I hate tests. They make me anxious, they make me sweat, and I think they’re just plain mean. It's funny, then, that my job is about preparing people to take a test. As a CLASS trainer, I’m constantly helping participants overcome test anxiety, think through preparation strategies, and deal with failure (usually followed by success).
So Curry, you might ask, why in the world is this the path you’ve chosen? Simple: it’s not about the test. Of course it is, but it’s also not. I do what I do because I believe in all that the CLASS tool is and has set out to do: to measure the effectiveness of teacher-child interactions, and then (and most important) to use that information to support teachers to support children. The test is a means to an end. We have to have reliable observers in our classrooms if we want to impact change. It’s our responsibility to teachers and children, and I am proud to spend my days making that possible. That’s how I cope with my test anxiety!
But through the years, I have learned some tricks of the trade that I’m happy to share with you as you get ready to take your reliability test:
1. STUDY! I know that sounds silly, but it’s so true. So many people come to observation training and think that after two days they are equipped to take the CLASS reliability test. Those people fail—if not on the test itself, in the classroom where the pressure is on and the stakes are high. The CLASS is complex and there are lots of nuances that you need to understand before testing, let alone before your first time coding in a classroom. Read your CLASS Manual, review your CLASS Manual, love your CLASS Manual. Anyone who has sat through one of my trainings has heard this mantra. It’s the best thing you can do. Also review your notes, the training videos, and the Master Code Justifications. But if you do only one thing: read your manual!
2. Study before you test, not during. You may think, well, this is an open-book test, I’ll have all I need at my fingertips. Sure, but you will (likely) fail. During the test, you should spend no more than 45 minutes from the start of the video until you enter the last score (see Tip #7 below); if you’re reading through each dimension in depth, you won’t make it past your first dimension. You’ll be exhausted and lose steam. So study up before you begin testing.
3. You’ll only study if you budget for that time. If you’re reading this post before you attend a CLASS Observation Training, let your supervisor know that you’ll probably need about ten hours to study and take the test. Block out the time on your calendar, come in a bit early, do what you need to do—just make sure you plan to hit the books.
4. Decide how, when, and where you’ll test. So many participants try to fit the test in between meetings and find themselves constantly interrupted. Other participants think they’re better off doing the test from home, but then kids, laundry, etc. continue to get in the way. Just like you need to plan your study time, you need to plan for your test taking time and space. Here are a few tidbits to help you plan:
5. Check out our e-books for obsevers, like Observer Tips: Solutions to Common Coding Challenges and Observer Tips: Frequently Asked Questions. These are another way to deepen your knowledge and get yourself ready to rock.
6. Assign ranges to each indicator. After you finish watching a video, begin the scoring process by assigning ranges to each indicator within a single dimension. To do this, you will need to sort your notes using the face pages, and then head into the description pages to assign a range to each indicator, checking higher or lower to be sure. I often like to start with the Instructional Support dimensions and work my way forward so that I get the hardest dimensions out of the way while I have the most energy. Once you’ve assigned ranges to each indicator in the dimension, turn to p. 17 of your CLASS Manual (you may want to bookmark or tab this page), which will help you assign codes to the dimension as a whole.
7. Avoid the temptation to take too long to code. We find that second guessing yourself usually results in an unreliable code. Have faith in what you know (assuming you’ve followed Tip #2).
8. Get help if you need it. If you don’t feel ready, or if you don’t pass on your first attempt, contact our observer support team. This is hard stuff and we are here to help. You are not alone. We owe it to our teachers and children to ensure that they have reliable observers who can precisely identify the effectiveness of interactions in the classroom.
9. Try to remember to put on (and keep on!) your CLASS lens. It is so easy to get distracted by your feelings toward a teacher (maybe she seems really nice or perhaps the opposite) or materials in the classroom (do they have enough books?), but you must remember to focus on what this tool measures: the interactions taking place between the teacher and the child.
10. Take a deep breath. It will all be okay. And remember why you’re doing this and why it matters. When you observe classrooms, you provide the insights they need to improve their teaching. And when teachers get better, child outcomes improve. Keep that in mind, and I know you can do it!
As the Community Manager with Teachstone, I have been able to talk to many observers, trainers, coaches, and general CLASS lovers. I have found a common thread among these groups: a desire to connect with other CLASS users and put their CLASS knowledge to use.
We often hear from CLASS Observers that are interested in observing more classrooms. Meanwhile, many organizations—particularly smaller organizations or those doing research studies—don’t have Certified CLASS Observers and are in search of observers in their area.
If you're a CLASS observer, you've probably found yourself in a situation where you have to make inferences or rely on contextual evidence when assigning scores. However, it should always be your goal to minimize subjectivity and assumptions. You have to prevent your emotions, opinions, and ideas that are not a part of the CLASS tool from influencing scoring. Achieving an emotionless state of objectivity while observing can be incredibly challenging. It takes practice to recognize when objectivity is threatened and respond accordingly.