Fidelity assessment and improving student outcomes

  • Frequent More frequent fidelity assessments mean more opportunities for improving instruction, innovations, and implementation supports (i.e., at school, district, and state levels). Fidelity assessments in education should be done for every teacher six times per academic year for the first 2-3 years after innovations are put in place. This will help assure frequent feedback to inform and focus improvement cycles to support teachers for effectively and efficiently.
    For more information see Module 5: Improvement Cycles

    Relevant: Fidelity data are most informative when each item on the assessment is relevant to important supports for student learning. That is, fidelity assessment items are tied directly to the Practice Profile for the innovation, and the Practice Profile is based on best research and evaluation evidence to date.
    For more information see Lesson 3: Practice Profiles
  • Actionable: Fidelity data are most useful when each item on the assessment can be included in an action plan and can be improved in the education setting. The teacher and coach/Implementation Team develop action plans after each assessment to improve supports for effective instruction.
    For more information see Implementation Drivers: Action Plan & Implementation Stages: Action Plan

These three dimensions combine to produce useful information for improving educational practices and student outcomes. If they are to be used frequently, fidelity assessments must be practical (e.g. a 10-minute observation). To be useful for improving supports for teachers, fidelity assessment items need to be relevant and actionable by Implementation Teams. Data linking fidelity information with student outcomes will help to sustain the assessment system.

As noted earlier, few fidelity assessments exist in education and human services.  This situation has persisted unchanged for decades (Moncher & Prinz, 1991; Sanetti & Kratochwill, 2014). A search of the What Works Clearinghouse in education yields few examples of fidelity measures, and very few of those relate to instruction practices in typical classrooms.

and administrative reviews
Fidelity assessments

There are accountability and administrative reviews and other evaluations of teachers that are conducted by principals and other school staff.  Typically, these assessments are used to determine teacher status (promotion, pay increase, retention) or meet state and federal standards for access to funding or to meet state and federal legislative mandates.


There are teacher fidelity assessments that are comprehensive and require extensive preparations of assessors and longer observations in order to ensure observers are obtaining valid and reliable information (Danielson, 2013; Marzano, 2007). 

Comprehensive teacher assessments have much to recommend them and provide relevant and actionable information.  Because they are comprehensive they also are cumbersome.  The time and effort required to conduct them mean they are not practical for frequent administrations for continual improvement of ongoing supports for teacher performance.

Again, very few fidelity measures are used in daily practice in education and human services (Crosse, Williams, Hagen, Harmon, Ristow, DiGaetano, . . . Derzon, 2011).  This presents a problem for Implementation Team members who are accountable for producing high levels of fidelity linked to good student outcomes in practice settings. 

The lack of fidelity measures also poses a problem for administrators and directors in education.  Instead of random acts of improvement based on best guesses, fidelity measures help diagnose problems and target attention on specific actions that lead to improved student outcomes.  Strategies to improve implementation supports (e.g. more coaching or more training from the Implementation Team) are very different from strategies to improve innovations (e.g. modify instruction or curriculum to produce better outcomes when used with high levels of fidelity).  Having fidelity assessment data helps to focus the use of limited resources in districts and schools.