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Quick In-Class Evaluation Captures Vital Signs of Teaching

Quick In-Class Evaluation Captures Vital Signs of Teaching

June 17, 2014

Higher Classroom Ratings Correlate with Better Student Test Scores
Read about it at Futurity research news

A new study shows that a 20-minute classroom assessment can reliably measure classroom instruction and predict students’ standardized test scores. The assessment also provides immediate and meaningful feedback—making it an important new tool for understanding and improving instructional quality, according to researchers at UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) and the University of Rochester.

The EAR Protocol—short for Engagement, Alignment, and Rigor—already has been used in more than 100 schools, but this current study is the first to test its objectivity and ability to predict student learning as measured by standardized tests. Developed by the Institute for Research and Reform in Education, the 15-item tool focuses on three aspects of instruction: the engagement of students, how closely schoolwork aligns with state and local standards, and whether coursework is appropriately challenging.

“The assessment captures surprisingly complex and fundamental qualities of teaching,” said Diane Early, a scientist at FPG. “It’s easy to use, and 20 minutes is short enough for administrators to fit into the confines of their busy workday. And it’s adaptable for all grades and subjects, from math and English to art and physical education.”

The protocol is based on research showing that when students’ basic psychological needs are met, learning outcomes improve. For example, when teachers are supportive and excited about their subjects, students are more likely to be engaged. When instructors present challenging schoolwork along with structured supports for mastering those assignments, students build a genuine sense of competence and confidence.

For the study, trained observers rated the classroom instruction of 58 math and English teachers in four high schools in Arizona. Findings revealed that higher classroom ratings for engagement, alignment, and rigor are correlated with better student outcomes on standardized tests.

“This assessment is able to capture the vital signs of teaching,” said co-author Edward Deci, University of Rochester. “It’s a bit like a doctor taking your blood pressure and pulse for a quick picture of your health.”

The study also showed that people administering the tool can do so reliably. “Different observers of the same classroom came to the same conclusions,” Early explained.

By highlighting areas where teachers need improvement, the assessments can help identify what kinds of professional development may be most helpful. Follow-up assessments then can test to see if additional training enhances classroom instruction.

Assessments using the EAR protocol also help teachers and administrators focus on the same key indicators of teaching quality: engagement, alignment, and rigor.

“If adopted widely, the evaluations could provide a common language for talking about the vital signs of high-quality teaching,” said Early.

Read the full study (available through Project Muse)


Diane Early, scientist
Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute