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Program Observation Instruments

General Information About PQA


Program Observation Instruments (POI)


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Program observation is a way of gathering information about a program’s practices. It includes observation of point in time practices such as the flow of children’s experiences in the classroom or a program’s documented leadership and management practices. Program observation supports early childhood and school-age professionals and program leadership by looking at the current quality of different early learning and school-age program components: classroom practices, teacher-child interactions, instructional support, and program management and leadership. It helps to identify the program’s strengths and areas to consider for practice growth. Information from a program observation can be used to inform continuous quality improvement plans (CQI).

Program Observation Instrument (POI)

Program Observation Instruments (POI) are evidence-based, reliable tools used to measure the quality of early learning and school-age care programs. They provide a specific structure that guides the observer’s review of a specific set of implemented practices. They can help early childhood and school-age professionals review their program’s practices to see what they are doing well and identify areas for growth. POIs designed for use in these settings often involve time spent in the classroom/care space observing, listening to interactions between children and teachers, interviews to gather information, and review of documents and materials. The feedback from these activities can be used to inform Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) decision-making on all or part of a program’s services and support program evaluation efforts.

Who Uses POIs?

Early childhood and school-age professionals can use POIs to complete internal assessment of the quality of their classroom practices to determine areas where practices are strong and those where more focused attention is needed. Technical assistance consultants can use POI to inform action plans for working with programs. Program Quality Assessors use the POIs for Keystone STARS CQI support, and  to inform individualized supports for programs experiencing challenges. Researchers can use the POIs to examine the quality of programs over time.

Program Observation Instrument (POI) for Keystone STARS

At STAR 2, programs select an approved POI to use for internal assessment and use the results to inform goals for improvement. At STAR 3 and 4 programs develop an Internal Assessment (IA)Team to design their ongoing Internal Assessment Process (IAP) for completing yearly internal assessments in partnership with their Quality Coach and a Pennsylvania Key Assessor.

Programs may also elect to work on optional Keystone STARS Standard indicators that support adding additional POIs to their IAP. These additional indicators also offer the opportunity to have a Pennsylvania Key Assessor conduct an external assessment for CQI feedback to add to the internally gathered assessment information. The external feedback, from an experienced observer, enhances the information the program’s IA Team will use to determine a focus for change, and goals to add to the CQI Plan.

There are multiple Keystone STARS approved POIs that programs can choose from to investigate their current classroom and/or leadership and management practices. Some POIs are designed to review a broad range of practice; others have a narrow focus on a few specific practices. Allowing programs to choose a POI that provides feedback on areas of practice that match their goals, investigate areas where challenges exist or focus on new areas for growth supports creating individual CQI journeys from STAR 1 to STAR 4. For basic information on approved POIs, see the Program Observation Instruments Overview (PDF).

Use the following table to explore the POIs further. Click the POI title to access more information and resources associated with each instrument.

Program Observation Instrument Care Setting Age Target Area
Business Administration Scale (BAS) Family/Group Child Care Homes located in a residential structure n/a Business Practices
Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) Center-Based Infants – School-Age Teacher-Child Interactions
Climate of Healthy Interactions for Learning and Development (CHILD) Center-Based Preschool Classrooms Social-Emotional Interactions
Developmental Environment Rating Scale (DERS) All Care Settings 2.5 – 6 Years Environment and Child and Adult Behaviors
Environment Rating Scale (ERS) All Care Settings Infants – School-Age Overview of Practices
Inclusive Classroom Profile (ICP) Center-Based where at least one classroom enrolls a child with a diagnosed disability Preschool classrooms with at least one enrolled child with a diagnosed disability Inclusive Practices
Parenting Interactions with Children: Checklist of Observations Linked to Outcomes (PICCOLO) All Care Settings 10 – 47 months Teacher-child or parent-child interactions
Program Administration Scale (PAS) Center-Based and Group Child Care located in a commercial structure n/a Program Administration, Leadership, Management
Rating Observation Scale for Inspiring Environments (ROSIE) Center-Based Preschool classrooms Classroom aesthetics
School-Age Program Quality Assessment (SPQA) Center-Based and/or SACC only programs Kindergarten – Grade 6 Quality of youth experiences/Overview of practices
Teaching Pyramid Infant-Toddler Observation Scale (TPITOS) Center-Based Birth to 36 months Social-emotional – Pyramid Model
Teaching Pyramid Observation Tool (TPOT) Center-Based 2 – 5 years (preschool classrooms) Social-emotional – Pyramid Model
Social Emotional Learning Program Quality Assessment (SEL PQA) Center based and/or SACC only programs Kindergarten through Grade 12 Social emotional learning

Information contained in this chart is based upon the most recent information provided by individual POI authors/publishers and is informed by Pennsylvania’s current use of each instrument in Keystone STARS.  Updates are made as needed to reflect new information on POI use in various settings/age ranges and target areas.

Recorded Webinar

Program Observation Instruments (POIs)

This recorded webinar provides additional information about the various Program Observation Instruments (POIs) for early learning programs in Pennsylvania.

[June 7,  2021]

Facilitated Program Observation Instrument (POI) Overview

Facilitated Program Observation Instrument (POI) Orientation is an intentional discussion between a Program Quality Assessor and a program to support a program’s decision to choose and use a POI that does not have professional development opportunities from the Pennsylvania Key. This is a one-on-one (or small group when appropriate) hour-long session. Upon completion, a program may receive a scale book, supporting print materials and/or classroom materials to support the use of the POI at no cost.

Last Updated: Jan. 2022

Learn more about Program Quality Assessment (PQA)

Let's Talk Quality!

Program Quality Assessment in PA

This is a weekly blog about important program quality components of early learning and school-age programs in Pennsylvania. This blog is written and maintained by the PQA team. Visit our Meet the Team page on the blog to meet everyone.

Visit the blog at letstalkqualitypa.com!

For questions regarding Program Quality Assessment (PQA), contact the PQA team at pqa@pakeys.org.


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