Study indicates decreased class sizes would improve Mehlville achievement

Assistant superintendent outlines costs necessary to reduce district class sizes

By BURKE WASSON

If the Mehlville School District wants to improve its student achievement, a recent district study shows Mehlville should lower its current ratio of 20 pupils per teacher.

Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Lisa Counts presented a report on the district’s staffing during a community-engagement session Monday night — after the Call went to press.

The session was part of the district’s public-engagement effort, COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.

Counts, who also presented her findings Oct. 29 to the COMPASS Facilitating Team, concludes that the maximum allowable student-teacher ratio should be 18 pupils per teacher.

She also concludes that such factors as early intervention, professional development for teachers and a “rigorous curriculum” can help boost student achievement.

Her conclusions were molded from several 2006 research studies from the Center for Public Education. Her study also shows the following results from class sizes of 18 pupils or less:

• Pupils in small classes from kindergarten to third grade were from six to 13 months ahead of pupils in regular class sizes in the subjects of math, reading and science.

• Fourth-grade pupils in small classes were one-third of a grade level ahead of peers in larger classes.

• Lower class size in primary grades have benefits for pupils through their high-school years.

Counts’ study also shows a correlation that pupil-teacher ratio and per-pupil expenditure have on Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP, scores.

When compared to the school districts of Lindbergh, Webster Groves, Rockwood, Clayton, Kirkwood, Ladue and Liberty, Mehlville’s ratio of 20 pupils per teacher is the highest.

As for per-pupil expenditures, Mehlville’s $7,140 expense is the lowest among those districts.

Mehlville’s 2006 MAP scores in communication arts and math in both third grade and eighth grade are also the lowest among those school districts. Third-grade pupils scored an average of 49 percent in both communication arts and math, and eighth-grade pupils scored an average of 54 percent in both communication arts and math.

By comparison, the previously mentioned school districts included in the study all scored an average from 59 percent to 73 percent in each MAP testing category.

It would cost $935,256 in new teacher salaries to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade to 18 pupils per teacher, according to case studies in Counts’ survey.

To do so would take 21 new teachers at a first-year salary of $44,536. The district currently has 141 teachers em-ployed in kindergarten through third grade and has a ratio of 20.2 pupils per teacher in those grades.

To lower class sizes to 18 pupils from kindergarten through fifth grade, Counts estimates the cost to the district would be $1,736,904. To do so would take 39 new teachers. The district currently has 208 teachers employed in kindergarten through fifth grade and has a ratio of 20.2 pupils per teacher in those grades.

If the district were to amp up early intervention through all-day kindergarten, Counts estimates it would take the equivalent of 11.5 new teachers at a new salary cost of $512,164. The district currently employs the equivalent of 25.5 kindergarten teachers and has a ratio of 19.7 kindergarten pupils per kindergarten teacher.

If all-day kindergarten classes would move to the desired class-size level of 18 pupils per teacher, that cost would increase from $512,164 to $645,772.

Other findings in Counts’ study show that Mehlville is the lowest among those school districts in pupil-to-counselor ratio (402 to 1), student-to-administrator ratio (299 to 1) and social workers (none).

Mehlville does have a total of 23 reading teachers for a ratio of 491 pupils to one, eclipsing the ratios of Rockwood, Ladue, Lindbergh and Liberty.

The Mehlville district’s nine English Language Learner, or ELL, teachers also account for a ratio of 36 ELL pupils per ELL teacher.

Only Lindbergh, with three ELL teachers and a ratio of 37 ELL pupils per ELL teacher, is lower among those school districts.

Mehlville’s six technicians and six instructional technology specialists account for a ratio of 942 pupils per technician. Only Rockwood, with a ratio of 1,696 pupils per technician, has a lower ratio.

The district’s student-to-librarian ratio of 754 pupils per librarian is ranked ahead of only Lindbergh, which has a ratio of 786 pupils per librarian. Mehlville has 15 librarians while Lindbergh has seven.

As for teacher retention, the district reported 30 resignations in 2005 with 16 teachers accepting jobs in other districts, 39 resignations in 2006 with 19 teachers accepting jobs in other districts and 16 resignations in 2007 with 10 teachers accepting jobs in other districts.

Facilitating Team member Keith Benack said he also is concerned with Mehlville’s ability to attract new, high-quality teachers.

“Out in your Central Office, I don’t care how many applications you have,” Benack said. “… I want to know what percentage of people that I want do I get. I want to know if I go after and recruit somebody, do I have a shot at getting them? That’s the number I’m concerned with. I don’t care that the bottom 80 percent of the class work here because they can’t get into another place. That’s the number I’m interested in …”

“In my experience with Mehlville over the years, they’ve got some pretty outstanding teachers,” Facilitating Team co-chair Dan Fowler said. “That’s my experience. I think it’s tough to become a teacher in the Mehlville School District.”

“So what draws them?” Benack said. “It’s not the money. I mean, we don’t offer them great money. They stay here.”

“Keith may have a point that we set some high standards,” Board of Education President Tom Diehl said. “But we are setting the standards for that other 80 percent as opposed to the top 20 percent necessarily. People who go to Clayton, Ladue, Lindbergh because they have smaller class sizes and better salaries and stuff like that, they’re gone before they even come here. OK, we’re getting the better ones out of the leftovers. But are we missing out by having some teachers who don’t even consider coming here?”