Assessing Effective Classroom Supports for Students with Higher Support Needs


This article originally appeared in START Connecting in October 2019. 

A classroom is like a student’s home at school. It is the place where they not only receive their core academic instruction but it also provides predictable structure to the day. How the classroom environment is designed, the ways in which adults and peers interact with each other, and the clarity of expectations and routines set the stage for a positive, or sometimes not so positive learning experience. For students with higher support needs, including students with autism spectrum disorder, it is especially important to have the key ingredients of an effective classroom in place to prevent problems, promote learning, and foster meaningful social interaction.

One way to ensure these key ingredients are in place consistently in a classroom is to use a classroom observation tool. The Classroom Environment and Teaching Assessment – Revised (CETA-R) is a coaching tool for classroom teams to assess the extent to which effective classroom practices for students with higher support needs are in place. Additionally, most of the practices listed in the CETA-R are considered universal practices that are beneficial for all students. 

Each area of the CETA-R includes key indicators that are rated on a 0-3 scale based on how much a practice is in place.

School teams are encouraged to use the tool as part of a collaborative process for identifying strengths and priorities for improvement.  The tool is not intended as a teacher evaluation tool nor should it be the sole source of data for classroom assessment or decision-making. A combination of information including progress monitoring of IEPs, other program assessment tools, and program outcome data are recommended to provide a comprehensive review of the classroom and help school staff set goals for improvement.

The collaborative process for completion of the CETA-R involves the following steps:

  • Identify a CETA-R team to complete the process. Team members include:
    • classroom teacher
    • staff who provide classroom support
    • building, district, and ISD coach(es)
    • building principal or other relevant administration
    • facilitator and note taker for the meeting 
  • Hold a CETA-R team meeting prior to completing the CETA-R with an agenda that includes:
    • Establish a collaborative process
    • Review and discuss the CETA-R items
    • Establish roles and responsibilities, including:
      • Classroom teacher(s) to complete the CETA-R as a self-assessment 
      • Objective, qualified observer(s) conduct the CETA-R observations across multiple dates and times
  • Classroom teacher(s) and observer(s) complete the CETA-R and prepare their data and notes for the meeting
  • Hold the CETA-R review meeting using the CETA-R Visual Organizer to identify implementation strengths, priorities for improvement, and action steps

This CETA-R Visual Organizer is designed to help teams establish classroom priorities after completing the CETA-R. It can be used as a note-taking tool during the CETA-R review meeting, and visually displayed to the team through a projector, chart paper, or a whiteboard. As part of the process, team members can write strengths and priorities on post-it notes and place them in the appropriate section. The team can then cluster the items, discuss priorities, and develop action steps for each section. Review any data collected and the action plan at the follow up meeting to monitor progress and set new goals.

The CETA-R is a free, easy to use tool to determine if effective practices are in place in classrooms supporting students with higher support needs. Observations conducted using the CETA-R provides information that a team can use to set goals to continue to improve classroom programming and opportunities for students.  

Written by: Amy Matthews, Ph.D., BCBA

CETA-R Areas:  

  • Classroom Environment
  • Visual and Organizational Supports
  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports
  • Instruction and Academic Engagement
  • Communication Systems & Supports
  • Social Interaction and Peer to Peer Support
  • Adult Support and Interactions