U.Va. Gets Nearly $500,000 to Develop Low-Cost Tools that Assess Effective Teaching

Aug. 10, 2009 — The University of Virginia's Curry School of Education has received a three-year grant worth nearly $500,000 from the William T. Grant and Spencer foundations to develop low-cost tools to measure effective teaching in classrooms.

Curry researchers Jason Downer, Bridget Hamre and Megan Stuhlman will develop these new tools that use student, principal and supervisor surveys to assess teacher-student interactions.

The researchers' work will "build strategically from the strengths" of U.Va.'s Classroom Assessment Scoring System, or CLASS, which "has proven to be a reliable and valid method of measuring the quality of teacher-student interactions in classrooms from pre-kindergarten through high school," said Downer, the lead researcher.

CLASS observations are time- and resource-intensive, however, and provide only one perspective of the classroom.

In the first year of this new grant, the Curry team will pilot new, complementary measures ¬– "rating forms" – in 10 Virginia fourth- and fifth-grade language arts classrooms. Afterward, a full field study will be conducted in 50 classrooms in 15 elementary schools statewide.

Approximately 45 school principals or assistant principals and 10 students per classroom (500 total) will participate in the field study. CLASS observations also will be conducted to serve as a benchmark for the rating forms, Downer said.

Once developed and validated, these new tools, or "rating forms," will meet the need for an efficient and inexpensive way to measure the quality of PK-12 teacher-student interactions from multiple perspectives, and eventually be used by principals and supervisors, Downer said.

"There are few good, cost-effective measures of what distinguishes classrooms that improve student outcomes from those that do not," said Robert C. Granger, president of the William T. Grant Foundation.

Both foundations agree that the proposals received for this grant "helped us to identify outstanding researchers who are working on an important missing element in research on teaching and learning," said Michael McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation.

In two years, the foundations have funded eight research teams nationwide for a total commitment of $3.3 million.