RD259 - Advancing Effective Interactions and Instruction in VPI, ECSE, & Title I Classrooms Progress Report – June 30, 2021

Executive Summary:

The team at UVA-CASTL’s Advancing Effective Interactions and Instruction (AEII) initiative works in partnership with the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to help Virginia’s early childhood leaders and teachers in state-funded PreK programs, including Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI), Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE), and Title I, to provide high-quality early learning experiences to support children’s school readiness skills. CASTL-AEII’s approach focuses on supporting leaders to provide their teachers high-quality individualized professional development (PD) that improves the quality of teacher-child interactions (measured by the Classroom Assessment Scoring System [CLASS®] tool), instruction, and implementation of evidenced-based curriculum. CASTL-AEII also coordinates external CLASS® observations to learn about the quality of teacher-child interactions in early childhood classrooms.

COVID-19 Impact and Implications

COVID-19 produced a widespread, significant impact on communities and the education system, especially for low-income families and communities of color. When the 2020-2021 school year began, many state-funded early childhood programs offered limited in-person instruction. As COVID-19 cases increased during the fall and winter, many preschool programs fluctuated between in-person and virtual learning. By the end of March 2021, most school divisions offered some form of in-person instruction as well as varying hybrid and virtual opportunities. Since many school divisions did not allow outside visitors in schools, CASTL-AEII implemented new remote live and video-recorded CLASS® observation methods. In spite of the numerous pandemic challenges, CASTL-AEII completed external CLASS® observations in over 400 early childhood classrooms.

COVID-19 posed significant challenges to leaders implementing professional development and program improvements. 76 out of 90 division leaders (85%) reported that the pandemic made it “much more" or “slightly more" challenging to provide effective PD this school year. Leaders and teachers identified the need for an increased focus on equitable social-emotional instruction. COVID-19-specific PD resources and supports incorporated these topics. Additionally, the resources provided tiered levels of support for divisions and modifications to provide leaders with virtual PD reflection and planning processes. Because pandemic and post-pandemic-related challenges remain for many families, programs, and communities, continuity of learning to promote children’s social-emotional and academic development and high-quality interactions and instruction will continue to be pressing priorities for early childhood programs.

CLASS® Observations and Data in Early Childhood Classrooms

CASTL-AEII conducted external CLASS® observations in 442 early childhood (VPI, ECSE, and Title I) classrooms across 46 school divisions. These 442 classrooms represent about 18% of Virginia’s 2,400 state-funded early childhood classrooms. The 2020-2021 external CLASS® data should be cautiously interpreted given the unique year, new observation modalities piloted, and the small sample size.

Key takeaways from the 2020-2021 external CLASS® data and previous years indicate that:

• Observed classrooms and divisions continue to have a variety of strengths in terms of teacher-child interactions.

• Children experience high-quality interactions across all types of early childhood classrooms.

• Classroom Organization scores have steadily risen over the past few years, while Emotional Support and Instructional Support scores slightly decreased this year.

• Instructional Support continues to be an area of need in early childhood classrooms.

• Within domains, teachers may need more support for some dimensions than others, particularly Regard for Student Perspectives in Emotional Support, and Concept Development in Instructional Support. CASTL-AEII also supported teachers and leaders to learn more about the CLASS®.

Key takeaways from feedback surveys indicated:

• Teachers and leaders found the Introduction to the Initiative sessions informative. Attendees new to the initiative felt that they knew more about the CLASS® after attending the sessions.

• Teachers and leaders who attended the Introduction to the CLASS® trainings believe using CLASS® is beneficial.

Professional Development Supports

In 2020-2021, CASTL-AEII’s current professional development (PD) supports expanded to address pandemic-related classroom limitations, serve new ECSE and Title I classrooms, and address the heightened inequities related to COVID-19. These PD supports included services (i.e., consultation, training, and coaching) and resources for leaders and teachers in early childhood education programs. CASTL-AEII continued to provide support that helped leaders engage teachers in individualized and data-driven professional development, including feedback and resources to improve the quality of interactions, instruction, and curriculum implementation in early childhood classrooms. The differentiated PD supports helped leaders to improve or maintain PD effectiveness despite the challenges of COVID-19. The coaching model supported teachers in improving their equitable social-emotional instruction and interactions. Coaching fidelity and teacher satisfaction with coaching were both high. The new coaching model shows promise as a continued learning format.

Additionally, CASTL-AEII introduced new supports and resources focused on equitable social-emotional instruction and foundational interactions to help early childhood education (ECE) teachers support children and families. The new ECE Resource Hub; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) tools; and social-emotional well-being resources were successfully utilized in varied PD formats and communications to support leaders and teachers. These additional services and resources were provided using CASTL-AEII funding from the General Assembly as well as the new Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds (Appendix Table 3).

PD supports and resources included:

• AEII PD Reflection & Planning Process (includes differentiated consultation)

• Online ECE Resource Hub

• Supports for Leaders on using ECE Resource Hub

• Virtual Coaching for Teachers

Key takeaways from data on PD supports include:

• COVID-19 posed significant challenges for professional development and program improvements.

• Divisions were able to maintain or improve PD effectiveness despite the challenges of COVID-19.

• Differentiated PD supports helped leaders to improve their PD effectiveness across programming.

• Interest in the ECE Resource Hub remained high across the year.

• Webpage views per Topic of the Month on the ECE Resource Hub started high but declined across the spring.

• The DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) Tool and review process show promise.

• Leader PLCs demonstrated promise as a modality for supporting leaders’ capacity to utilize resources provided on the ECE Resource Hub to achieve division- or state-level PD goals.

• Teachers who received coaching improved their equitable social-emotional instruction and interactions with children, despite challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

• The coaching model shows promise as a feasible and valued mechanism for supporting teachers.

• Dosage of coaching was adequate to promote improvements but varied more widely than intended.

Looking Ahead

CASTL-AEII will collaborate with VDOE to support ECE leaders and educators as they approach the daunting task of COVID-19 recovery in an equitable and inclusive manner to ensure high-quality ECE experiences for children in the 2021-22 school year.

To this end, we will:

• Expand to serve publicly funded ECE programs birth-to-five, including center-based care and family day homes.

• Coordinate external CLASS® observations in PDG communities participating in the unified measurement and improvement system (VQB5) practice year.

• Work with existing and new statewide collaborators to provide differentiated and flexible tiered supports to leaders and educators to help improve ECE quality within the new statewide unified measurement and improvement system (VQB5).

• Continue to develop and disseminate quality improvement/PD resources.

• Support VDOE’s team around a new process for curriculum review/vetting, as well as use of vetted curricula birth-to-five.

• Build upon existing collaboration efforts and work to enhance collaboration across birth-to-five initiatives across Virginia.