TEA-Commissioned Report Recommends Limits on Texas Pre-k Class Size

For Immediate Release
CONTACT:  Peter Clark, 512-473-2274

Report Required by Governor’s Pre-k Bill Recommends Limits on Texas Pre-k Class Size

AUSTIN – A new report required by the state Legislature as part of the high-quality pre-k bill passed in 2015 recommends that Texas limit all pre-k classrooms to a maximum of 22 students and allow no more than 11 students for each teacher or aide in pre-k classes with more than 15 students “in order to create conditions for high-quality classrooms.” The report, commissioned by the Texas Education Agency and the Department of Family and Protective Services as directed by House Bill 4, is based on classroom observations, data voluntarily reported by 18 percent of Texas school districts from the 2014-2015 school year, and a review of national research on pre-k quality.

“We wholeheartedly agree with the recommendations,” said Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children. “Pre-k is a proven strategy to help children succeed in school and provide a great return on investment for taxpayers, but only if class sizes and teacher-student ratios are manageable and teachers can effectively engage their students. During the next legislative session our state lawmakers should build on HB 4 and establish these quality standards for all pre-k classes.”

While state law establishes a limit of 22 students per class for kindergarten through fourth grade, there is no statewide standard for pre-k class size or student-teacher ratios. During the 2015 legislative session lawmakers recognized the importance of pre-k student-teacher ratios by requiring districts receiving HB 4 grants to attempt to provide a teacher for every 11 pre-k students.

The study team conducting research in Texas schools for the report found a direct link between student-teacher ratios and quality teaching. The report notes that the observed classrooms with the best student-teacher interactions had student-teacher ratios between 8:1 and 11:1. Explaining the importance of assigning no more than 15 students to a single teacher, the report says, “In classrooms with ratios of 15:1 and lower, several best practices were observed including more analysis and reasoning, creation, integration, connections to the real world, encouragement and affirmation, feedback loops, provision of information, scaffolding, advanced language use, open-ended questions, repetition and extension.”

The report found overall pre-k quality to be “moderate” in observed classrooms, scoring an average of 4.19 for student-teacher interactions on a seven-point scale. The authors make clear that a single, isolated policy change will be insufficient to improve student-teacher interactions and pre-k effectiveness. The report says, “The recommended class size of 22 is likely to be insufficient to support quality if a student-to-teacher ratio of 11:1 or better is not also established,” further noting that additional supports, such as professional development, are needed. Additionally, the report says that certain classrooms, such as those with high numbers of Dual Language Learners or students with special needs, may need stricter ratio standards.

Many Texas school districts already meet at least one of the proposed standards, according to the report, suggesting any new standards would have a limited fiscal impact. Based on classroom observations and data reported by school districts, the study estimates that approximately 13 to 16 percent of Texas pre-k classrooms have more than 22 students. Among the 97 classrooms observed in 16 Texas school districts, the largest class had 29 students, a class size that limits student learning opportunities. The data reported by school districts to TEA did not include student-teacher ratios, although in the classroom observations the average ratio was 12:1, just slightly above the recommended standard.

While the report recommends a limit of 22 students, it says, “The preponderance of evidence in the literature review suggests that class sizes in prekindergarten classrooms not exceed 20 students.” For example, the report notes that the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recommends a maximum pre-k class size of 20 students and a maximum student-teacher ratio of 10:1. It goes on to state that while Texas falls short of both standards, 86 percent of all states meet the NIEER class size standards while 88 percent meet the ratio standards. For overall pre-k quality, Texas earns two out of ten possible points on the NIEER pre-k quality scorecard.