PROGRAM OBSERVATION TOOLS2018-08-17T15:34:30+00:00

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Program Quality Assessment in PA

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Wondering about the new Program Observation Instruments (POI) list in the Keystone STARS Program Manual?  POIs support programs in looking at the current quality of different early learning program components: classroom practices, teacher-child interactions and instructional support, program management and leadership to name a few.  Information from an assessment with a POI can be used to inform continuous quality improvement plans. Here’s a handout that introduces each of the tools.

And here are one-page handouts that provide a little more information on each instrument.




Keystone STARS now offers programs a range of tools to choose from to support continuous quality improvement efforts.  With so many choices, teachers and program administrators will want to learn more about the tools so that they can make informed choices about which ones to use, and how to use them to support their goal planning and quality work.  Two new sessions will help support program decision-making, and a third session is in development! This flyer provides more information on these events which debut at the 2017 ECE Summit.



The Program Quality Assessment Team announces its statewide professional development session calendar for January through June of 2018.  This calendar is designed to support programs and teachers in selecting the most appropriate location and date to receive professional development on the various program observation instruments (POIs)  Additionally, if a session you are registered for is canceled for any reason, the calendar provides a quick at a glance way to find a new date and location to sign up for.  This calendar is updated monthly to represent all currently scheduled POI sessions across the Commonwealth, but be sure to check the PD Registry for additional dates and locations as more sessions are always being added.



The Environment Rating Scales (ERS) and Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) are observation-based assessment tools used to evaluate the quality of early childhood programs.  The tools have been tested for reliability and validity in providing information about the quality of childhood programs, based on current research regarding positive child outcomes.

There are five ERS scales that are utilized in the PA Quality Initiatives: the Infant Toddler Environment Rating Scale-Revised (ITERS-R), the Early Childhood Rating Scale-Revised (ECERS-R), the Early Childhood Rating Scale-Third Edition (ECERS-3), the School-Age Environment Rating Scale – Updated (SACERS-U), and the Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale-Revised (FCCERS-R). The tool(s) utilized is dependent on the setting and age range of the children in a particular program.

Each ERS scale is divided into criteria that assess the program’s physical environment, health and safety procedures, materials, interpersonal relationships, and opportunities for learning and development.

There are four CLASS tools that are used in PA’s Quality Initiatives: The CLASS – Infant, CLASS – Toddler, CLASS – Pre-K and CLASS K-3.   The tool(s) utilized is dependent on the setting and age range of the children in a particular program.

Each CLASS tool is divided into domains/dimensions that assess how the teacher supports children’s social/emotional and cognitive development through interactions and teaching practices.

What is the process to have a program observation visit at my facility?

How are the program observation instruments used?

The program observation instruments may be used by teachers, directors, technical assistance providers, Program Quality Assessors and researchers.

Program staff may use the instruments to complete a self-assessment of the quality of their classrooms, to determine areas of high quality and areas that may need additional attention in a CQI Plan.  Technical assistance providers may use the instruments to determine action plans for working with programs. Program Quality Assessors will use the instruments for Keystone STARS Monitoring and CQI support visits. Researchers may use the instruments to examine the quality of programs over time.

Why is a program observation visit important?

When providers use the ERS or CLASS to assess their own classrooms or have an outside assessor conduct assessments, they learn valuable information about strengths and areas of growth needed in each classroom and age group.  Using this information helps the providers make decisions about what areas of quality can be addressed in the early learning program.  The assessments conducted by Program Quality Assessors also help Keystone STARS providers celebrate growth as they achieve quality practices that meet the thresholds established for STAR 3 and STAR 4 and make decisions about continuous quality improvement work.

How do providers learn more about using the program observation instruments?

In Pennsylvania, providers participating in Early Childhood Initiatives may access professional development through the PD Registry.

To find out more about professional development on the topic of program observation and when it is offered in your area, visit the PD Registry, review the POI Statewide Calendar (link above) or contact your local Early Learning Resource Center (visit and search by county or by zip code).

Determining the appropriate program observation instrument:

The charts below provide guidance for child care providers to use in determining which observation instruments are most appropriate for their facility and which tool is appropriate for an individual classroom/group of children.

The following Department of Human Services Certification age-range definitions refer to typically developing children when applied to the use of the observation tools. In classrooms where at least half of the children are experiencing significant developmental delays, the developmental age of the majority of the children will determine the appropriate scale to use.


Infant Birth-12 months
Young Toddler 13-24 months
Older Toddler 25-36- months
Preschool 37 months to date child enters Kindergarten
Younger School-Age Kindergarten – 3rd grade
Older School-Age 4th grade through age 15


To determine which scale should be used in center-based child care, programs should review the ages of the child in each group/classroom and find the corresponding scale for that group below.

Single Age CHILD Groupings CLASS Tool to Use ERS Scale to Use
 Infants CLASS – Infant  ITERS-R
 Young Toddlers CLASS – Toddler  ITERS-R
 Older Toddlers CLASS – Toddler  ITERS-R
 Preschool CLASS – Pre-K  ECERS-R/ECERS-3
 Kindergarten CLASS – K-3  ECERS-R/ECERS-3
 Younger School-Aged CLASS – K-3  SACERS-U
 Older School-Aged CLASS – K-3  SACERS-U

 Mixed-Age CHILD Groupings*  ERS Scale to Use
 Infants/Young Toddlers/Older Toddlers ITERS-R
 Older Toddlers/Preschool ITERS-R or ECERS-R/ECERS-3*
 Preschool/Younger School-Age (Kindergarten Only) ECERS-R/ECERS-3
 Preschool/Younger/Older School-Age ECERS-R/ECERS-3 or SACERS-U*
 Kindergarten/Younger/Older School-age SACERS-U


*Mixed-age groupings comprised of these age-ranges will determine the most appropriate scale for the group by reviewing the group composition for the number of enrolled children in each age-range (younger and older school-age combined).  The age-range with the highest number of children enrolled will dictate the appropriate scale for use with the group.  In groupings where there is an equal distribution between the age-ranges the scale designed for the older group should be used, taking into account the emerging skills of the younger children in the group.  Programs that group school-age children with preschoolers should consult with their STARS Specialist to determine which scales will be used to assess their group for purposes of Keystone STARS, as in some instances both ECERS-R/ECERS-3 and SACERS-U will be used.


Family Child 

The FCCERS-R will be used to assess all Family Child Care homes. 

Group Child Care

The FCCERS-R will be used to assess all Group Child Care homes that are located in a residence. The chart below provides further information for Group Child Care homes that are located outside of a residence (e.g. in a church hall or storefront):  

Group Child Care In A Residence Group Child Care Out of Residence
Age groups separated by room (as in Center-based Care) FCCERS-R ITERS-R or
Age of the majority of the children enrolled will determine which training the provider should take and which scale will be used for assessment.
Settings Serving Only Children Kindergarten through Older School-age children in mixed grouping(s) FCCERS-R SACERS-U
Settings Serving Only Children Kindergarten through Older School-age children in separate rooms FCCERS-R ECERS-R/ECERS-3 and SACERS-U
Settings Serving Only Children Ages 3 years through Kindergarten FCCERS-R ECERS-R/ECERS-3
Settings Serving Children Ages Birth to 36 months Only FCCERS-R ITERS-R
Mixed Age Groupings include all ages of Children  FCCERS-R  FCCERS-R