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Early Childhood Programs

Program Observation Tool CHOICE Comes to STARS!

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.

Program Observation Instruments (POI) Overview

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

Environment Rating Scales (ERS)

Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS)

Program Administration Scale (PAS)

Business Administration Scale (BAS)

Program for Infant/Toddler Care Program Assessment Rating Scale (PITC-PARS)

Parenting Interactions with Children: Checklist of Observations Linked to Outcomes (PICCOLO)


NEw Professional development Sessions for Program Observation Tools

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.

POI Resources and Professional Development Events Flyer 



Program Quality Assessment Team Blog Goes Live

The PA Key announces the launch of an all-new blog, Let’s Talk Quality! Program Quality Assessment in PA. Visit frequently to 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 will occur each week. You can even submit questions to the team by completing the contact form found on the blog. Check it out today! 


Summer/Fall 2017 Program Observation Instrument Professional Development Statewide Calendar

Program Administration Scale (PAS) sessions added! The Program Quality Assessment Team announces its statewide professional development session calendar for July through December of 2017.  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.  

 Program Observation Instrument PD Calendar for July-December 2017


Important Updates:

  • A Strengths Based Approach to Best Practice Using the ECERS, Third Edition (ECERS-3) is now being scheduled at locations across the state.  Visit the Professional Development Registry to find a session near you and register today!

    The new ECERS-3 course is different than the other Environment Rating Scale Core Series sessions.  The information sheet below describes the new approach to thinking about quality practices and using the ERS tools.

    ECERS-3 Observation - a Reflection of Practice 

  • Overview of the ECERS-3 Webinar Recording and Questions and Answers

SACERS-U Course resources for school-age programs

Accessing handouts for SACERS-U Professional Development  


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 five 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 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 PD Registry.  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, ECERS-3, SACERS-U). 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:

The charts below provide guidance for child care providers to use in determining which ERS trainings are most appropriate for their facility and which scale 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 ERS 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

Determining the appropriate environment rating scale for Centers

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 ERS Scale to Use
 Young Toddlers
 Older Toddlers
 Preschool  ECERS-R/ECERS-3            
 Kindergarten  ECERS-R/ECERS-3
 Younger School-Aged
 Older School-Aged


 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


 *Mixed-age groupings comprised of these age-ranges will determine the most appropriate scale for the group by reviewing the group composition for 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.    

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

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 store front): 

  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        

Settings Serving Only Children Ages 3 years through Kindergarten
Settings Serving Children Ages Birth to 36 months Only   
Mixed Age Groupings include all ages of Children  FCCERS-R  FCCERS-R




The PA Position Statements are the result of the need to consider the impact of Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Certification Regulations and other Pennsylvania program specific expectations on the scoring of the items in the Environment Rating Scales (ERS).  In the case of each statement input from multiple sources including the ERS Scale authors, DHS Certification, OCDEL and other experts were considered in the creation of the statements 

A Deeper Look at the PA Position Statements Tip Sheet

    Special Note:

    In October 2014, the PA Position Statements regarding sand were 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.


    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

    The ERS Newsletter/Center-based Newsletter


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