Northwest Regional Comprehensive Center

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Fixing Classroom Observations: How Common Core will Change the Way We Look at Teaching

This report provides guidance on implementing professional conversations in the context of a streamlined observation system for highest impact on teacher effectiveness and student success. A big-picture analysis, it addresses critical issues around classroom observation in the context of the Common Core State Standards in a way that is pertinent to any new state standards.

The report suggests implementing standards and teacher observations as intricately linked processes, simultaneously spelling out exactly what students need to learn and setting clear, high-quality expectations for teachers. It advises states and districts to collect formative data on the quality and quantity of feedback managers/observers provide to teachers and factor in feedback from teachers to create accountability measures for those conducting the observations.

The authors go on to advocate for radically streamlining rubrics to support teacher development and the implementation of state academic standards while simultaneously improving ratings accuracy and reducing the administrative burden of classroom observations.

Recommendations for rubrics
To create a streamlined system, states and districts should:

  1. Assess what is being taught, not just how it is taught.
  2. Rubrics that ignore or de-emphasize lesson content are unlikely to support adoption of state standards because the standards ask teachers to take a more focused approach. Observers need better tools to help them make efficient judgments about whether a lesson helps students master grade-appropriate standards. To do this, districts and schools must create new reference materials that clarify standards and offer clear examples of what students are meant to do to demonstrate the standards.

  3. Streamline rubrics to optimize the observer’s time by focusing on a small number of essential components of a successful lesson.
  4. These components should be directly observable during a classroom visit. It is more effective to score what counts rather than everything that could count. To do this, rubrics should draw a clearer distinction between the outcomes teachers are responsible for producing in a successful lesson and the strategies that can help them achieve those outcomes. Indicators should be specific enough so observers can make a rating in a 15-minute classroom visit.

  5. Look for opportunities to simplify existing rubrics.
  6. Complex rubrics should be analyzed, focusing on collapsing, combining, and eliminating indicators that co-vary with each other. Instead of asking observers to rate many nuanced teaching techniques that influence classroom management, these rubrics could ask for a single rating related to classroom management without sacrificing any accuracy.

  7. Implementation matters even more than rubric design.
  8. Rubrics are only as effective as the observers who use them and the systems that support them. A great rubric is not a substitute for training and norming observers, buying or creating quality student assessments and essential technology systems, communicating clearly with teachers and principals, or any of the other essential elements of evaluating and developing teachers.

As a follow-up to this report, TNTP released a Core Teaching Rubric that serves as a useful guide to developing a rubric related to any state-adopted standards.