A new state joint study is recommending for Texas to set a student-teacher ratio in pre-kindergarten classrooms.
The Texas Education Agency and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services recommend the class size guidelines should not exceed 22 students per pre-kindergarten classroom.
In addition, the study recommends student-to-teacher ratio should be set to not exceed 11 students per teacher. When classes have 15 or fewer students, there should be one teacher, the study recommends.
Some of the school districts in Central Texas are already meeting those standards, including Waco ISD, Midway ISD and Belton ISD.
Waco ISD currently has a teacher and a full time assistant in each of the 56 pre-kindergarten classrooms of the district. Each of the classes has up to 22 students. The district used to have assistants that spent half of the day with teachers in their pre-K classrooms but after voters approved a tax increase in the fall of 2015, the assistants help teachers full-time.
"Having a full time assistant in there is incredible. We are able to meet the students' needs on a much deeper level and really bump those kids up that are ready to be advanced," said Alison Davis, a Waco ISD pre-K teacher.
In addition, since the district is part of the High-Quality Pre-Kindergarten Grant Program, the state requires those schools to attempt to maintain an 11 to 1 student-teacher ratio, which Waco ISD already met after the additional positions were added in the fall of 2015.
Waco ISD’s Early Childhood Education Coordinator Dr. Mary Konrad said having an assistant during the full day of pre-k makes the jobs of the teachers more doable.
"I think the engagement of the students when there is two adults in the classrooms. They can keep the students more engaged in their activities. It helps with behavior and keep the students on task,” Konrad said.
In addition, she said it allows teachers to focus on the individual needs of students.
Other school districts, such as Belton and Midway, are trying to keep class sizes even smaller than 22. Both have up to 20 students per class with one teacher and one assistant.
Midway ISD has 11 pre-K classrooms and the student-teacher ratio is on average 9 to 1 with a maximum cap of 11 to 1.
“We usually try to keep our pre-K numbers pretty low 18 with an assistant and obviously the teacher but this year as I said the [pre-kindergarten] program going the full day, we had to go a little bit over 18,” Woodway Elementary Principal Aaron Pena said.
According to Pena, research has shown the smaller the class sizes at a younger age, the better.
"If the numbers can be low and if there can be more adults, there is just going to be more time you can spend with kids working on individual needs," Pena said.
Davis has noticed a difference from having an extra person full-time.
"Last year, I was able to get all my kids kinder ready and I did sent some to kindergarten who could read. That's something that I was able to do with the full-time assistant. Push those ones who were ready to the next level,” Davis said.
Temple ISD and Killeen ISD do not have all their pre-K classrooms with one teacher and one aide at all times.
At Temple ISD, the classrooms have up to 21 students. Three 3-year-old classes have a teacher and an assistant at all times. During a 15-minute session in the morning and in the afternoon, the 4-year-old groups are only with one teacher. During the rest of the half day pre-K the student to teacher ratio is 11 to 1.
Temple ISD spokesman Matthew LeBlanc said if the state made the 11 to 1 ratio the guideline, the district would have two adults in every class at all times.
At Killeen ISD, the classrooms have up to 22 students. In the pre-K classrooms for three-year-olds, every teacher has an aide. For the pre-K classrooms for 4-year-olds, every two teachers share an aide.
According to the district, if the guidelines are changed, Killeen ISD will continue to follow state guidelines related to class sizes and student-ratio recommendations.
Killeen ISD said it added aides to the classrooms in the campuses qualifying for the High Quality Pre-K Grant Program.
“By staffing these pre-K classes with an aide, we are able to meet the needs of students while being in compliance with these grant program guidelines,” the district stated in a written response.
The student-ratio recommendation will be presented to the Texas Legislature per the requirements of House Bill 4 (84th TX legislature).
The joint study which asked two state agencies to develop recommendations regarding optimal class sizes and student ratios for pre-K was required by HB4.
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