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Indicator: Classroom observations of instructional practice

Definition

Teachers demonstrate high-quality instructional practices and interactions with students.

RECOMMENDED METRIC(S)

•    Pre-K: Scores on measures of teacher–child interactions, such as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS) Interactions subscale, or the Assessing Classroom Sociocultural Equity Scale (ACSES) (which assesses equitable classroom interactions)
•    K–12: Teachers’ overall and subscale scores on an observation rubric associated with an educator observation system; examples of common frameworks include the Danielson’s Framework for Teaching and the Marzano Causal Teacher Evaluation Model  
•    Postsecondary: There are currently no widely used standardized rubrics for peer observations of college teaching, though multiple researchers and universities have produced guidance surrounding the peer observation process.

Data Source(s)

Classroom observation

Why it matters

Teachers are viewed as one of the most important contributors to student learning and social-emotional development. Although research on teaching effectiveness defines and measures this construct in various ways, with each approach demonstrating different benefits and limitations, most studies conclude that teachers play a key role in shaping student outcomes. One measurement approach is to conduct classroom observations of instructional practice, such as those that measure the quality of teacher–child interactions. Children with higher-quality interactions with their teachers enjoy greater learning gains in reading and math achievement, social skills, and executive functioning in pre-K   and K–12. There is also evidence that using observations as a formative tool can result in improvements in teaching effectiveness, from pre-K to the postsecondary level. 
Some studies find that students from underserved backgrounds have less access to effective teachers, though results vary depending on the measures used and the study context. As one illustration, a study of teacher effectiveness (as measured by both classroom observation ratings and value-added to student achievement) in the School District of Philadelphia found that smaller percentages of economically disadvantaged (92 percent), Black (92 percent), and Latino (90 percent) students were taught by teachers rated proficient or distinguished than non-economically disadvantaged (94 percent) and White students (97 percent).

What to know about measurement

Given the widespread use of classroom observations, this measure should be relatively feasible to collect. In early childhood, most states have a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) for publicly funded pre-K programs that includes structured classroom observations to measure the quality of teacher–child interactions using tools such as the CLASS or ECERS.  Head Start also collects CLASS observations, although not for every classroom. Newer assessments focused on improving measurement of equitable pre-K classroom practices, such as the ACSES (noted above), are increasingly being used. 


In K–12, classroom observations frequently form part of educator evaluation systems. Almost three-quarters of states plus the District of Columbia (36 out of 51) report using teacher observations as part of their evaluation systems, with another five states reporting local control over teacher observations. Only six states report that teacher observations are not included in their educator evaluation systems. At the postsecondary level, peer observation of a college instructor’s teaching commonly is used for formative and summative evaluation purposes.   However, observation tools and practices can vary widely across institutions. Users should take care in comparing classroom observation data across contexts.


We caution against using teacher observations as a singular measure of teaching effectiveness (our recommendations also include measures based on student survey and student outcome data—see student perceptions of teaching and teachers’ contributions to student learning growth). Research documents that observation ratings among Black teachers; male teachers; and those in classrooms with higher concentrations of Black, Latino, male, and low-performing students tend to be systematically lower than those of their colleagues. Observations conducted by trained observers from outside of the school who are not familiar with the instructor tend to be more valid than those conducted by school administrators.

Source frameworks

This specific indicator appeared in three source frameworks, while a version of this indicator, most commonly as a measure of effective teaching, appeared in five other source frameworks. Our recommendation to include quality student interactions in the indicator’s definition is supported by work from the Center on Enhancing Early Learning outcomes (CEELO) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the Center for Collaborative Education. Our inclusion and focus on teacher observations for the proposed metric aligns with recommendations from the National Education Association, the National Research Council, and the CEELO & CCSSO.

References

The framework's recommendations are based on syntheses of existing research. Please see the framework report for a list of works cited.


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