A group of 32 people, consisting of MTSU graduate students and faculty in math and science education, gathered earlier this month to learn more about a teacher evaluation method that could affect classrooms across the state of Tennessee.
The Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol, or RTOP, is used to evaluate mathematics and science teaching and is part of a growing movement to reform math and science teaching methods across the country.
Dr. Angela T. Barlow, director of MTSU’s Mathematics and Science Education Ph.D. Program and a professor of math education, said the evaluation method offers a framework for the changes necessary to improve student performance in math and science classes.
The observation protocol was developed at the University of Arizona several years ago and “is one of the few available instruments for instruction that boasts high inter-rater reliability,” Barlow said, meaning there tends to be a high degree of agreement among independent evaluators using this method.
In addition, researchers have documented that gains in RTOP scores result in gains in student achievement, added Barlow, who coordinated the training. As a result, the RTOP is often used in grant proposals for documenting the impact of grant activities on instruction, as is the case with two grants secured by MTSU to provide professional development to area public school teachers.
“With the introduction of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and the Next Generation Science Standards, it is imperative that we work to support teachers in adopting instructional practices that will support their students’ learning,” Barlow said. “The RTOP helps us to document teachers’ movement toward this reform-oriented teaching.”
Common Core is a new set of academic benchmarks for math and English Language Arts now being adopted by the majority of states as a part of K-12 education reform. Next Generation is a voluntary reform effort based on international benchmarks that focuses on science education. The goal of the reforms is to better prepare students for higher education and a career.
To help MTSU educators maximize their future observations of classroom teachers, two facilitators from the University of Alabama-Birmingham conducted an RTOP training session on Jan. 16 inside the Tom H. Jackson Building, just before the spring semester began.
Trainers Jason Fulmore and Rachel Cochran, research assistant professors at UAB’s Center for Educational Accountability, facilitated the training, using videos, group exercises and open discussion to explain the RTOP method.
“Observation protocols are very much a part of one of the ways we evaluate what happens in K-12 and higher education classrooms,” Fulmore said afterward. “Going in and actually observing a classroom gives us information about what’s happening inside that classroom.”
According to Fulmore, a number of classroom observation methods have been developed during the past decade, including RTOP, which his organization has used the past several years in conducting hundreds of observations.
MTSU educators are encouraged to talk to classroom teachers about the protocol.
“They’ll use this observation protocol to help them gather quantitative data to understand” what changes are happening in the classroom, Fulmore said.
MTSU graduate student Jennifer Yantz, a Smyrna resident, was among those who attended the training. Yantz, who is on track to graduate in May, plans to apply for a faculty position within higher education once she graduates, with hopes of starting in the fall.
She is pleased that the Mathematics and Science Education doctoral program, now in its third year, has training such as RTOP available.
“It’s encouraging Ph.D. students to get more involved in local schools,” she said. “Learning how to use an instrument like RTOP will be very useful for us to go out and have some means of measuring what we see as effective teaching.
“Learning how to use instruments like this and go out and do research is an important part of our education.”
— Jimmy Hart (firstname.lastname@example.org)