What does the color green have to do with assigning Low, Mid, and High ranges to CLASS indicators?
Well, in all honesty, not much, but I’m hoping an analogy inspired by St. Patrick's Day can help you explain to your observers-in-training why it is a mistake to try to assign numerical values to indicators (and why assigning Low, Mid, and High ranges is a much better bet).
I returned home from a training and was rehashing a common CLASS coding question with my artist husband (I’ll call him Patty because he’s a saint for letting me talk his ear off). My trainees really wanted to know why we can't just assign numbers at the indicator level and average those to get to our CLASS score for each dimension. They argued, "We're balancing Low, Mid, and High ranges anyway to get to a number--why not start with numbers at the indicator level?" As hard as I tried to explain it, the mathematicians in my group weren’t fully convinced. So I figured if I could explain it to my non-CLASS-immersed hubby, I could explain it better in future trainings.
When I got home, I explained it all to poor Patty. I even dragged out the Pre-K CLASS manual and pointed out the bolded sentence on page 17: "Because of the highly inferential nature of the CLASS, scores should never be given without referring to the manual." Since each indicator describes three levels (High, Mid, and Low), observers have to match what they see during each cycle to one of those three levels. The manual does not offer seven levels of descriptions that align the numerical codes.
I went on to explain that we observers must make holistic, yet systematic, judgements--and any errors in our inferences are made based on our judgments of those three levels (High, Mid, Low). Potential variances/errors are accounted for at the very end of the coding process, given that reliable scores may be plus or minus one value from the master code scores. (I spared him by not mentioning that assigning numbers earlier on also increases the desire to treat CLASS like a checklist--and that CLASS is way too complex to be a checklist! See page 15 in the PreK manual.)
Patty didn’t skip a beat. His reply? "That’s a lot like painting."
I was totally taken off guard: "How so?!"
Patty explained: "If you have three colors, the last thing you want to do is start mixing them too early or you’ll lose the crisp color and make the whole thing muddy. Let’s say you mixed yellow and blue to get your perfect green. You now have three clear colors: yellow, green, and blue. You want to wait until the last possible moment to mix those colors together on your canvas or everything will turn into a murky brown. It sounds like the Highs, Mids, and Lows are a lot like that: You want to wait before mixing or you’ll end up with something that’s not very sharp or clear."
Works for me, and I have zero artistic skills. With a little luck, this imagery can be added to your toolkit next time you have to tackle this tricky question in a training!What other analogies do you use to explain the coding process to your participants?