High Desert schools cope with crammed classes

Teachers, students try to overcome challenges

High Desert copes with crammed classes

REDMOND, Ore. - A recent state report shows Oregon's student-teacher ratio is among the highest in the country.

Oregon public schools have worked on decreasing class sizes, but they're still above the national average.

Redmond teachers and students said Friday it affects the way learning happens in the classroom.

"The average for me has been 30, maybe 31" students per class, said sixth-grade teacher Rayna Nordstrom.

That's a common theme in classrooms across the state.

"I'm fortunate this year -- I only have 27 kids. Last year, I had 32 kids," said third-grade teacher Janelle Rebick.

It's one of the obstacles Oregon teachers face when educating students.

State Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said it comes down to money and spending state education funds more efficiently.

Knopp also said school districts are faced with a dilemma every two years, when they get money from the state.

"It really is a school district function as to whether they want to pay their employees more, or they want to hire more employees to lower those class sizes," Knopp said.

For years in Oregon, state education funding has declined, forcing school districts to make drastic cuts. Some have shortened the school year, others have cut teacher positions -- pushing up class sizes.

Big classes don't just affect teachers, of course. Redmond High senior Zack Simmons has experienced small and large classes, and says there are pros and cons to both.

"In the smaller classes, you have more one-on-one with the teacher, which could help learning," Simmons said. "With the larger classes, you have less teacher interaction, but there's more student interaction, where students can help each other more, compared to the smaller classes."

With an average class size of 31, Nordstrom said larger class sizes make it difficult to build learning relationships with the students.

"Giving that feedback to them that is actually meaningful and in a timely manner is difficult when you have such large class sizes," Nordstrom said.

Simmons remembers the frustration in a class last year.

"Last year my pre-calculus class was a larger class, and that was a class I really struggled in," Simmons said, "It was really hard for the teacher to get ahold of me or get contact with the teacher, because there were too many kids in the class, so I couldn't ask for help that often."

Class sizes have only gone up over the years, so Nordstrom has developed techniques to work around it. 

"Whole-group instruction and the small groups that I call back -- I try to differentiate the curriculum so that at least I can give undivided attention to a smaller group at a time, while the rest of the class is working on another project," Nordstrom said.

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