Is Smaller Really Better? School Size, Graduation Rate, and Test Scores in PGCPS

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

The recently released report on school size commissioned by the Maryland State Department of Education has suggested enrollment limits set at 1,700 students for high schools, 900 students for middle schools, and 700 students for elementary schools.

Ten of PGCPS’s high schools have enrollments exceeding 1,700 students. How do these high schools perform, compared with the system’s smaller schools? Is smaller really better?

In the table below, I compare key data on PGCPS high schools from the 2014 Maryland Report Card: 1) size of enrollment, 2) the percentage of 12th graders who have passed the state assessments*, 3) the graduation rate**, 4) the mean (average) composite SAT score for 12th graders, and 5) the percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced meals (FARMs).

All data is from 2014, the most recent year available, and I have excluded alternative, vocational, and evening schools. Schools are listed in descending order by size of enrollment, and those above the dotted red line have enrollments greater than the suggested limit.

SchoolSize_Table *The number here represents the percentage of 12th graders who took all state assessments and passed all tests or met the requirement by using the combined score option. More information here.

** The graduation rate given here is the rate for the 4-year adjusted cohort.

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Smaller is Better: Maryland State Department of Education Publishes School Size Study, PG High School Sizes Vary Widely

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

The Maryland State Department of Education has released a report on school size and its impact on education. The study finds that after school enrollment reaches a point where economies of IMG_6335scale no longer decrease operating costs, smaller schools are usually better.

The research team recommends that enrollment limits be set according to school level (i.e. elementary, middle, high) with a maximum of 700 students per elementary school, 900 students per middle school, and 1,700 students per high school. The report clarifies that these are recommended maximum limits, not necessarily optimal enrollment numbers.

Prince George’s County high schools have an enormous variation in size of enrollment, with some high schools more than three times as large as some others. According to data from theĀ  Maryland Report Card, Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George’s County had an enrollment of 2,445 students in 2014, while Bowie High School was even larger, with 2,573 students. As of 2014, ten high schools in the county had more than 1,700 students, the enrollment limit recommended in the report. But, as the study points out, Prince George’s County has the largest range in high school enrollments of all Maryland counties. Several high schools in the county have fewer than 900 students. At 775 students, Surrattsville High’s enrollment is one of the lowest in the county.

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