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Environment Rating Scales (ERS)

Important Updates: 

SACERS Assessments Beginning Program Year 2015-16

Effective July 1, 2015, Pennsylvania begins the transition to replace the School-age Care Environment Rating Scale (SACERS) with the School-age Care Environment Rating Scale-Updated (SACERS-U). Pennsylvania adopted this new assessment tool because it provides better formatting alignment with the other Environment Rating Scales (ERS), includes the Notes for Clarification found on the Environment Rating Scales Institute (ERSI) website augmenting those in the scale book, and improves upon specific items and indicators to reflect best practices and trajectories of quality. The SACERS Core Series course (June 30, 2016) is being replaced with the SACERS-U Core Series course and will be available in face to face and online learning formats. Supplemental SACERS-U Professional Development opportunities are under development to assist programs trained on the SACERS with understanding the revised expectations and to support programs through the transition to the SACERS-U. Programs scheduled for SACERS assessment during the 2015-2016 program year have the opportunity, in collaboration with their Regional Key, to decide whether the SACERS or SACERS-U is most appropriate for the pending assessment. Please consult the PA Keys website and BUILD newsletter for additional SACERS-U related information, as it becomes available. 

Further information regarding SACERS-U is available at the Environment Rating Scales Institute website at www.ersi.info.



Beginning July 1, 2015, all early learning programs that receive Environment Rating Scale (ERS) Assessments using the ECERS-R tool will be assessed on only the first six subscales of the tool, instead of all seven.  Programs will no longer be assessed on the Parents and Staff subscale of the tool. This new approach will just be for the ECERS-R tool.  Scoring of the ITERS-R, SACERS and FCCERS-R tools will continue to include all seven subscales. This decision was made by OCDEL in consultation with PA Key Program Quality Assessment Leadership, OCDEL Research, and the authors of the ECERS-R and ECERS-3., A review of ECERS-R scores for assessments conducted during the 2013-14 fiscal year, showed no statistically significant difference between overall average scores and the alternate overall average score with the Parents and Staff subscale removed. This change serves as an initial step toward transitioning from the use of the ECERS-R tool, to the ECERS-3 in program year 2016-2017. The ECERS-3 is a new version of the ECERS tool, which better reflects current research around high quality expectations for best practices in teacher-child interactions, individualized instruction, literacy and math for preschool age children. Please consult the PA Keys website and BUILD newsletter for additional ECERS-3 transition related information, as it becomes available.

Further information regarding ECERS-3 is available at the Environment Rating Scales Institute website at www.ersi.info. 



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

There are four 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 School-Age Environment Rating Scale (SACERS), and the Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale - Revised (FCCERS-R). The tool 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.

What is the process to have an ERS Visit at my facility?

How are the ERS tools used?

The ERS tools may be used by teachers, directors, technical assistance providers, and researchers.

Program staff may use the tools to complete a self-assessment of the quality of their classrooms, and to determine areas of high quality and areas that may need additional attention.  Technical assistance providers may use the tools to determine action plans for working with programs.  Researchers may use the tools to examine the quality of programs over time.

Why is an ERS assessment important?

When providers use the ERS scales 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.  ERS assessments also help Keystone STARS providers celebrate growth as they achieve the scores needed for STAR 3 and STAR 4 and make decisions about continuous quality improvement.

How do providers learn more about using the ERS tools?

In Pennsylvania, providers participating in Early Childhood Initiatives may access ERS professional development through the online professional development calendar.  The ERS Foundations course provides an overview of the structure and scoring of the ERS tools, and is a prerequisite for the tool-specific courses (ITERS-R, ECERS-R, SACERS). Family and Group Childcare programs may access a combined course (FCCERS-R).

To find out more about this professional development and when it is offered in your area, click here or contact your Regional Key.

Determining the appropriate environment rating scale for child care centers

The chart below provides guidance for child care providers to determine which ERS training is most appropriate for their facility and which scale is appropriate for an individual classroom. To determine which scale should be used in mixed-age groupings, the provider should determine the age of the majority of the children in the group and use the ERS scale developed for that age group.

In situations where there is an equal age distribution of children for the ITERS-R and for the ECERS-R, or where there is an equal age distribution of children for the ECERS-R and the SACERS, use the scale designed for the older group of children. This takes into account the emerging developmental needs of the younger children.

The following guidelines refer to typically developing children. 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 ITERS-R
Young Toddler 13-24 months ITERS-R
Older Toddler 25-37- months ITERS-R
Preschool 37 months to date child enters 1st grade ECERS-R
Younger School-Age 1st-3rd grade SACERS
Older School-Age 4th grade through age 15 SACERS

Determining the appropriate environment rating scale for Family Day Care and Group Day Care Facilities

Family Day Care

The FCCERS-R will be used to assess all family day care homes.

Group Day Care

  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 Children Grades 1-6 Only            FCCERS-R SACERS
Settings Serving Children Ages 3 years through Kindergarten Only FCCERS-R ECERS-R    
Settings Serving Children Ages Birth to 36 months Only FCCERS-R ITERS-R
Mixed Age Grouping FCCERS-R FCCERS-R

The FCCERS-R will be used to assess all GDC homes that are located in a residence.

In group day care homes that are not in the provider’s residence, and the program is set up to serve one particular age group, the corresponding age appropriate scale should be used. For instance, if the group day care is located in a church and provides care for school-age children only, the appropriate scale is the SACERS.


Position Statements

In October 2014, the PA Position Statement regarding sand was changed after discussion with input from the Bureau of Certification.  Based upon additional review, research, and input from stakeholders, the use of sand for children under 3 years old, either as a play medium or impact absorbing surface, is not prohibited. The PA Position Statement prohibiting the use of sand has been removed.

Although the use of sand is permitted, there are factors that should be considered when using sand with young children, including supervision and abilities of the children. Certification will not cite sand when used as a protective surface for ground cover as well as a play medium. AAP/APHA guidelines for child care programs (Caring for our Children) recommend that when sand is used as a ground cover, it shall not be used simultaneously as a play medium for infants and toddlers.

For purposes of Environment Rating Scales, refer to the appropriate scale and age recommendations.

Self/Team Reflection Tools  pdf

Additional Reflection Resources

Additional resourcespdf

More About ERS

The ERS Visit

Tip Sheets & Item Information


The ERS-F Newsletter/Family Provider Newsletter

El ERS-F Circular informativa/Esta circular provee informacion a la familia (ERS-F Newsletter/Family Provider Newsletter Spanish Version)

The ERS Newsletter/Center-based Newsletter


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