About Environment Rating Scales

There are four environment rating scales, each designed for a different segment of the early childhood field.

(ECERS-R) The Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale-Revised: A thorough revision of the ECERS, designed to assess group programs for preschool-kindergarten aged children, from 2 through 5 years of age. Total scale consists of 43 items. (Also available in Spanish).

(ITERS-R) The Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale-Revised: A thorough revision of the ITERS, designed to assess group programs for children from birth to 2 ½ years of age. Total scale consists of 39 items. (Also available in Spanish).

(FCCERS-R) The Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale-Revised: A thorough revision of the FDCRS, designed to assess family child care programs conducted in a provider’s home. Total scale consists of 38 items. (Also available in Spanish).

(SACERS) The School-Age Care Environment Rating Scale: Designed to assess before and after school group care programs for school-age children, 5 to 12 years of age. The total scale consists of 49 items, including 6 supplementary items for programs enrolling children with disabilities.

  • Each one of the scales has items to evaluate: Physical Environment; Basic Care; Curriculum; Interaction; Schedule and Program Structure; and Parent and Staff Education.
  • The scales are suitable for use in evaluating inclusive and culturally diverse programs.
  • The scales have proven reliability and validity.

Our scales are designed to assess process quality in an early childhood or school age care group. Process quality consists of the various interactions that go on in a classroom between staff and children, staff, parents, and other adults, among the children themselves, and the interactions children have with the many materials and activities in the environment, as well as those features, such as space, schedule and materials that support these interactions. Process quality is assessed primarily through observation and has been found to be more predictive of child outcomes than structural indicators such as staff to child ratio, group size, cost of care, and even type of care, for example child care center or family child care home (Whitebook, Howes & Phillips, 1995).

In order to provide care and education that will permit children to experience a high quality of life while helping them develop their abilities, a quality program must provide for the three basic needs all children have:

  • Protection of their health and safety
  • Building positive relationships
  • Opportunities for stimulation and learning from experience

No one component is more or less important than the others, nor can one substitute for another. It takes all three to create quality care. Each of the three basic components of quality care manifests itself in tangible forms in the program's environment, curriculum, schedule, supervision and interaction, and can be observed. These are the key aspects of process quality that are included in our environmental rating scales.

Our scales define environment in a broad sense and guide the observer to assess the arrangement of space both indoors and outdoors, the materials and activities offered to the children, the supervision and interactions (including language) that occur in the classroom, and the schedule of the day, including routines and activities. The support offered to parents and staff is also included.

All of our scales have been developed in close collaboration with realistic field-based sites. They have good interrater reliability and validity, thus making them suitable for research and program evaluation, as well as program improvement efforts. (Click here for more information on reliability and valididty of the ECERS-R)

Each scale has a complete training program. The ECERS-R, ITERS-R and FCCERS-R training programs include an interactive videotape/DVD.

Research Use
The ECERS-R (1998) is the revised edition of the original ECERS (1980). It is currently being used in several major studies, including the Early Head Start Study (Mathematica Corporation), and Welfare, Children and Families: A Three City Study (Columbia University, University of Chicago, and Harvard University). The original ECERS was used in the Head Start FACES study, in which over 400 classroom are included nationwide. The preliminary results in all these studies show that the ECERS and the ECERS-R are performing very well.

In addition, it should be noted that the ECERS and ITERS were used as the comprehensive quality measures in the National Child Care Staffing Study (Whitebook, Howes, & Phillips, 1989) and the Cost, Quality, and Child Outcomes Study (1995), the major studies of their time. The FDCRS was used in The Study of Children in Family Child Care and Relative Care (Galinsky, Howes, Kontos, & Shinn, 1994). In all of these studies, a relationship was found between higher scores on the ECERS and more positive child development outcomes in areas that are considered important for later school success. The effects of higher quality early childhood experiences have now been shown to last at least through the second grade of elementary school (Peisner-Feinberg, Burchinal, Clifford, Culkin, Howes, Kagan, Yazejian, Byler, Rustici, & Zelazo, 1999). Research is continuing to evaluate longer-lasting effects.

It is also interesting to note that our scales have been used in research studies and program improvement efforts in many other countries including Canada, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Russia, Iceland, Portugal, England, Spain, Austria, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, Hungary and Greece. They have been proven reliable and valid in each country with relatively minor adaptations. No doubt there are cultural differences among these various countries, yet each of these countries adheres to a core set of child development goals and early childhood practices common to most modern industrialized countries (Tietze, et al, 1996). It has been shown that in England, Greece, Germany, Portugal, Spain, and Austria, higher scores on the scales are related to more positive child development outcomes (Petrogannis & Melhuish. 1996, European Child Care and Education Study Group, 1997). This provides evidence that children from many backgrounds require similar inputs for success in developmental areas valued in western industrialized countries.

The Environmental Rating Scales in Program Improvement
Since the use of the environmental rating scales in research has been well documented in the literature, it is important to describe here some of the current uses of our scales in program improvement efforts in the US and in other countries. The scales are used in a variety of ways including for self-assessment by center staff, preparation for accreditation, and voluntary improvement efforts by licensing or other agencies. For example, in the United States:

  • The state of Arkansas has trained personnel, who do assessments and provide training and technical assistance so that child care centers and homes can increase their quality of care. The Federal money allotments for improving child care are linked to measurable program improvement on the scales. Another innovative feature of the Arkansas program is that parents who select child care facilities with an average of 4.5 or higher on our scales are eligible for two times the state child care tax exemption. Thus both parents and providers are being rewarded for quality improvements that benefit the children.
  • The state of Colorado uses the scales in a variety of program improvement and evaluation projects. For example, Denver has a quality improvement program that uses on site consultation and training based on scale scores. Many of the centers participating in this program serve poor and minority children and their families. The state of Colorado is currently considering a tiered reimbursement system using the scales.
  • Many counties involved in the state of North Carolina's quality improvement program, Smart Start, require training on and the use of the scales in self assessment before a center or family child care home may apply for an individual grant. This ensures that the staff will order equipment, materials and/or request training based on needs that have been objectively substantiated.
  • North Carolina also currently uses scale scores as part of their 5 star rated license system. Centers and family child care homes are awarded either one or two stars based on compliance with licensing standards. Programs may voluntarily apply for an additional three stars based on a set of quality measures including the licensing compliance record, teacher and director education, and the levels of process quality as measured by the appropriate environmental scale. Only the lowest level of licensing is mandatory. However, an additional fee is paid to the provider of subsidized care for each additional star earned voluntarily.
  • The Oklahoma 3 star tiered license incorporates an evaluation with the scales in the second tier as a basis for quality improvement, and provides technical assistance based on scores for meeting accreditation standards. Tiered reimbursement is a part of this system.
  • Tennessee is now initiating a rated license system, based on North Carolina's experience. In their system, however, program evaluation is not voluntary, but is required yearly to create a "Report Card" that must be posted with the license so child care consumers have access to reliable information on the quality of child care they are using for their children. Tiered reimbursement will also be tied to scores on the scale.
  • Other states, including California, Massachusetts, Montana, Mississippi, Kansas, Oregon, Kentucky, New Mexico, Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin, and Nebraska have also initiated quality evaluation and improvement programs using our scales. Each state is tailoring its use of the scales to its individual needs and resources.
  • All the US military services have been using the scales routinely in their center and family child care homes for program improvement and monitoring. The military child development system was recognized by Executive Order in 1998 for its high quality.
  • The District of Columbia uses the scales as a basis for technical assistance in child care centers and family child care homes in their Quality Care for Children Initiative, which provides on-site multi-visit consultation services.
  • Our environmental rating scales are widely used by programs as they prepare for accreditation. This is due to the fact that our scales use a format with detailed levels of quality that provides a blueprint for gradual change. The content of our scales is completely supportive of the various credentialling and accreditation programs.

Use of our scales in foreign countries, either in translation or in the original version, has been increasing rapidly. Examples of use are:

  • In Canada, the scales are available in both English and French. In many of the provinces, they are used as a voluntary part of the licensing visit. The license is given for compliance with a licensing checklist, mainly composed of health and safety items. During the visit, the licensing consultant also completes one of our rating scales and, with the voluntary cooperation of the caregiver, sets improvement goals for the program. The scales are used over a longer period in intensive consultation with programs that show problems during the licensing visit.
  • In Sweden, several projects are using preschool teachers as leaders in program improvement efforts with the Swedish ECERS. In Stockholm, the staff working together in a classroom independently completes one subscale of the scale each month, then discusses their scores under the leadership of their head teacher, who is a fully trained preschool teacher. The staff makes and carries out its own improvement plans. A study of this low cost program showed substantial gains in quality (20 - 46%) (Andersson, 1998). Another program in the Gothenburg area uses preschool teachers as mentors for other programs.
  • In Germany, the scales are presently being used by individual cities to evaluate the quality of child care and kindergarten programs. Reports are provided to administrative agencies and to center staff, as a basis for program improvement planning. In addition, the scales are being considered as part of a program accreditation system.

Related Work
The development of instruments to measure the quality of early childhood programs has been a major part of the work of the authors of these scales. In addition to our own scales, we have developed, in close collaboration with the sponsoring agencies, the following instruments for the field: the NAEYC Center accreditation classroom observation and the accreditation questionnaires; the CDA Classroom Observation; the Wellsley College ASQ school age care scale and director's questionnaire, which is now being used in the National School Age Care Alliance accreditation program; the Quality Criteria for Family Child Care; and the Military Family Child Care accreditation procedures and instruments.