Advanced classes show an increased class size and lack of room



Higher level classes are more crowded and pose a challenge to both teachers and students. This year, all AP Spanish and AP Calculus classes have over 30 students.

Taking an advanced or AP class at the high school often comes with a catch: a larger than ideal class size. Usually, these classes consist of too many students and crowded classrooms. But why is this an issue only at higher levels?

According to Assistant Head of School Hal Mason, the high school is more likely to create larger sections of classes at higher levels. Mason said he would rather have smaller classes at lower levels where students may need more individualized attention from the teacher.

World Language Curriculum Coordinator Rachel Eio said when building language classes for this year, maintaining small class sizes was prioritized for students at lower proficiency levels.

“The hope is that students at upper levels who have more advanced proficiency in the language can navigate and advocate for themselves a little bit more to their teachers than our ninth graders can,” Eio said.

According to Mason, this year each AP Spanish and AP Calculus class has over 30 students.

English Department Chair John Andrews said that in the English department, classes are either slightly above or slightly under the ideal benchmark, which can be between 20 and 25 students depending on class level and grade.

“There’s not a lot of wiggle room. Part of that has to do with what we were told we could afford, in terms of hiring,” Andrews said.

According to Eio and Andrews, larger class sizes have a substantial impact on the ability to teach and learn.

“Some students are going to feel pretty comfortable putting themselves out there, participating and making sure they’re advocating for themselves, but for some students that’s really hard to do. For a kid who struggles with that, being in a 30 person class is hard,” Eio said.

Senior Joselyn Zahka is in one of the aforementioned large AP Spanish classes and said she would rather be in a smaller class.

“I really don’t enjoy it,” Zahka said. “It’s harder to be able to participate in large class discussions because there’s more people, it’s more stressful and we can talk to the teacher less.”

Andrews said that every student that pushes a class size over the recommended lid has an effect on both students and teachers.

“It’s harder for the teacher to get to know the kids. It’s harder for all the kids to get to know each other. It’s harder to individualize your attention,” Andrews said. “That’s not the ideal experience for the students to be having. The teachers are aware of that and are as frustrated by it as much as the students are.”

According to Mason, higher level classes are intentionally created with larger than ideal numbers, but the expectation is that some students will drop down to lower levels. The Geometry Honors classes all began this year with over 30 students, but are all already below 30, he said.

“I’m very comfortable building those classes that big, especially with ninth grade, knowing that kids are going to quickly realize that they’re in the wrong class,” Mason said.

According to Science Curriculum Coordinator Ed Wiser, class sizes in science should be capped at 24 for safety reasons. In the new STEM wing, some classrooms only have 24 chairs, even though there are classes with over 24 students.

“In a few senior optional courses, we have students standing,” Wiser said. “We don’t have actual chairs to give the kids.”

Mason said it is impossible to know if class sizes will grow or shrink in coming years because so many factors are subject to change.

“We don’t know yet exactly what the numbers will be like next year,” Mason said. “Part of that is driven by requests and part of that is driven by the overall town budget and what the school department tells us.”

Eio said the budget allocated to schools, which changes every year, has the biggest impact on class sizes. She said because of budget cuts last year, the school has less money even with a growing student population.

“We’re experiencing that surge of students coming through that Brookline has been talking about. Some of that was tempered a little bit by the [COVID-19] pandemic, but we have more students at [the high school] than we had last year, but now we have less classes,” Eio said. “What does that feel like? It feels like bigger classes at the advanced level.”

Max Jepsen and Zoe Brooks contributed reporting.