Program observation is a way of gathering information about a program’s practices. Program observation helps support 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 improvement. Information from a program observation can be used to inform continuous quality improvement plans (CQI).
How are Program Observations Completed for Keystone STARS?
Since the inception of Keystone STARS program observations primarily occurred through assessments conducted by reliable Program Quality Assessors from the Pennsylvania Key. Programs at STAR 2, 3 and 4 also completed internal assessments (previously called self-assessments) after learning about the Program Observation Instrument (POI) they would be using. Feedback from both types of observations (internal and external) provided programs with information on strengths and areas for growth to use in setting CQI goals.
Recently, updates to the expectations for program observations have expanded the scope of activities associated with the internal assessments. The Internal Assessment Process (IAP) increases the opportunities for programs to interact with Program Quality Assessors and to fully explore how observing their own practices can support improving the quality of programming for children. Developing a program specific internal assessment team that partners with an Assessor, establishing yearly plans for conducting internal assessments, and using the results to develop goals for the yearly CQI plan, programs establish a pattern of ongoing review of practice quality and children’s experiences that becomes a part of their culture.
Additionally, a second optional STARS Standard indicator offers programs the opportunity to expand their use of POIs by adding a second instrument to their IAP and providing consultation with an Assessor before, during and after conducting the internal assessments. This optional activity allows programs to gather additional information about current practices, ask the Assessor questions about the POI and assessment process, gain understanding of what each POI lens considers best practice and align what was observed to the POI’s scoring rubric, creating an authentic view of current practices with visible strengths and areas for growth. Assessor support for developing CQI goals is also offered.
The need for social distancing due to the pandemic requires temporarily adapting the STARS Standards and approaches to program observation. During FY 2020, programs are not expected to have an external assessment to maintain or achieve a STAR 3 or 4 designation, and there is no score threshold to meet. Instead, programs are creating an internal assessment team and writing plans for their own internal assessment processes (IAP) in collaboration with an Early Learning Resource Center (ELRC) Quality Coach and a PA Key Assessor, including a timeline for completing the assessments. Once the internal assessments are complete the IAP team, in consultation with the Quality Coach and Assessor uses the information to develop goals for the yearly CQI Plan.
Additionally, a second optional STARS Standard indicator offers programs more support through adding a second POI to their internal assessment process and providing consultation with an Assessor before, during and after conducting the internal assessments. This optional activity allows programs to ask questions, gain understanding of what each POI lens considers best practice and align what was observed to the POI’s scoring rubric, creating an authentic view of current practices with visible strengths and areas for growth. Assessor support for developing CQI goals is also offered.
Internal Assessment Process Resources
To support programs during the IAP planning OCDEL has created two new resources.
The first is a template to capture the specific details of the IAP plan. The Keystone STARS Internal Assessment Process Initial Cycle Planning Document is a template that programs can complete as they build their IAP Team, select a POI and develop their timeline for implementation. Programs may elect to use the template to document their plan for STARS Designation, or they may choose to include their plan in a program specific document, such as a staff handbook or organizational manual, as long as it includes all of the elements included in the template.
The second resource is the Keystone STARS Internal Assessment Process Guide. The guide follows the format of the planning template, is designed to support programs’ experiences with internal assessment and connecting the information collected to their CQI work including:
- Who should be a part of the program’s IAP team;
- Which POI best supports exploring areas for growth that align with the program’s current needs, goals or challenges;
- What opportunities to learn about the selected POI will help prepare the IAP team to complete the internal assessments;
- When to conduct the internal assessments; and
- How to use the results of the assessments to inform CQI Goals.