Students at medium-sized high schools at a disadvantage in math

iStock_000002424978XSmallIn the contest between small high schools vs. large high schools, small schools often show more benefits in studies on the effect of school size on high school students.

But, in a recent national study on the effect of school size on math achievement and dropout rate, researchers found that it was students of medium-sized schools that were at a disadvantage in math learning. Students of small schools and large schools performed at similar levels in math. Results did support the benefits of small schools on dropout rate: Students in smaller schools were less likely to drop out than their counterparts in large high schools.

“The relationship between high school size and math gain, however , is curvilinear; students attending very small (<674) or very large (>2592) schools have the largest math gains, while students in schools with intermediate enrollment sizes demonstrated smaller math gains,” the authors write in The High School Journal.

The effect size of school size on math achievement was small compared to other variables, they note. In the last two years of a student’s high school career, only 5% of the difference in math growth was attributable to school sized compared to 18% for socioeconomic status, 15% for race/ethnicity and 10% for urban schools.

Researchers examined data from 16,081 students using the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 10th grade cohort of 752 schools nationwide. To isolate the effect of school size, the researchers used 6 variables (subsidized-lunch program, limited English proficiency, urbanicity, gender, race/ethnicity and parents’ socioeconomic status). Researchers used hierarchal linear modeling to allow for the complex nested structure of individual student-level data within higher level school data.

“The Impact of High School Size on Math Achievement and Dropout Rate,” by Jacob Werblow and Luke Duesbery, The High School Journal, Feb/March 2009. 

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