smaller classes contribute towards creation of positive attitude amongst the students towards learning. However, the findings were not promising in relation to student achievement (Flake et al , 1995, p.8). Another study conducted in Tennessee (Tennessee Project STAR) revealed that there is an indirect relationship between student achievement and class size. Tennessee Project STAR was aimed at determining how the performance of kindergarten can be improved through limiting the class size. The study involved an analysis of small and regular classes with 13-17 and 23-27 students’ respectively. The performance of these students was evaluated by averaging the score attained in Tennessee Basic Skills First (BSF) test and Stanford Achievement Test (SAT). The STAR study revealed a better performance amongst students in small classes compared to those in large classes (Flake et al, 1995, p.12).

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According to Galton (2008, p.6), class size affects the degree of motivation created in the students. Students in small class size have a high probability of being more motivated compared to students in large class size. Galton asserts that this results from the fact that the teachers have adequate time to meet the individual needs of the students. In addition, the teachers individualize the learning process in accordance with the students needs. As a result, the students give an opportunity to students to disclose their understanding and abilities. For instance, the teachers can frequently critique and give feedback to individual students. According to Lazear (2001, p. 800), disclosing their abilities, the students are able to focus more closely on their development. This enhances the achievement of the students. Averett and McLennan (n.d,p.8) assert that the outcomes of the students are affected by time allocation by the teachers. This is due to the fact that the facilitators are constrained to allocate their time between diverse activities which affect the entire class such as preparation. In addition, the teachers are also constrained in answering individual student’s questions and attending to tasks outside teaching. The teacher’s utility function is defined by the time spent on non-educational activities and the mean class performance. On the other hand, the performance of a class is determined by the time spent by the facilitators (teachers) on various educational activities. As a result, teachers focus on the entire class performance. This results from the fact that the average performance is enhanced by activities which have an effect on the entire class. However, individual student performance is likely to be negatively affected on increasing the class size.

According to Ehrenberg et al (2001, p.3), the motivation level developed by the students in small classes during the early schooling years has a significant effect on the motivation of the students later in life and hence their achievement. These results were arrived through a Lasting Benefit Study (LBS) conducted to determine the possibility of ‘carryover’ effects (Flake et al, 1995, p. 13).According to Lazear (2001, p.789), class size has an effect on the learning environment created. The classroom atmosphere created greatly contributes towards the achievement of the disadvantaged students. Achievement of the individual students is determined by the effectiveness with which different teaching techniques, peer effects and classroom management have been integrated. Small classes are considered to be more effective in undertaking classroom management tasks. In addition, the teachers interact with the students more effectively thus gaining a better understanding of the individual students needs (Lazear, 2001, p.777). Small classes also enhance the probability with which the teachers meet with the students’ guardians or parents. As a result, teachers have a better control over the classroom which minimizes the amount of time spent on discipline. In addition, there is a high probability of small classes curriculum integrating the characteristic of richness, variety and breadth since the teachers have sufficient time to focus on their planning process.

Class size has an effect on the students peer effects. Findings of research conducted reveal that the relationship amongst the students plays a significant role towards student achievement. Student relationship is more improved in small classes compared to large classes. In addition, the morale of both the students and the teachers is high. For instance, students identify the schooling process which minimizes the risk of the low income students from being detached from the schooling system (Finn, 1998, p.20). Flake et al (1995, p. 27) asserts that despite the difficulties in depicting the relationship between small class size and student achievement, all the experiments conducted in Tennessee Project STAR reveal that small class size increases the teacher morale.

From the literature review, it is evident that class size has an effect on student achievement in a number of ways. A significant proportion of previous studies conducted on class size reveal that small classes result into better student achievement compared to large classes.

Hypothesis statement

In conducting the study, both the null (H0) and alternative (H1) hypothesis were used as illustrated below.

  • H0 =There is a direct relationship between class size and student achievement.
  • H1= There is an indirect relationship between the class size and student achievement.


Research design

In conducting the study, qualitative research design was utilized. According to Creswell (2008, p. 68), qualitative research enables the researcher to focus on the issue under investigation thus gaining a better understanding of the phenomenon. In addition, qualitative research design gives the researcher ability to better understand his or her respondents understanding of the issue under investigation. This is due to the fact that the respondents give the researcher their own experience regarding the phenomenon being investigated. Quantitative research design was also integrated with qualitative research. According to Creswell (2008, p. 218), the quantitative element of research can also be integrated within the qualitative research design. This results from the fact that some of the data collected from the field can be quantitative in nature. The objective of the integrating quantitative research with qualitative research is to enrich the description given by the sample participants. As a result, the researcher is able to give a deep analysis of the thus providing rich details (Creswell, 2008, p. 245).

In the process of data collection, sampling technique was utilized. This was attained through identifying a sample group from the entire sample population. Random sampling was integrated in selecting the sample so as to eliminate bias. Educational administrators of various educational institutions and guardians/ parents were considered as the main respondents. The sample group consisted of 100 individual respondents. In addition 50 educational institutions were also considered. Of these, 25 had class size of 13-15 students while the other 25 had large class size averaging between 25- 30 students.

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Data collection was conducted through of use of interview and administering questionnaires. The interviews were conducted through the telephone so as to minimize the cost of data collection. The respondents were informed in advance regarding the interview so as to obtain their consent. On the other hand, the questionnaires were mailed to the respondents. The questionnaires consisted of open ended questions to enable the respondents explain as much as possible thus enabling the researcher to gain in-depth information regarding the effects of class size on student achievement. Before distributing the questionnaires to the respondents, the questions were reviewed to eliminate any form of mistakes or ambiguity thus improving their clarity. In collecting data regarding student achievement, the end of course results were used. These were obtained from the individual schools.

Findings and data analysis

All the institutions used the same grading system which entailed grading the student performance as either A, A- B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-. D or F. For easier analysis, the study modified these grading system into either A, B, C, D or F. In addition, these grades were assigned numeral variables which ranged from 4, 3, 2 and 1. A was equivalent to 33%, B=29%, C=20%, D=4% and F=4%.

Qualitative characteristics contributing towards student achievement were also considered. These included attitude developed, self esteem, teacher morale and the level of motivation. These were evaluated between large and small class size. A rating system was considered in analyzing the variation between class size and student achievement. The rating ranged from 1-4. These findings are illustrated below.

Qualitative characteristic Large class size Small class size
Student attitude 2 4
Self esteem 2 3
Teacher morale 1 3
Student motivation 2 4

Rating 1=Relatively weak, 2=Weak, 3=Relatively strong, 4=Strong

From the table above, it is evident that educational institutions with small class size revealed strong qualitative characteristics which contribute towards a high student achievement compared to schools with large class size. 75% of the parents and guardians revealed a high preference of small classes to large ones. This is due to the fact that they have identified a trend of good performance in students attending small classes. On the other hand, 70% of the educational administrators revealed a high level of preference to small classes compared to large ones.


From the study, it is evident that there is a close link between the class size and student achievement. This results from a number of factors. Class size has an effect on the student level of motivation hence affecting student achievement. Large class size are characterized by low level of motivation due to lack of effective student to teacher interaction. On the other hand, small classes result into high level motivation as students and the teachers interact more effectively. Teachers in small class size can be able to give individualized attention to the students. This contributes towards the student identifying their abilities. The degree of motivation developed is carried over by the student in his or her learning process. In addition, class size has an effect on student self esteem. Developing a high self esteem has an effect on student achievement. Students in small classes develop their self esteem more effectively compared to those in large classes. This is due to the fact that class size determines the efficiency with which the students interact with each other.

Class size also has an effect on teacher morale. Teachers the facilitating learning process in small classes have a higher morale compared to those attending to a large class. To be able to increase student motivation, the relevant authorities should consider on how to reduce class size. This may result into the both the parents and the government incurring additional cost through recruitment of additional teachers. However, the long term benefits or reducing class size are more.


Averett,S.&McLennan, M.(n.d).Exploring the effect of class size on student achievement: what have we learned over the past two decades. California: Ursinus College.2010. Web.

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Creswell, John W. (2008) Educational Research: Planning, Conducting, and Evaluating Quantitative and Qualitative Research. New York: Butterworth Publishers. Web.

Dillon, M.& Kokkelenberg. (2002). Effects of class size on student achievement in higher education: applying an earning function. Binghamton: Binghamton University. Web.

Ehrenberg, R.G., Brewer,D.,Gamonran, A.& Willms, D. (2001). Class size and student achievement : Brunswick: University of New Brunswick. Web.

Finn, J.(1998).Class size and students at risk: What is known? What is next? Washington, DC. Department of Education. Web.

Flake,J. Vondohlen ,L.& Gifford , T.(1995). Class size and student achievement: is there a link? Arizona: University of Arizona. Web.

Guseman, D.(1985).Class size impact upon student learning and attitude in the introductory marketing course. Journal of marketing education. Vol.7, issue 1, pp.2-7.Bakersfield, California: California State University. Web.

Lazaer, Edward. (2001).Educational Production. Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol.116,Issue 30,pp. 777-803. Oxford: Oxford Pulishers.

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