As a teacher, I am impacted by my students’ immense affection, unlimited creativity, joyful laughter, and sponge-like ability to learn new material. When I taught a classroom of English Language Learners, I was amazed when my students became fluent English speakers in one year. Having witnessed such rapid development in my students, I realize that I am in a position to capitalize on their potential. My students deserve an excellent education, so each day I ask myself, “How can I be a better teacher? What can I do to push my students past the achievement gap?” I know that preparing my students well for Kindergarten can make a lasting difference in their academic careers. I often wonder how early childhood educators collectively can work together to influence students’ academic trajectories. My questions multiplied after attending Education Nation, a statewide education conference featured on NBC.
In a session at the conference, I listened to some of the most prominent voices in Colorado education discuss what will make the difference in education reform. The moderator asked the panel, “How will we make sure our third grade students are reading to learn instead of learning to read?” When answering this question, most of the panelists, including the Superintendent of Denver Public Schools and the Lieutenant Governor, said that you must begin early. The consensus seemed clear: quality early childhood education can improve the outcomes of students into elementary school and beyond.
New questions arose: What does quality look like in early childhood education? How does quality affect student outcomes? How do we measure quality? I started reading articles and looking at the factors that determine quality in ECE. I discovered that one of the most comprehensive assessments of quality is the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, commonly referred to as CLASS. CLASS assesses the nature and quality of teacher-child interactions, specifically in three global dimensions: Instructional Support, Classroom Organization, and Emotional Support. Higher scores on CLASS often predict growth in pre-k children’s achievement (Burchinal2010, p. 168).
Considering my own experience with CLASS and looking at data from classrooms around the country, I know achieving high scores on the CLASS is difficult, particularly within the Instructional Support dimension. CLASS is rated along a 1-7 scale, with 1-2 indicating low quality, 3, 4, 5 indicating mid-range, and 6 or 7 indicating high quality. In a research study about how quality assessed by the CLASS tool corresponded to student outcomes, CLASS evaluations were compiled from 671 classrooms in 11 states. The mean score for Emotional Support was 5.49 and the average score for Instructional Support was 2.04. The study indicated that “children acquire academic skills only when the minimal standards represented by [the] cut-off point of above 3.25 on the CLASS Instructional Quality Dimension are met…” (Burchinal 2010, p. 174). Only 13% of these classrooms scored above 3.25 in Instructional Support.
After considering this data, I realized we have more to learn about how we can achieve high quality in early childhood education. The depth, rigor, and intentionality outlined in the CLASS assessment invite better teaching. As I approach each day asking myself, “How can I be a better teacher?” I now know practicing skills assessed on the CLASS tool can help me answer that question. Collectively, our ECE community must ask ourselves, how do we increase quality in our classrooms? How can we reach scores of 5, 6, and 7s in Instructional Quality? What supports do we need to reach these levels?
Through considering these questions and practicing teaching skills that lead to improved quality, early childhood educators have the power to push students beyond the achievement gap and set them on the path to “reading to learn instead of learning to read.”
Burchinal, M., Vandergrift, N., Pianta, R., & Mashburn, A. (2010).Threshold analysis of association between child care quality and child care outcomes for low-income children in pre-kindergarten programs. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 25, 166-176.