Using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) with Dual Language Learners

By Emily Firgens

Twenty-nine percent of Head Start children, and close to 20 percent of school-age children, speak a language other than English at home. This culturally and linguistically diverse population requires high-quality, supportive interactions with teachers and caregivers to meet their unique needs. The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), developed at the Curry School Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia, is a validated classroom assessment tool that measures and provides data on the quality of teacher-child interactions. That data can then be used by teachers and programs to improve the quality of those interactions, and the learning experience. CLASS, which was initially designed to be used in pre-kindergarten through high school classrooms, measures effective teacher-child interactions by observing the emotional support, organization, and instructional support found within classrooms. Teacher-child interactions in these domains are linked to higher academic, social-emotional, and behavioral outcomes.

As CLASS is considered by more states for use in quality initiatives including quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS), understanding whether and how CLASS can reliably be used in early learning classrooms serving dual language learners (DLLs) becomes increasingly important. A recent report, Dual Language Learners and the CLASS Measure, explores how CLASS and its focus on high-quality, supportive teaching can benefit DLLs. Researchers evaluated CLASS’s reliability and validity when used with DLLs and found that CLASS can be used reliably in DLL classrooms. The CLASS measure does not consider cultural competency, nor does it fully capture possible cultural differences in what is considered valuable instruction or the differences in how effective interactions may be expressed between cultures. However, the study finds that by 1) using the tool with a reliable CLASS observer, 2) supplementing CLASS with other information on cultural competency, and 3) offering professional development that aligns with observations, the CLASS measure can provide an avenue for supporting high-quality teacher-child interactions for DLLs.

The more recently developed CLASS measure for infants was not included in this study. As the CLASS measures for infants and an additional measure for toddlers develop, these too may become tools for supporting the development of the youngest DLLs. With the country’s population of young children growing more diverse, and states using more observational tools to measure the quality of early care and education, finding tools that address the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse children is essential. The CLASS measure is beginning to show us how this can be done.