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What Makes for a Good Classroom Observation?
posted by: Cindy Omlin | October 02, 2014, 01:44 AM   

How to distinguish good teachers from bad remains one of the central debates in education today. Many of the movements of modern education reform revolve that very issue. Using test scores as a means to measure teacher effectiveness has been at the forefront of this effort in recent years, but seems to be falling out of style. With being able to distinguish the good from the bad still a real and immediate need, attention is now turning to classroom observations. 

What makes a classroom observation effective? It’s subjective and debatable. My own experience with observations in the classroom has been disappointing. When I was a new teacher, I hoped that evaluations would be a way to dissect and improve my practice. Instead, I found that nearly everything I did was marked as being wonderful. And my experience wasn’t isolated if you examine the broader picture of how classroom observations are used in practice. 

Classroom observations do not need to be unreliable, subjective, or uninformative. Recently, EducationNext published a report on how to make observations a more valuable form of teacher evaluation. In the report, they studied four urban school districts, how teachers were evaluated, and the effectiveness of those evaluations. The effectiveness of observations was measured by how good the observation scores were at predicting student achievement and how stable they were from year to year. The idea being that since a good teacher will remain at about the same level from year to year and that a good teacher will increase student effectiveness, these two measures can inform educators about the reliability of the observations. 

They recommended three standards that should be implemented to improve observations:

1) There should be two to three observations a year with at least one by a trained observer from outside the classroom.

2) Classroom observations should make meaningful distinctions between individual teachers.

3) Scores on observations need to be adjusted to make allowances for the background of the students in the classroom and to eliminate bias.

The report not only provides these recommendations, but also delves deeper into what works. If you’re interested, you can read the entire report on Education Next’s website.

Originally posted by Melissa at AAE.

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