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Measuring What Works for Children: CLASS for School & KIPS for Home

17 Jan 2014 by Sedra Spano

This post was originally published as Measuring What Works for Children: CLASS™ for School & KIPS for Home on the KIPS Cradle Blog, January 16, 2013.

As an educator and a parent, I have so appreciated learning about the dimensions of the Classroom Assessment Scoring System™ (CLASS™). Having the language of the CLASS tool helped me think about teaching and learning in a new way that was liberating—it gave me the lens and vocabulary I needed to make sense of both positive and challenging moments I had experienced in the classroom. But it also gave me a new way to think about parenting and specifically my relationship with my two sons, who were teenagers when I became reliable on the Pre-K CLASS tool. It seemed to me that the behaviors of a good preschool teacher and parent are similar, so I was encouraged to find that in many ways the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale (KIPS) resembles the Toddler and Pre-K CLASS tools.

Caring parents often question their interactions and reflect on how they handled events or issues with their children. I began to reflect on my own parent-child interactions with the CLASS dimensions in mind. Was I showing regard for their perspectives and encouraging leadership and independence? Was I asking the right questions to get them to think and reason through issues? Or was I just providing my own reasoning? Was I providing appropriate feedback to guide their learning? Or was I jumping in to answer questions and solve problems for them?

Different Settings but Similar Philosophy

In doing research on adult-child interactions, I learned about KIPS, designed to be used in the home to observe parent-child interactions. Many of the 12 KIPS behaviors are related to dimensions of the Toddler and Pre-K CLASS tools: focusing on the adult as a secure base for the child, creating a warm and supportive environment, showing sensitivity to children’s social and emotional needs, as well as supporting language development and cognitive skills.

Teachstone®'s CLASS tool was created for use in the classroom rather than in the home, but both tools have their foundations in attachment theory. Attachment theory suggests that children’s relationships with adults, especially with primary caregivers like their mothers, affect how children develop important social, emotional and cognitive skills and abilities.

In addition to attachment theory, the CLASS tool also has its foundation in ecological systems theory, which suggests that children’s development is impacted by many factors in their environment outside of the home. Interactions children have with adults in school and in their larger community also play an important role in their growth and development. So, to get a full picture of the important influences in a child’s life, it stands to reason that observing both their parent-child interactions and teacher-child interactions would give the most accurate picture.

The Importance of Observation

Both the CLASS tool and KIPS are reliable observational tools that have been validated in multiple studies. Observations are important, because what teachers or parents report to do on surveys or in interviews can differ from what they actually do in their interactions with children. For example, Pianta et al. found CLASS instructional scores weren’t correlated with teacher self-reported attributes, and the CLASS emotional scores were only weakly correlated (Pianta, Burchinal, Bryant et al. Features of Pre-Kindergarten Programs, Classrooms, and Teachers: Do They Predict Observed Classroom Quality and Child–Teacher Interactions? 2005, Applied Developmental Science Vol. 9, No. 3, 144–159). Similarly, KIPS scores of parenting quality did not correlate with two different self-reports of parenting knowledge or efficacy (Comfort & Gordon, 2006).

Thus, if you want to assess what children experience in their interactions with either a teacher or parent, you need an observational tool. Both of these tools require observers to learn the components of the tool and pass a reliability test in order to use the tool with fidelity.

As someone who has made interactions the focus of her career, I find it encouraging to know that this work resonates at home and in classrooms, and that there are two strong observation measures to support work across these contexts.