A California Education School is Changing the Rubric to Put Kids First

Mimi Miller is a professor in the School of Education at California State University, Chico. Before joining the faculty at CSU Chico in 2001, Dr. Miller taught middle school in California public schools and served as a K-12 teacher educator. Last year, the CSU Chico School of Education began using the TNTP Core Rubric to train its teachers—and made critical changes to the tool to meet the unique needs of California’s classrooms. Now, because of CSU Chico’s work with the rubric, Chico Unified School District (CUSD) is poised to consider the TNTP Core Rubric for use across the district. We sat down with Dr. Miller to discuss what led to the rubric’s rapid and enthusiastic adoption and plans to bring the rubric to CUSD.

How did you know the Core Rubric was right for CSU Chico?

We received a grant through New Generation of Teachers Initiative (NGEI) that required us to adopt an observational rubric focused on Common Core State Standards. The Core Rubric’s focus on Common Core met that requirement, but equally important was its emphasis on student learning. In the past, when observing new teachers, we focused almost exclusively on teacher behaviors. With that sort of rubric, a teacher could walk away with a very high score and feedback that made it sound like everything was going great in the classroom, without saying anything about what learning had occurred.

We also liked how simple the Core Rubric was. We looked at other rubrics that had upwards of 30 different areas; TNTP’s only has four. Supervisors immediately took to the four categories because they were clear and made sense, and captured instruction better than previous rubrics.

Everyone has something different they like about it. Bev Landers, one of our university supervisors, appreciates its clarity. In her words, “The new rubric takes our standards for teachers and puts them into observable behaviors. Instead of relying on a professional gut feeling, the rubric standardizes what excellence should look like.”​

Tell us about your experience getting the team excited about the rubric. What were the most significant hurdles?

When it came down to it, the content of the rubric itself won people over. Once the faculty saw it, the same thing that appealed to me appealed to them; they liked that it was focused on student learning. The four categories (we used to have 13!) were also attractive to them.

Since we had to move quickly because of the grant, the training came as a bit of a surprise to the people who had already signed up to supervise. That was difficult. I will say, the 20 hours it takes to get trained on the rubric is a good chunk of time. But to me, it feels necessary because the rubric’s shift to student learning is a significant change from previous practice. Supervisors saw value in the training, especially the combination of online and in-person education and the conversations we had about what was happening in real classrooms. I still hear a lot of, ” I can't believe you made me do 20 hours of training—but I'm so glad you did because now I have a great tool.”

How have you adapted the Core Rubric?

One thing that's special about TNTP’s rubric is that it has a Creative Commons license, meaning we can adapt it to our needs. After we piloted it last year, we had a couple of focus groups of supervisors and teachers who used it, and we made adjustments based on the feedback. Because of the high percentage of English-language learners in our classrooms in California, we added English language development standards to the rubric. Supervisors also wanted to take the labels off the scoring because they felt they didn’t align with our idea that everyone always has room to grow. So instead of calling a teacher “ineffective,” we simplified things and just used numbers. We also removed references to “quick pace” because we wanted to allow for pacing appropriate to the classroom setting and students. Also, we aligned the rubric to the California Teacher Performance Expectations.


How are you currently using the rubric with your teachers?

We graduate over 200 candidates a year in our credential programs, and each candidate engages in student teaching for over 600 hours across two semesters, so it's quite a bit of student teaching. As of August 2017, the rubric is being used by university supervisors and mentor teachers to conduct classroom observations. Whether candidates are placed in our local Chico district or other districts across northern California, they are all receiving feedback based on that rubric.

What’s next?

As part of our grant partnership, we were asked to adopt a rubric that could be used by our partner district. Fortunately, TNTP’s Core Rubric aligns well with the district’s goals and priorities. Recently, Chico Unified School District (CUSD) has been seeking a new observational instrument and is poised to consider the TNTP Core Rubric. This year, it is an optional tool for teachers to use for their regularly scheduled peer evaluations. We are hoping that this beginning will lay the groundwork for the rubric to get approved for widespread use.

We are continuing to pilot our version, and we have plans to conduct surveys and focus groups in the coming months. We also want to take things deeper and are collaborating with TNTP to adapt the training and create new online modules customized to the needs of our schools. This process of adjusting the rubric is an ongoing and exciting journey. With every change we make or component we add, we are trying to push ourselves further in focusing on student learning. In the words of one of our supervisors, Genavra Williamson, Ed.D, “The TNTP Core Rubric provides a central focus on the actions and behaviors of students, which affords the teacher candidate the opportunity to make progressive, timely and purposeful gains to their lesson plans and teaching.”

And these gains are not about getting a higher score or a certificate, they are about how much kids are learning.

You can download CSU Chico's CORE rubric here

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