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High school class sizes shrink; fewer middle school teachers mean larger classes

Second of two parts

The number of students in many high school classes in Harford County this school year is lower than last year, as well as five years ago.

For the county's 8,623 middle schoolers, however, classes are likely to be a little more crowded this school year than last, though less so than in 2009 and 2008.

The average class in the three middle school grades this year has 22.5 students, according to an annual report on class sizes delivered to the county school board Dec. 12.

The average class size in the four high school grades this year has 22.2 students, according to the same report.

Both middle and high school class size averages are calculated differently from elementary school averages, because the secondary school calculations must take into account the myriad of courses being taught that differ from school to school, differences in scheduling from school to school and the impact of specialty magnet programs offered at schools like Harford Tech, Aberdeen High and Edgewood High.

As a result, the class size averages for secondary schools are tied much closer to staffing ratios than are elementary schools, where there is typically a one-to-one relationship between the teacher and a single class.

Middle school classes

The average middle school class size in Harford County's public schools in 2011 is 22.5 students, according to the latest class size report, up from 22.2 students in 2010 but lower than the averages of 20.7 students in both 2009 and 2008 and equal 2007.

There has been a steady decline in middle school enrollment over the past five years from 9,080 students in 2007 to 8,623 as of Sept. 30, 2011, about 5 percent. Over the same period there has been a corresponding drop in middle school staffing, also about 5 percent.

According to the Sept. 30, 2011 class size report, there were 536.6 teachers (general education positions that do not include counselors, special ed teachers, trades teachers, media specialists, coordinators and evaluators and therapists) assigned to the nine middle schools and alternative education center. In 2010, what the school board calls the "actual staffing" level at those schools was 545.7 positions; in 2007 the figure was 563.2 positions.

The actual staffing level refers to the gross number of teaching positions; however, those positions are also measured by what is called "adjusted staffing," which is the actual number of periods the teacher is in the classroom, as opposed to non-teaching periods.

Over the past five years, the so-called teaching ratio of actual to adjusted staffing has been a constant 0.714 (71.4 percent) at the middle school level. Adjusted staffing is used to figure the average class size in a given school.

School-by-school comparisons

According to the 2011 class size report, Bel Air Middle School, with an enrollment of 1,296 students, a staffing level of 70.6 teachers and an adjusted staffing level of 50.4, has the highest average middle school class size at 25.7 students per class.

Patterson Mill Middle (732 students and adjusted staffing level of 30.0 teachers) is next with a 24.4 students per class average. Southampton Middle, the largest school (1,276 students, adjusted staffing 53.6) has an average class size of 24.4 students.

Magnolia Middle, with 710 students, 50.5 teaching positions and adjusted staffing level of 36.1, has the smallest middle school average class size in the county at 19.7 students.

Second smallest average classes are at Edgewood Middle with 20.6 students per class (1,073 students and adjusted staffing of 52.1 positions) and Havre de Grace Middle, the smallest school in terms of enrollment, with 20.7 students per class (529 students and adjusted staffing of 25.6 positions).

The other middle school average class sizes this year are Aberdeen, 21.3 students per class; Fallston, 24.1 students per class; and North Harford, 21.6 students per class.

Middle schools with largest, smallest classes

In the 2011-12 school year, there are 2,752 regular education and 369 special education classes at the middle school level in Harford County public schools.

Of the 2,752 regular education classes, 1,010, 36 percent, have fewer than 20 students; 939, 34 percent, have 20 to 25 students; 672, 24.4 percent have 26 to 30 students; 95, 3.4 percent, have 31 to 35 students; and 36, less than 1 percent, have more than 35 students.

Aberdeen Middle, with 559 total classes, more than any other middle school, has the most classes, 16, with more than 35 students, but the school also has the most classes, 393, with less than 20 students.

Of the 369 special education classes at the middle school level this year, the overwhelming number, 327, 88.6 percent, have fewer than 20 students; 31 classes, 8.4 percent, have 20 to 25 students; 10 classes, 2.7 percent have 26 to 30 students; and one class has 31 to 35.

Southampton Middle has the most special education classes, 63, of which 32 have less than 20 students, 20 have 21 to 25 students, 10 have 26 to 30 students and one has 31 to 35 students. With 11 classes averaging 21 to 25 students, Edgewood Middle is the only other middle school with special education classes that exceed 20 students on average.

While several schools, such as Aberdeen, Bel Air and Southampton middle, have numerous classes with 31 or more students, Barbara Canavan, executive director of middle school performance, told the school board these typically are electives such as chorus, band, orchestra and physical education classes, not mandatory courses.

High school classes smaller

The average high school class this year in Harford County public schools has 22.2 students, according to the latest class size report, down from 22.4 students per class in 2010 and from 23.3 students per class over the past five years.

Although total enrollment has fluctuated from 2007 to 2011, this year's total of 11,935 high school students is 239 students, or 1.9 percent, fewer than were enrolled in 2007.

During that period, however, total actual high school teaching staffing as increased by almost 19 positions to 719.3 general teachers at the high school level in 2011. Adjusted staffing using a ratio of .750 gives net adjusted positions for the Harford system of 539.5 positions this year, according to the class size report.

Bel Air High, which this year is the largest high school in the county with 1,633 students enrolled, also has the largest average class size of 25 students, with adjusted staffing of 65.3 positions. Patterson Mill High (991 students, 39.8 adjusted staff) is close behind with an average class size of 24.9 students.

None of the other eight high schools or the alternative education high school program registers an average class size of more than 24 students. The smallest average is at Joppatowne High (872 students, 45.0 adjusted staffing) at 19.4 students per class. Fallston High (1,090 students, 55.5 adjusted staffing) is next lowest with 19.6 students per class.

Other high school class averages are Aberdeen High, 21.9 students per class; C. Milton Wright High, 20.9 students per class; Edgewood High, 20.3 students per class; Harford Tech, 22.7 students per class; Havre de Grace High, 20.8 students per class; and North Harford High, 23.4 students per class.

Largest, smallest high school classes

According to the latest class size report, there are 4,780 regular high school classes this year and 464 special education high school classes.

Among regular classes, 2,068, 43.3 percent, have less than 20 students; 1,476, 30.8 percent, have 20 to 25 students; 1,016, 21.2 percent, have 26 to 30 students; 164, 3.4 percent, have 31 to 35 students; and 56, 1.2 percent, have more than 35 students.

Patterson Mill High has the most regular classes with more than 35 students, 16 out of 404; Bel Air is next with nine of 580, the latter being the largest total regular classes among county high schools.

Edgewood High has the largest number of classes, 274 out of 529, with fewer than 20 students, followed by C. Milton Wright High with 258 classes out of 557 total. Havre de Grace High, the smallest high school in the county with an enrollment of 691 students, has the third most classes with fewer than 20 students, 243 out of 378 total.

Like his counterpart at the middle school level, Joseph Schmitz, executive director of high school performance, said most of the classes with more than 30 students are elective courses such as music and phys ed.

No high school in the county has a special education class with more than 30 students; however, at Bel Air High, seven of the 57 special education classes have from 26 to 30 students and 22 classes have from 20 to 25 students. No other high school has a special education class with more than 20 students.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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