THUMBS UP to the Augusta School Department for shifting some students among the city’s elementary schools to reduce class sizes.

Reducing class size, particularly for elementary school students, is one of the few practices that almost universally can be shown to benefit students. In fact, the only downsides to reducing class size are increased costs and the loss of teaching jobs, both of which do not apply in Augusta’s case, as the students are moving between already established classes.

Class sizes at Farrington Elementary School were as high as 26 students, school officials said, while others were as low as 16 students.

The Maine Department of Education recommends elementary school class sizes of 15 students per teacher, with a high of 18 per teacher.

Moving students from a familiar school can be difficult. The young students, however, adapt quickly to the new surroundings, and the benefits of smaller class sizes support the effort.

The federal Department of Education says reducing class sizes in grades K-3 can increase standardized test scoring by 60 percent, and a review of the pertinent studies by the Brookings Institute in 2011 found much the same.

“It appears that very large class-size reductions, on the order of magnitude of 7-10 fewer students per class, can have meaningful long-term effects on student achievement and perhaps on non-cognitive outcomes,” the report from the Brookings Institute said. “The academic effects seem to be largest when introduced in the earliest grades, and for students from less advantaged family backgrounds. They may also be largest in classrooms of teachers who are less well prepared and effective in the classroom.”

Class size reductions are limited, of course, by financial considerations. But when possible, Maine elementary schools should strive to meet the state recommendation.

THUMBS UP to the sheriff departments in Franklin and Somerset counties, which are now better able to help each other out following a cross-deputization agreement that was formalized last week.

The agreement gives each deputy police powers in both counties, so they can better respond to problems in a rural area where cases and calls do not always abide by county lines. It comes at no extra cost to taxpayers, and with no additional liability to the departments.

At a time of tightening resources, agreements such as this one can help departments take action where natural overlaps already exist. Dale Lancaster, chief deputy in Somerset County, correctly called it a “force multiplier,” adding that a similar joint agreement for statewide implementation is being considered by the Maine Sheriff’s Association.

There are certainly details that warrant discussion when considering such a move, but the idea is a good one. We agree with Somerset County Sheriff Barry DeLong, who said, “I think it’s wonderful — it should have happened years ago.”

THUMBS UP to School Administrative District 54 in Skowhegan for participating in a federal program aimed at getting more students to use school lunch.

SAD 54 is one of just six districts in Maine that is taking advantage of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision, which allows high-poverty schools to offer free meals to all students, regardless of income eligibility, at limited cost to the local school district.

The program is in its first year following a pilot test. It has been shown to increase the use of school lunch program, meaning more students are getting the meals they need to be successful in school.

That should be the goal of every school lunch program. The initiative is not a good fit for many Maine schools, but it is for many others, and they should take part.

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