Daily Astorian

Class sizes are too big and preparation time too short, according to Oregon's teachers who took a statewide survey published this week.

The TELL Oregon survey asked more than half of the state's teachers 87 questions about their job. The results painted a picture of teachers who are weary of dealing with large classes and increasing demands on their time that educators say have become the new normal.

Class size

Only one in four teachers in Oregon believes their school's class sizes are "reasonable such that teachers have the time available to meet the needs of all students." In most districts it was the elementary school teachers who were least likely to agree that their class sizes were reasonable.

Pendleton's assistant superintendent Tricia Mooney said the fact that class sizes were a concern for teachers wasn't a surprise.

"In Oregon we recently went through a recession. As part of that districts had to do reductions in force, and in Pendleton we weren't immune to that," she said. "The good news is we are starting to come out of that and slowly add teachers back."

However, she said the reductions in force "didn't happen overnight" and neither has adding the teachers back, which is why Pendleton teachers are still feeling the effects.

At the beginning of the school year, an average fifth-grade class in Hermiston had 25 students and an average third-grade class in Pendleton had 30 students.

In Pendleton only 22 percent of teachers surveyed said their class sizes were reasonable. No teachers at West Hills Intermediate thought their class sizes were reasonable, only 6 percent at McKay Creek Elementary did and only 8 percent at Sherwood Heights Elementary. Sunridge Middle School had the best score, with 47 percent of teachers calling their class sizes reasonable to meet the needs of all students.

In Hermiston, where more than 90 percent of teachers completed the survey, only half said their class sizes are reasonable. At Hermiston High School that number jumps to 65 percent, but at Sunset Elementary only 16 percent of teachers agreed with the statement.

In Milton-Freewater 38 percent of teachers thought their class sizes were reasonable.

In Umatilla School District, 66 percent of teachers said their class sizes were reasonable, including 100 percent of the teachers surveyed at Clara Brownell Middle School and 52 percent at McNary Heights Elementary.

Superintendent Heidi Sipe said the district has been focused on preventing overcrowded classrooms.

"We have prioritized class sizes, and teachers, in our limited budgets and are pleased that the efforts are appreciated and noticed," she said in an email. "We will continue to prioritize class sizes to the greatest extent possible."

Preparation time

Other concerns varied by district, with some teachers complaining about a lack of feedback from administrators and others giving low marks to their school's parent outreach efforts. But after class sizes, one of the most consistently low percentages was the number of teachers who agreed with the statement "The non-instructional time provided for teachers in my school is sufficient."

Statewide, only 37 percent of teachers felt they had sufficient prep time. That number was 44 percent in Pendleton, 48 percent in Hermiston, 45 percent in Milton-Freewater, 70 percent in Umatilla and 42 percent in Morrow County.

Hermiston Superintendent Dr. Fred Maiocco said Hermiston teachers haven't seen a reduction in preparation time, but he believes half of the district's teachers felt their non-instructional work time was insufficient because they are now required to use so much of that time for things like inputting data instead of planning lessons.

"It's really a matter of all the additional and ancillary demands that have crept into that prep time ... the demands on our teachers are really extraordinary and the TELL survey has really helped show that," he said.

Overall happiness

Despite challenges in staffing and preparation time, Umatilla and Morrow county schools received higher marks than the state average on most questions, including "overall, my school is a good place to work and learn."

Statewide 84 percent of teachers agreed with the statement, but in Hermiston 86 percent agreed and in Pendleton 88 percent agreed.

Mooney said Pendleton administrators were pleased to see that they were higher than the state average on overall job satisfaction but they won't be completely happy until they see that number hit 100 percent.

"What would be helpful is to find that 12 percent that weren't in agreement and ask why," Mooney said.

The full results of the TELL Oregon survey, broken down by district and school, can be found online at www.telloregon.org/results.

Statewide, teachers agreed most with the statements "Teachers require students to work hard," "Teachers believe what is taught will make a difference in students' lives," and "Faculty work in a school environment that's safe."

Odds and Ends

* Only one third of teachers in Oregon believe they have enough instructional time to sufficiently cover all of the material they are required to teach.

* Neither Hermiston or Pendleton school districts had any statements that every teacher agreed with. In both cases the highest percentage of teachers agreed that they have reliable access to communication technology such as email and phones (98 percent in Hermiston and 95 percent in Pendleton).

* Stanfield and Ukiah did not have enough teachers complete the survey to have the results made public.

Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.

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