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CLASS is Still Not a Checklist—Here’s What To Do Instead

18 Jul 2017 by Curry Ander

CLASS Specialists at Teachstone all take turns providing reliability support to anxious testers. We often see the same mistakes and misconceptions over and over again about how the CLASS works, and as my story below will share, how the behavioral markers fit into the coding process.

Let’s make this right.

The Question

I don’t understand how many times I need to see evidence for a behavioral marker to score high. One observer shared with me that she expects at least five instances for each behavioral marker within an indicator. I did the math, and that would require at least 190 examples for a 7 score! Another observer scored differently; if she sees each behavioral marker at least one time, she scores a 7. I’m confused!

It’s no wonder she’s confused! To clear this up, I like to be clear about what the coding process is and isn’t.

2 Ways to Code Incorrectly

  1. Look for a certain number of times to see evidence for a behavioral marker to get a high score.
  2. Use someone else’s “formula” for calculating a high score (because we are all human and yearn to make CLASS into a more concrete checklist).

2 Ways to Code Correctly

  1. Assign a range of low, mid, or high to each indicator, according to the evidence from the observation. Do this by comparing your notes to the long descriptions for each indicator found in the CLASS manual.
  1. Avoid seeking perfection. Not every behavioral marker even needs to be present to achieve a high-range score. At the high range, we are looking for consistency, at the mid-range there is mixed consistency, and at the low range—a lack of evidence.

Let’s be clear: There is no set number of times you need to see evidence of a behavioral marker. In fact, it's a misconception to score behavioral markers at all. Don’t do it!  

Page 15 of the Pre-K CLASS manual states: "CLASS is not a checklist and observers should view the dimensions as holistic descriptions of classrooms that fall in the low, middle or high range. In many cases, it is not necessary to see indicators of all markers presented in the description of a given range to assign a score in that range." 

We never recommend a certain number of examples (such as five feedback loops in Quality of Feedback) to lead to a conclusive score. Rather than counting back-and-forth exchanges, consider: “Did the child engage with the teacher and learn as a result of this interaction?” Remember, in assigning ranges we must consider depth, frequency, and duration of interactions.

Page 14 of the Pre-K CLASS Manual reads: "The high-end [behavioral] markers for each dimension reflect good teaching practice; however to score in the high range a classroom does not have to be perfect. There may be one or two things that are less than ideal in a given observation, but if the overall classroom experience is characterized by the markers at the high end, the classroom should be scored that way."

I can hear you thinking, “But how many times do we need to see something to call it “consistent?” If you’ve read this far, you know the answer already: there is no set number of times! 

What to do instead of “counting.”

  • When you are observing, keep writing your notes; don’t obsess over counting.
  • When you are ready to determine the range for each indicator, think: “Were those children consistently exposed to any behaviors for this indicator?”
  • Read the descriptive pages to determine what consistency looks like by the examples given.
  • You will have to interpret what “consistent” means by looking at a bigger picture rather than a specific number of examples. You will need to look for the child’s response and their depth of overall experience. The more you do this, the easier it gets.

Like a broken record, you will hear CLASS specialists say, “CLASS is not a checklist.” Resist the human urge to turn it into a checklist and treat it like the complex, holistic tool that it is. If CLASS observations were as easy as counting behaviors, they wouldn’t capture the complexity of classrooms in all their infinite glory!

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