In today’s episode of Impacting the Classroom, you’ll hear about exciting news coming to the world of quality assessment and improvement. Earlier this year, Teachstone announced an enhancement to its tool, the CLASS® assessment tool— CLASS 2nd Edition, which will be available starting this next school year.
Today’s guests are two members of the team that helped bring the vision of CLASS 2nd Edition come to life, Grace Funk, Teachstone’s Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives, and Katie Twilley, Director of Product Management: Assessment and CQI. Listen to the episode to learn about CLASS 2nd edition and how it will make a difference for children and educators.
Marnetta: Hello and welcome to Impacting the Classroom, the podcast that talks about big topics that have an even bigger impact in early education. I'm your host, Marnetta Larrimer. Today, I am beyond excited to talk about exciting news come to the world of quality assessment and improvement.
In March, Teachstone announced an enhancement to its tool, the CLASS® assessment tool. CLASS 2nd Edition will be available starting this next school year. I'm joined by two members of the team that helped bring the vision of CLASS 2nd Edition to life, Grace Funk, Teachstone's Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives, and Katie Twilley, Director of Product Management Assessment and CQI. Welcome to the podcast.
Katie: Thank you.
Grace: It's great to be here.
Marnetta: You're welcome. Before we jump into the questions, let's talk about what exactly CLASS is, because even if you're a follower, you may be a new listener and may not know what we do. CLASS stands for the Classroom Assessment Scoring System. It's a way to look at the quality interactions between teachers and children.
Researchers looked at the kinds of interactions that created the most impact on child outcomes and categorized them into domains. These interactions teachers have with children impact learning, development, even lifetime achievement. These meaningful interactions are things that teachers do intuitively every day with children, high fives when they enter, smiling, welcoming them when they come in, open-ended questions, giving them hugs, and different ways to engage with lessons throughout the day.
Not anything new, just a different language that we're tying to it. CLASS is the observation tool developed to assess these interactions from infant care through 12th grade. Let's talk about why we're here. What's different about CLASS 2nd Edition? Who would like to start?
Grace: I can start off with that one, if you don't mind. What's exciting about 2nd Edition is that it draws from everything good that the CLASS has always been. I think as you just started with and introduced so beautifully, Marnetta, around what the CLASS has been doing and what it's existed to do, is really be able to reflect what matters most in classrooms and learning environments, which is the interactions between people, between humans. That's how we learn, that's how we grow, and the CLASS does that. It will still do that in 2nd Edition.
Where we've made enhancements for 2nd Edition really are in the ways that we in the field have learned a whole lot in the last 15–20 years, around what reflecting the excellence of these interactions can be looked like and how it can be used.
Marnetta: That's a beautiful response. I love what you said about the equity piece and the accessibility. Yes, these are themes, these are interactions and behaviors that we see all the time in the classroom, but sometimes those get lost in the language or what that looks like across different spaces. Before I go on, Katie, what do you want to add to this question?
Katie: I'll echo everything that Grace said. Another key component is we know that CLASS was born out of the University of Virginia, which is an incredibly academic institution. One of the key lenses that we've also taken with this revision is just making this language much more friendly and approachable to all of our users.
We know that some of those words were hard and difficult to understand. Even I have to go to a dictionary. We worked very hard to just make language so much more approachable for our everyday user of the CLASS tool.
We've also worked to incorporate some additional items that we're calling activity settings, so really honing in on talking about math or literacy, and what are those topic areas. When you really think about the improvement side of what the CLASS is meant to do, you understand not just what your CLASS scores are, but have some contextual understanding to what was actually going on in the classroom at the time.
Marnetta: Most definitely. What's driving those scores? We can focus on that. How? Do we have the ability to change? The declaration frequency and what those actual behaviors are in the classroom. Wonderful.
Lots of great things to talk about and lots of things that you guys mentioned. What would be one of your favorite enhancements? I know there are going to be some things that people are going to lean into more heavily with more excitement. What was your favorite thing so far?
Grace: That's a great question. So many favorite things. We think of this moment as an evolution. We're kind of starting this process of evolving the CLASS full system, not just the measurement tool in the middle of it, but everything around it. Being able to hone in right now and focus on the things that we think will make the biggest impact as a part of this launching off point. The evolution has been really thrilling.
One thing for me—there are a lot of them—there's a lot of focus on really meeting children and educators where they are, both through the language within the tool itself, and then in terms of everything that surrounds it and supports it in the broader system.
For example, there's a lot more explicit language woven into the tool itself, into the training, and everywhere around children demonstrating responses to interactions as able. For example, we have been much more explicit about supporting the use of a child's preferred or home language, as well as recognizing linguistic and developmental variation in terms of communication, and recognizing non-verbal communication practices much more explicitly than the CLASS did, historically.
It's less about measuring the success of an interaction because a child could successfully speak these words, for example, but actually getting more to the heart of what the tool has already and always intended to do, which is look at the experience in that space, that supporting communication, learning, and practices for that child, regardless of where that child's ability right then is or how that shows up in the classroom.
I feel that what we're doing and what we've been able to do is keep the core intent, that the authors of the tool always had, but really represent differently and much more inclusively, the ways in which children might demonstrate their successful experience of that interaction, knowing the variability across kids across contexts.
I'm just excited explicitly around real push for looking at the nonverbals in classrooms as important as the verbals in classrooms, looking at a variety of ways of communicating with our bodies and with multiple languages, and having a lot of flexibility and intentional support around language development beyond what that looks like by just speaking back English words, for example. I think that alone and the recognition of who people are in how this tool has been enhanced, I'm really excited and proud about that.
Marnetta: I love that. Meeting the educator of the child where they are. I love that statement because that's been a real need across several communities, in feeling seen, in how unique their interactions are, and how do we capture that with this tool that we're being observed.
Grace: And reflecting the excellence, reflecting what is happening in those spaces is phenomenal. All of the ways that this can look, sound, and feel different, and be phenomenal. I feel that this system is able to do that much, much more effectively now.
I also think that the professional development that the field has been doing, that Teachstone has been doing, so many for a long time, has evolved past some of this. I feel like it already has been leaning into recognizing variation in children's demonstration of communication skills, for example. But the tool itself was still stuck with some kind of overly academic language and language that again didn't necessarily reflect where we have already (as a field) evolved.
Marnetta: I agree. As a trainer, sometimes an academic language gets in the way of being able to see and really embrace the tool. I love that. I think that would be one of my favorite changes.
Grace: Sorry, I just got too excited. The other things are just very tangibly around that. There's a glossary in the field guide. One of the aspects of CLASS 2nd Edition, as probably many folks have heard, is that we're separating what was just the CLASS Manual into a Manual set that has a Reference Manual with all of the background information, all the research, how to incorporate this into a broader system for quality improvement, things like that.
There's the Field Guide that you carry with you into the classroom. That's what you need if you're going to do an observation. It's been really designed thoughtfully to work for observers. In there is a glossary of terms, so that even though there was intentionality in making the words more accessible anyway, there's also just a really clear definition of, hey, this is what we mean when we say this. There's less guesswork for everyone and just much more of a shared lens, which is another huge goal of the CLASS.
Marnetta: I love your excitement because I think that's everybody across the company. Like, oh, my gosh, and there's more.
Marnetta: I love it. But I feel it in the field, too. As you're hugging people, looking at the CLC, and seeing the questions. There's this just energy and everybody's just ready for it.
Katie: I know. I feel like Grace stole so many wonderful things. As a non-academic and linguist, I think one of my favorite things is just making that language much more approachable for our users. But in order to branch out and not go down the same exact path as Grace, we've also been really focused on enhancements to our observation training and focused on enhancements to our score sheets.
I'm super excited just about how intentionally we’ve been with our score sheet, how we've been much more intentional about following the nice process, and being aware of all that note-taking space. I know I can't show it right now, but that's just a really cool enhancement that we've done to help make the observers' lives a little bit easier while they're in the classroom observing.
There are so many fun enhancements in our observation training. We have all new videos. Really honing in on showing the diversity of different classrooms out in the field, a lot of special care to make sure that our teacher/child ratios are appropriate for the field.
We know it's easy one-on-one to have strong interactions, but that's not what teachers are dealing with every day, so really making sure we're focusing on all the unique types. Meghan (our producer) just asked about FCC (Family Child Care) videos, which I don't actually know off the top of my head. Maybe Grace, you do?
Grace: Yes, I do. Our examples include just a much wider variety of settings, where kiddos learn. That includes mixed-age settings, including family home and childcare settings, outdoor settings. There are a lot of ways that kids learn that can look a whole lot different.
Quite frankly, our videos, we know, have been pretty stagnant for the last too many years, and often sort of came out of where we had gotten them, which was probably some Virginia Pre-K classrooms a long time ago. Some of them had expanded over the years.
Bottom line, there is a real intentionality to be representative in our exemplars, our training videos, and our certification videos across the board of all kinds of environments where kids learn every day. That is not only to better represent the excellence that is out there, but also to help prepare observers to understand how to understand interactions across settings.
There's a real push. I'm totally stealing from you for a second, Katie, sorry. In all of that, though, to be cognizant, and really put in the recognition of bias that we as humans all have, and really be thoughtful about that role of bias for a CLASS observer, for an observer on anything. Again, this is not unique to CLASS. This is us as humans.
Part of the intentionality around more broad and inclusive definitions, as well as more representative video examples, is to continue to educate the field of observers around all the various ways of being that are out there, be really intentional about the role that bias plays, and how we mitigate that as observers. It's critical to be able to demonstrate quality across the board, as a part of that goal of helping observers be aware of and reduce their bias as observers in the classroom.
Marnetta: You said a lot there. I'm sorry, Katie. We're going to come back to you for real. I just heard a lot. First of all, representation matters. Being able to see yourself in the things that you're observing and that you're learning about just makes it more applicable. You're able to visualize and do that.
I love that, because another barrier is, okay, yes, that's an amazing exemplar. There is one teacher, one kid. I can do it. I'm working with five and it's fine. Talk to me. I love that we're going to be showing them how to be effective in these spaces that they occupy.
Outdoor settings and all of that. I love mixed age groups because those are the spaces, the settings that observers will be going into, and they always have questions about. We learned how to do it this way, but this is what I'm dealing with. How do you help me with that? Katie, I'll let you tell us about your favorite thing.
Katie: I feel like Grace just said so many of my favorite things.
Grace: Grace will be quiet, Katie. I'm sorry.
Katie: No, you're fine. I feel like I just need new ones. The scoresheet was just…
Marnetta: A big one.
Katie: Yeah. It's just more robust and stronger. Even to just go into a little bit more of observation, training land, expanding on that, all these observer supports that we are launching to the field.
Right now, we're really focused on the observer bias course, specifically. You can go online into our platform and take this observer bias course. We're also launching DLL. We're working on expanding the suite of options, because we know that family home childcare is very wanted in the field. We know that special education classrooms help me understand. We know that class observation training.
You can only fit so much into that time period. Just being the intentionality behind providing those learning opportunities, not just for teachers in class, but also for those observers to be able to have those opportunities to dive into understanding how they can use CLASS in these settings without feeling like they're guessing or just using the manual that is so focused on the tool. That's one of the things that really excites me, those supports.
Marnetta: It helps to ensure that fidelity that we tell them. They stop thinking, oh, well, I feel like I'm thinking about this. Now they have the [...] that makes it just, like you said, just stronger, and more valid, and their use of it.
You guys mentioned bias. I heard it a couple of times. I would have to say that that's one of my favorite things. I think us being intentional about supporting observers in their natural biases, like you said, Grace, because we all have it. I tell people all the time, you have a bias, you have a favorite football team. If I tell you [...], you're going to go like it.
It doesn't have to be as scary as race and things like that, but have biases across all kinds of things. In supporting the observer with those biases, we do create more opportunity for more equitable practices in those observations, and then being able to identify that and understand how different behaviors outside of their community translate into effective interactions in the space of their observing.
I think that's my favorite part, just giving visibility to those differences and owning it, putting it on the table, and now let's look at what we're looking for right now that we've addressed it and we've owned it. I think that's my favorite part. Nobody asked me, but I'm adding that.
Grace: We should have, that was rude of us. That was really a good addition. You're absolutely right. I can say this, because I did it all the time. When I did a lot of class observations which I've done a lot of in my day, there were often things around the environment that I would recon.
If there was a calendar on the wall in a certain way, there's a certain thing that I'd say, well, that's some part of me and my brain at that point in my life. It was like, well, this is not appropriate developmentally for this age kid. I had a belief about a thing which may or may not have been true, but regardless of the context, I know that I would walk into a classroom and have nothing to do with the interaction. I see a calendar on the wall that I would find developmentally inappropriate and there's no question that was influencing something in my brain in terms of whether or not I thought about it actively or in the front of my mind about the developmental appropriateness of this learning space.
I think that's a pretty tame example of things that happen all the time, to your point with sports teams, but we know this happens in ways that can be much, much more obviously dangerous and problematic. If we're not really intentional and have ownership over the fact that we are human, and especially in places that are not aligned to something that we've seen every day in our own backgrounds, there's even more room for those biases to take hold in a way that is completely outside of our awareness.
I'm so glad you elevated that, Marnetta, because we've all seen it as observers all the time and know the micro and macro ways that that has a real impact on the folks that are being observed.
Marnetta: Thank you so much. That was one question that turned into this whole other thing, but it was a fruitful discussion. Here's my next question. We talked a lot about CLASS already and 2nd Edition. How did it come to be? What was the catalyst? What was the thing that happened that made us as a company say, hey, let's do this?
Grace: I think what's nice about this is that there wasn't a single one. I think that is nice because it's also a true answer. I think it's really important to demonstrate what the 2nd Edition is. It's an accumulation of what the field has been pushing for, asking for, and supporting since the class came into existence 15-ish years ago.
It's funny. Bridget, our CEO and one of the authors of the tool, likes to say that the first manual went off to print when her son who's now 15 was an infant. She was home on maternity leave. She immediately knew a lot of things she wanted to change. That list, that came from just the authors.
Imagine, since this has been used in so many communities in really impactful ways but sometimes quite high stakes ways, a lot has come back rightly to say, here's what could make this really a more responsible tool to use, a more impactful tool to use, a tool that just makes more sense, that's easier, and all of the things.
But all of that said, these last couple of years in everyone's lives, where it is clear that living the way that we've been living, doing things business as usual the way that we've been doing them, is not okay. I think there was a real (for a very long time) recognition, acknowledgement, and belief that there needed to be changes, but how to get there and the level of potential disruption was scary.
It is still scary, any sort of shift, but that it became very clear over these last two years, both through Covid and obviously, after the murder of George Floyd. The recognition that talking about and receiving all this feedback without starting that evolutionary process of holding our responsibility in the system had to start immediately.
That is really what probably that launch of, okay, this is happening now. This evolution is beginning now. It absolutely was aligned. So many things have been with a real turning point, hopefully, societally around how we all need to step up and do better.
Marnetta: Beautifully said. Katie, do you want to add anything?
Katie: I think everything that Grace said is on point. I will say over the past, probably two years now, a year-and-a-half, there's been a lot of intentionality. Research is going into what should these changes be, what are they going to look like, and what is the best way to bring them to life, and a lot of intentionality of balancing while we know that this is already a huge change for the field.
We had some grand ideas of how we can change it even more and there was a lot of intentionality that's gone into balancing. The change that the field has been waiting and asking for. Prioritizing those changes while knowing we could not disrupt the field so significantly rearranging some of the tools.
We have spent a long time doing our due diligence and research. Now's the time to actually bring it to the market in the field, knowing that like we have this trust that this is not the endpoint. We know that there is more evolution to keep going, but not wanting to balance the, we have to get something out now, but in the future, we would also love to continuously evolve this tool, so that it best meets the needs of the users and our market.
As we get feedback along the way, just as we want teachers to have that continuous quality improvement, Teachstone is also looking for that in the tools, the products, and the services that we are delivering to the market.
Marnetta: Thank you so much. I have one more question. That’s a lie. Wrong move. It may not be the last question.
We talked about this some over our time together. How do you see the enhancements making an impact on children and educators? This is a time that we can kind of summarize some of the things that we already said and maybe add some things that we may have forgotten in the course of our conversation.
Katie: I can start. How do I see it making a difference? One of the huge shifts that we've been going through is we're not just the CLASS company, but the interactions company. How that comes through in our messaging, how that comes through in the language that we use, and the tools and services.
So many teachers are like, how do I improve my CLASS score? Because they know that that is their accountability system. We are working really hard to send you the message. It is what you do every day. Every single day, you are having those interactions with children. You are building those relationships and wanting to make the CLASS tool feel much more approachable in those ways.
I would say that is just such a huge impact. We're just really starting to make that shift in tide and have plans for years to come to continuously shift through that. That is just going to be huge for teachers and children being able to understand that. That's what we're looking for. Don't do anything special with those interactions.
Again, coming back to that language as a teacher of, I don't understand what the term means, how am I supposed to understand what it means to actually implement in my classroom. While that might seem quite subtle, the term means the same exact thing. It feels so much less scary, so the teachers can focus on what is really mattering most, and those children can absolutely benefit.
Finally, I know we've hit on the differences in classrooms, but the culture thing is huge and evolving that representation. Teachers don't feel like they need to alter their practices, where they can inadvertently have harm to children, and they can keep up those practices that they know that are just best for their children, and continue to work on that in their setting as appropriate, and not feel like they need to adjust their interactions the day of CLASS observation, because they will do incredibly well, which we know happens.
Teachers are like, it's a scary day, I'm being assessed. I'm going to alter. We do not want that. We know teachers are doing great things every day. We want to see those great things.
Grace: I agree with all of that. Yeah, so much of how to use some of these tools. There's been real intentionality with 2nd Edition around ensuring that all of these enhancements lead to more actionable data at every level.
For individuals, for an educator to think, okay, this really reflects me and I understand maybe a little bit differently what this means or doesn't, also understand this is not a reading of me as a person. I think that's really important. What we need to really disentangle and are working to is 2nd Edition.
In ways that make the tool and the experience feel more approachable, so that makes it safer, which hopefully allows folks to lean in. To go into one part of this, we are formalizing what is called indicator range. We don't want to call it scoring, but basically identifying the range for an indicator.
Those of you who've been doing this for a long time know that under each CLASS dimension, which ultimately will get a score from one to seven are a set of indicators. Those indicators, a lot of people have moved over time into assigning a low, mid, or high range, not a number score but a range score to those indicators to help them ultimately arrive at their ultimate dimension score.
We're formalizing that process in 2nd Edition to really make it a part of what Katie was mentioning with the scoresheets to make it a much more clear and organized process for observers. What that also does is gives us much more actionable data, then down at that indicator level to be able to say to an educator, hey, maybe throughout this observation, the overall score for language modeling was a five. That doesn't mean a whole lot to many people right now. It hasn't and it won't.
What does start to mean something is, what went into that? What are the nuances underneath that? Maybe how did that differ even at different points in the day or spots in the classroom? This gets into the activity setting items that are an additional. A lot of folks have been capturing this anyway, but we're making it more intentional; the capture of this. As well as this optional CLASS Environment, which is a new measurement tool that can sit alongside it.
Ultimately, what we're allowing folks to have, and this is where we get at CQI and measuring for impact, measurement only matters insofar as it makes a difference. There's no point in measuring anything if we're not going to use it to then look at that thing, and try to grow it, and make it better for the people that are in that system. Those are the kids and the teachers.
I think a lot of this intentionality with 2nd Edition of activity-setting items, environment. Now, all of a sudden, you could say, hey, after this observation, sure, there was a five for language modeling. Let's break that down.
We saw that when you were in a whole group and doing literacy, these were the sort of indicators lining up within language modeling. These are the kinds of things where this is actually much more easy for this group of people to interact in this way. That's interesting, you can lean in more there.
You can imagine the coaching and PD next steps here. Or when you're in one on one, this language modeling was off the charts, because these feedback loops, this rich back and forth you're able to have was conducive to that. The minute you got the whole group, that all ended. I wonder, what is it about this one on one that we can do more of and get more of, so that kids are having more of those experiences in your classroom?
It's not saying you, teacher, need to go from a five to a seven—that doesn't mean anything—but hey, how do we support you and your classroom environment to make sure that the displays and the materials in your centers are supporting these rich conversations that will lead to the kind of dialogue that's going to also enhance your language modeling score? But all that is a reflection of the awesomeness that you're already doing. And how do we pull all this data together to help you see that story in a way that feels a lot less punitive and a lot more supportive growth. Absolutely, the entire driver for that is for teachers and kids to understand this in a way that supports them and helps them grow, as opposed to feeling like it is grading them without giving a whole lot of room for what to do about that.
We can talk a little bit more about CLASS Environment if you want, which is this optional sidebar. I saw you nodding your head at that. Basically, the CLASS is the class. That is still the same system in the middle, where we really think about and know. This has been backed up by a whole lot of research.
The interactions, those spaces in between humans, that's the single biggest driver of learning and growth for people, those spaces in between each other, those spaces of interactions that we have. We know that, that's why the CLASS focuses on it. But we know there are a lot of things that can impact that interaction, that can enhance or detract from it, that might be outside of that.
That's what Katie was talking about. How does it go when you're teaching literacy or in a block center and doing some math skills with your blocks? To my bias around calendars, how is that showing up when you do calendar time?
What is it actually showing up in that way? Because you can use calendars in a way that is rich, wonderful, and full of magical interactions or not. The calendar being there in and of itself isn't the driver, but that could enhance or detract depending on various things.
CLASS Environment is a sidebar tool that folks have the option. Katie knows a lot more about this, so I'll say it briefly and then hand it to you. Basically, to use alongside the CLASS that is looking at the extent to which the aspects of the classroom environment are potentially contributing to, adding to, or detracting from the ability for these meaningful interactions to take place in that space.
It's not to be used ever as a standalone. It is only to be used alongside the CLASS tool because it only matters insofar as interactions are concerned, but for a lot of programs it will really help to ease the burden of using multiple tools across multiple days. That's the goal or the highlight. I don't know if you have much to add, Katie.
Katie: I know we're trying to wrap up here real soon, but I'll just add that, yes, everything that Grace just said is so accurate, and that the CLASS Environment is just a supplemental tool. If your classroom is set up in a wonderful way, it makes your interactions so much easier. It helps you set that foundational baseline so you can actually focus on your interactions.
One of the ones that I always just pick out as an example is sightlines. If I'm a teacher and I don't have sightlines, it is so hard for me to be responsive and proactive to my children's needs because I can't see them. If we think about setting up that classroom in a way that I have sightlines as a teacher, it just links so nicely to CLASS, and that teacher sensitivity, and respect for children because I can see them. I understand what they are doing and I'm not guessing or reacting when I hear a scream or cry in the classroom.
That's really the foundation for our CLASS Environment. You're looking at the environment and how it's setting up to support those interactions, and hopefully make your life easier. You're not having something that's distracting and all of a sudden, you're like, why is this interaction not going quite right? It could just be something as simple as your environment isn't set up to be quite conducive enough.
Marnetta: Wonderful. Thank you, guys, both for joining me today. I hope that our time has to end. I feel like we could keep on going. I appreciate all of the words that you gave us.
You can find today's episode and transcript on our website, teachstone.com/impacting. As always, behind great leading and teaching are powerful interactions. Let's build that culture together.
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