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New Report Again Touts Success of SAGE

The latest evaluation of Wisconsin’s SAGE class-size reduction program provides more hard evidence that the program is improving the academic success of children in early grades.

The annual report, released Monday (January 21, 2002), found that students in smaller classes show greater academic gains than students in larger classes.

"When teachers have fewer students in a classroom, they can provide the kind of individualized instruction that can make the difference between a child's success and failure."
WEAC President
Stan Johnson

Wisconsin's Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program provides state funding to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade in schools with large numbers of children from low-income households. SAGE classrooms have a student-teacher ratio of 15 to 1, which is significantly better than many elementary classrooms, which sometimes exceed 30 students.

First implemented in 1996-'97 in 30 schools, SAGE has steadily grown in size. The 2000-'01 evaluation focused on 1,542 3rd-grade students in 93 participating classrooms.

The annual study is required by the state to measure the program's success. It is directed by Professor Alex Molnar, formerly of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a team of researchers from UWM. Molnar currently directs the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University. To measure academic achievement, 3rd-grade students in SAGE schools and in a group of comparison schools were administered the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills in the spring of 2001.

In addition to testing students, SAGE evaluators also conducted interviews and observations in selected 2nd- and 3rd-grade classrooms and administered questionnaires to teachers and principals in all SAGE schools.

In analyzing the findings, the evaluators concluded:

  • "The major effect of reduced class size is increased individualization." With fewer students, teachers can better attend to the needs of individual students. Smaller classes, the evaluators concluded, allow more time for instruction and require less time for discipline. They also contribute to greater teacher enthusiasm for their work.
  • Increased individualization comes in three forms: improved one-on-one teacher-student interaction; improved small-group tutoring; and improved total class teaching.
  • Even where class sizes are reduced, some teachers are more effective in raising achievement than others. Teachers in higher-achieving classrooms "emphasize the acquisition of basic knowledge and skills, mostly through the use of explicit instruction." These teachers use a structured classroom style with rules and routines and carefully planned and paced lessons. Teachers in lower-achieving classrooms tended to use more permissive student management techniques, and their lessons appeared to be less carefully planned.

WEAC President Stan Johnson said the report reinforces past research demonstrating the importance of smaller classes in the early grades.

"When teachers have fewer students in a classroom, they can provide the kind of individualized instruction that can make the difference between a child's success and failure," Johnson said. "SAGE is one of the many reasons that Wisconsin schools are great schools. It places children in classrooms that work by giving teachers the resources they need to help children succeed."

The SAGE evaluation is available on the Education Policy Studies Laboratory Web site at

Resource page on SAGE and class-size reduction

Posted January 21, 2002

Education News