PROGRAM QUALITY ASSESSMENT 2017-12-22T10:59:50+00:00


Wondering about the 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. For additional info, see the Program Observation Instruments POI Overview (PDF).

Also available are one-page handouts that provide information on each instrument.



Check out the blog, Let’s Talk Quality! Program Quality Assessment in PA. Learn about high-quality developmentally and culturally appropriate practices in early childhood and school-age programming, how program observation instruments (POIs) help teachers monitor their practices and plan for ongoing improvements and much more. New posts occur each week.


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:

  1. the Infant Toddler Environment Rating Scale-Revised (ITERS-R),
  2. the Early Childhood Rating Scale-Revised (ECERS-R),
  3. the Early Childhood Rating Scale-Third Edition (ECERS-3),
  4. the School-Age Environment Rating Scale – Updated (SACERS-U), and
  5. 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:

  1. The CLASS – Infant,
  2. CLASS – Toddler,
  3. CLASS – Pre-K and
  4. 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 to a program?

How are the program observation tools used?

The program observation tools may be used by teachers, directors, technical assistance providers, Program Quality Assessors 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 in a CQI Plan.  Technical assistance providers may use the tools to determine action plans for working with programs. Program Quality Assessors will use the tools for Keystone STARS Monitoring and CQI support visits. Researchers may use the tools 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 tools?

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 or contact your Regional Key.

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



  • Top Ten Questions About ERS Assessment
  • Why Use the ERS in Quality Rating Systems?
  • Getting Started on Using ERS and What ti Measures
  • Unlocking the Secrets to Quality Early Childhood Education: As Easy As Answering, How Would I Feel?
  • Taking an ERS Look at the Big Picture: It’s More Than the Score
  • Surviving or Thriving the ERS

The ERS Visit

Tip Sheets & Item Information


The ERS-F Newsletter/Family Provider Newsletter

The ERS Newsletter/Center-based Newsletter