Three Ways to Improve Accuracy of Teacher Observations

How Classroom Observation Builds Teacher Effectiveness
In The Art and Science of Teaching, Dr. Robert Marzano lays out the research supporting 41 categories of instructional strategies and shows why these strategies are considered to be “high probability.” He identifies which teaching strategies are tied most closely to student achievement, noting the studies he examined and showing the context of each. Dr. Marzano makes the connection between growing teacher practice and the impact on student achievement that is highly probable when teachers use specific strategies in the correct lesson segment, with a specific group of students.

Promoting Growth of Practice
For an observer to consistently identify a teacher’s use of specific strategies as well as to “rate” a teacher’s use of those strategies and provide accurate feedback, the observer must participate in a system that promotes growth of practice. Systems that incorporate aspects of the Deming Cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act) help foster professional growth and continuous improvement.

Here are three ways your school can work toward improving the accuracy and reliability of your classroom observations.

1. Work Together
To be consistent, get on the same page. Have several observers view teacher practice together and afterwards discuss what each person observed.

2. Use Video to Improve Inter-rater Reliability
Groups of observers can view classroom videos and rank teachers on specific elements or strategies. Prior to viewing, for example, the group might decide to look for evidence that the teacher has clearly communicated learning goals for the lesson. After viewing the video, observers then participate in discussions about the evidence they collected for that strategy or classroom behavior. They can discuss what elements or strategies they observed and talk about why they rated the teacher at a certain level on the scale.

3. Schedule Instructional Rounds
Teams of observers may visit a teacher’s classroom to look for evidences of a specific element. After a pre-determined period, the observers mark the evidences, then leave the room to discuss what they saw. They discuss the evidences they collected and the rationale they used to assign the teacher’s score. The intent of the instructional round is not to give feedback to the teacher, but only to improve the inter-rater reliability of the group.

The more observers work through these processes, the more accurate will be the feedback they provide to teachers. And if all observers at a site are able to talk through the processes together, the better their inter-rater reliability will be. Teachers need observers to have high levels of both accuracy and reliability to get the most out of their systems of improvement.

For more information about training for inter-rater reliability, visit our Marzano teacher evaluation page at Marzano Center.

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