Environment Rating Scales (ERS)

Logo, Steps to Quality.

The Environment Rating Scales measure the quality of classroom environments in the IdahoSTARS Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), Steps to Quality. The scales measure health and safety, interactions and relationships, and materials, equipment, activities and furnishings in the classroom.

ERS Fun Facts

  • The scales are constantly updated to reflect new research
  • All of the authors have life experience in child care settings
  • The scales are translated into more than 20 languages and used in 16 countries on every continent (except Antarctica)

ERS Assessment Process

The authors rely heavily on expert feedback and national standards from sources such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), USDA, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Sometimes it is said that the scales are "not reality". It's true that the scales are detailed and involved. They are designed that way to be used as a blueprint for quality while allowing the provider to pick and choose what is important to them for their individual programs. The scales help identify areas of focus and plan improvements over time.

To address questions or concerns about the assessments or the assessment process, contact: Tracy Gagnon

IdahoSTARS Assessment Specialist
Phone: 208-345-1090 ext. 11
Email: tgagnon@idahoaeyc.org

The word Education on computer monitors showing learning.

Understanding and Using the Scales

Often teachers, directors, and family child care providers have questions or concerns about the Summary Report. The IdahoSTARS Assessment Specialist offers individual consultation to address any issues you may have. Remember...

  • The sooner you contact the Assessment Coordinator the better -- and within two weeks is ideal.
  • Assessors conduct hundreds of assessments a year. The longer you wait to ask for an explanation the harder it is to remember specifics and review your concerns.

The Environment Rating Scales are very detailed and comprehensive, as are the reports. The scales and reports are designed that way to be your "blueprint" toward identifying area of focus and planning improvements.

It is IdahoSTARS goal to help you use these tools effectively. Your Regional Consultant and the Assessment Specialist are willing and able to review the reports with you, plan improvements, and help set professional goals.

Questions or Concerns about the Summary Report? Contact Tracy Gagnon or at 208-345-1090.

Environmental Rating Scales FAQs

Q. Where should individual children's allergy information be posted?

Individual children's allergy information (names and allergies) should be posted where it is visible to all in the classroom.

Q. What does "free play" mean?

Free play means that children are allowed to select materials and playmates, and as far as possible, manage play independently. This does not mean that it is "free for all" time. Rather there is an organized structure with choices clear to children, there are many safe options and careful staff supervision.

Q. How compatible are the scales with the Montessori philosophy or any other philosophy?

There are often questions asking how the Environmental Ratings Scales fit in with Montessori programs or any other specific programs (such as Reggio Emilia, High Scope or accredited programs). This is an issue important to all programs with a strongly focused philosophy. The scales are based on a comprehensive, broad-based definition of quality in early childhood programs. This definition has three major components: protection (health and safety), building relationships (social-emotional development, independence, discipline, interaction, etc.), and stimulation through hands-on activities (nature/science, language, math, art, sand/water, gross and fine motor activities, etc.). It is not believed that the scales penalize Montessori programs or any other programs. All programs, no matter what their philosophies emphasize, should meet children's needs in a variety of ways.

Q. What does "accessible" mean?

Children can reach and are allowed to use toys, materials, furnishings and/or equipment. For non-mobile children, they must be moved to reach the materials or the materials must be placed close to them, to be considered "accessible".

Q. What is "substantial portion of the day?"

At least one-third of the time the children are in attendance. For example, one hour out of a 3-hour program or 3 hours out of a 9-hour program. This is used to calculate whether materials or activities are offered for enough time during the day to be meaningful to children.

Q. What does the term "staff" refer to?

"Staff" generally refers to the adults who are in the classroom and who work directly with the children daily (or almost daily).

Q. What does the term "weather permitting" mean?

This means that children must be taken outside to play almost every day, unless it is actively raining or there have been public announcements to stay inside due to extreme weather conditions (such as extreme heat/cold or pollution). It is sometimes said, "There is no bad weather; only bad clothes." Therefore, children should be dressed properly and taken outdoors on most days.

Q. For the purposes of the scale, what is a "disability?"

This is a child with a diagnosed disability, who has completed a formal assessment procedure and is receiving (or is eligible for) early intervention services.

Q. What do the scales look for in regards to spaces being accessible to children and adults with disabilities?

The entrance door, classroom and bathroom must be accessible. Doorways must be 32 inches wide. Door handles must be operable with limited use of hands (not possible with round doorknobs). The entrance door threshold should be ½" high or less and, if over ¼", must be beveled to make it easier to roll over.

Q. What are "child-sized" tables and chairs?

While seated back in a chair, children's feet should be able to touch the floor (not necessarily rest flat on the floor). Children also need to be able to rest their elbows on the table and fit their knees comfortably under the table.

Q. What is a cozy area?

A cozy area is a clearly defined space with a lot of softness (pillows, cushions, upholstered couch, etc.), where children can escape the hardness of the classroom and lounge, daydream, read or play quietly.

Q. What are the scales looking for nutritionally, as far as meals and snacks?

The scales follow USDA guidelines for nutrition.

Q. What are the proper handwashing procedures?

Download the document: Proper Handwashing Procedures PDF .

Q. What is best for drying hands after handwashing?

Single use disposable paper towels are best. Air hand dryers are not always recommended and may not pass health inspections in Idaho.

Q. What are the sanitary requirements if potty chairs are used?

If potty chairs are used, required sanitary procedures must occur after each use. The contents of the potty chairs must be disposed of in the toilet, which is flushed. After emptying, the potty chair must be rinsed/washed in a special sink, designated for that use only and sanitized. Potty chairs are not recommended.

Q. What is the best way to warm bottles?

Bottles should not be warmed in a microwave oven or in water warmer than 120 degrees. According to Caring For Our Children (Third Edition), the best way to warm bottles is under running warm tap water or by placing them in a container of water that is no warmer than 120 degrees F. Bottles should not be left in a pot of water to warm for more than 5 minutes. Bottles and infant foods should never be warmed in a microwave oven.

Q. Why do we need spacing between mats, cots, and cribs?

Spacing is needed to control airborne infections and ensure that all staff have no difficulty getting to the children.

Q. What is the criteria when a sink is used for more than one more purpose?

If the same sink is used by either children or adults for both diapering/toileting and food-related routines (including toothbrushing) or for other purposes (to wash toys/other classroom equipment; after wiping nose), it must be sanitized by spraying sink (basin, faucets and handles) with a bleach solution and allowing it to sit for 2 minutes before wiping or allowing it to air dry (after diapering/toileting use and before any other use). As an exception to this rule, in order to avoid requiring children to wash hands in quick succession between toileting and being fed, the following applies: If children use toilet, wash hands and then immediately sit down for meal/snack, contamination of children's hands at toileting sink must be minimized by having children/adults turn off faucet with paper towel.

Q. What is the table procedure?

Download this document: Table Washing Procedure PDF .

Q. Does diaper cream, sunscreen, etc. need to be locked away?

Yes. Anything labeled "keep out of reach of children" needs to be locked away.

Q. What is a fall zone and when is it needed?

A fall zone is the area around and under gross motor climbing, sliding and swinging equipment where protective surfacing is required to prevent injury from falls. Equipment greater than 18" tall will need 9 inches of loose-fill material/protective surfacing.

Q. What types of fall zone cushioning are appropriate and how much?

There are 2 types of fall zone cushioning: unitary and loose-fill. Unitary materials are generally rubber mats or tiles that are put in place or poured in place. For poured or installed foam or rubber surfaces, the materials must meet the ASTM F1292 requirements, which can be verified through a written statement from the manufacturer. Loose-fill materials are things like pea gravel, sand, shredded or recycled rubber mulch, wood mulch or wood chips. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says, "Never use less than 9 inches of loose fill material. Shallower depths are too easily displaced and compacted.

Q. What types of outdoor play equipment are not recommended for any age groups?

Trampolines, swinging gates, giant strides (May Poles), climbing ropes not secured at both ends, animal figure swings, multiple occupancy swings, rope swings and swinging dual exercise rings and trapeze bars.

Q. A "wide selection of books" includes what kinds/categories?

This includes fantasy, factual information, stories about people, animals and nature/science, books that reflect different cultures and abilities. About 3-4 examples of each category are required.

Q. What are examples of fine motor materials?

For infants: grasping toys, busy boxes, nested cups, containers to fill and dump, textured toys, cradle gyms and rattles For toddlers: shape sorting games, large stringing beads, big pegs with peg boards, simple puzzles, pop beads, stacking rings, nesting toys, medium or large interlocking blocks and crayons For preschoolers: small building toys like interlocking blocks or Lincoln logs, art materials like crayons and scissors, manipulatives like beads of different sizes for stringing, pegs and peg boards and sewing cards and puzzles.

Q. What are the categories of art materials?

Drawing materials: paper, crayons, nontoxic felt pens, pencils, paints Three-dimensional materials: play dough, clay, wood gluing or carpentry Collage materials and tools: safe scissors, staplers, hole punches and tape dispensers.

Q. Why is food not considered an acceptable art material?

Edible materials, such as chocolate pudding, dried pasta, pop corn, etc., cannot be counted as art materials because they give a misleading message about the proper use of food. The possible health (sanitary issues), safety (e.g., choking hazards) and supervision issues when using food as art materials are addressed in other areas of the scale. In addition, many children are being raised in homes where food cannot be wasted, and using food in art causes a conflict in the messages given at home and school.

Q. What are the types of blocks?

Unit Blocks: made of wood, plastic, foam or vinyl
Large, hollow blocks: made of wood, cardboard or plastic
Homemade blocks
Most blocks in a set should be at least 2 inches Note: Interlocking blocks of any size (such as legos), and blocks of less than 2" are not counted here, they are counted under fine motor.

Q. What materials do infants (birth to 11 months) need in a dramatic play area?

Infants need items like dolls, soft animals, pots and pans and toy telephones.

Q. What materials do toddlers (12 months to 2½ years) and older children need in a dramatic play area?

Toddlers and older children need items like dress-up clothes, child-sized furniture, cooking/eating equipment (pots and pans, dishes, spoons, etc.), play foods, dolls, doll furniture, soft animals, small play buildings with accessories and toy telephones.

Q. What are some themes for the dramatic play area?

Housekeeping, different kinds of work (like office, restaurant, medical), themes about fantasy (like masks, magic wands or costumes) and themes about leisure (like camping, picnicking or parties).

Q. What are the types of nature/science materials?

There are 4 types of nature/science materials:

  1. Collections of natural objects: such as seashells, leaves and rocks
  2. Living things: such as house plants, class pets or a window bird feeder
  3. Nature/science books, games and toys: these must represent nature realistically
  4. Nature/science activities: such as magnifying glasses with things to look at and planting or caring for a garden

Q. What are examples of math/number items?

There are 5 types of math/number items/materials:

  1. Counting: such as money in the dramatic play center or small objects to count
  2. Measuring: such as a balance scale with things to weigh or thermometers
  3. Comparing Quantities: such as nested cups, dominos or playing cards
  4. Recognizing shapes: such as geoboards or magnetic shapes
  5. Becoming familiar with written numbers: such as play telephones, number puzzles or a calendar

Q. What are TV/Video and computer time limits for children under 2?

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that children under the age of two should not be allowed to view television. TV/video and computer should not be used with children under 2 years old.

Q. What are TV/Video and computer time limits for children 2 years and older?

TV/video and computer time for children 2 years and over should be limited. For children 2 years and older, TV/Video time is limited to not more than 30 minutes total, once a week. Computer use time should be limited to no more than 15 minutes per day unless a child with disabilities requires computer technology or a school age child is working on a school assignment. No media screen time should be allowed during meals/snacks.

Assessment Process FAQs

Q. How is an assessment set up?

You will fill out an assessment application with your regional consultant to request assessments. For one assessment, the time frame is 2 weeks with two blackout dates (if needed). For 2 or more assessments, the general guideline is 1 week and one blackout date (if needed) per assessment. The blackout dates are dates you do not want the provider to conduct an assessment (such as field trips, picture days, regular teacher on vacation, etc.).

Q. What are the types of Environment Rating Scale (ERS) Assessments?

There are 4 types of ERS assessments:

  1. Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale-Revised (ITERS-R) – for birth – 2½ years
  2. Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale-Revised (ECERS-R) – for 2½ - 5 years
  3. School Age Environment Rating Scale (SACERS) – for 5-12 years
  4. Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale-Revised (FCCERS-R) – for birth-12 years in a family/group home setting

Q. I heard there are new/revised versions of the Infant/Toddler scale (ITERS-R) and Early Childhood scale (ECERS-R)?

The new/revised versions are ECERS-3 and ITERS-3. These scales place more emphasis on interactions and the role of the teacher and how materials are used to support and encourage learning. There are new language and literacy items and better scaling for increased scores in health and safety. These revised scales are based on a classroom observation of 3 hours and just what goes on during that time (there is no teacher interview or parents/staff subscale). This leaves the assessor more time to see what actually happens in the classroom. Visit ersi.info to learn more about the revised scales.

Q. How many assessments will I have?

For a center: Half of the classrooms need to be assessed. These classrooms will be chosen at random using a random selection procedure. You will have at least one assessment in each of the age ranges (if applicable) – birth-2½ years, 2½ -5 years, and/or 5-12 years.
For a family/group home: One FCCERS-R (Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale) assessment will be done.

Q. How do I prepare for the assessment visit?

  • Visit the Idaho AEYC and IdahoSTARS websites.
  • Visit ersi.info to learn more about the scales.
  • Get support and help from your consultant (dial 2-1-1 and ask for your Regional Consultant).
  • Help children in your facility understand that they will have a visitor in their classroom(s) for the day. This will help them feel more comfortable when the assessor conducts the assessment.

Q. What happens on the day of the assessment?

Arrival of the assessors: The assessor(s) will arrive when the facility opens in the morning, as the children arrive, or possibly in the afternoon. Before the observation begins, the assessor will greet the director/provider/teachers and provide a brief overview of the observation time.

Interacting with children and staff: To ensure a valid assessment, the assessors will not interact much with the children or staff during the assessment. They will stay in the “background” as much as possible while carrying out the observation. If a child wants to speak or play with the assessor, they will be politely redirected back to the teacher or activity.

The Observation: The assessment observation will take approximately 3-3½ hours. To complete the observation we need to make sure the observation is representative of what typically happens in the classroom. Therefore, more than half of the children enrolled in the classroom/group home need to be present, as does the regular teacher in the room who is typically responsible for the children. During the visit, assessors will observe a wide variety of activities, interactions, and materials as required by the rating scales. Assessors will observe all spaces used by children in the group including multipurpose rooms, outdoor and indoor gross motor areas, early morning/afternoon care areas, and special activity areas (art, music, library, etc). Assessors will record a lot of information on their tablet computers throughout the observation. The amount of note taking is in no way an indication as to the quality of the program. We simply have to take detailed notes to ensure that we score each item accurately.

The Interview: There will be some items on the scale that may require interview questions. Please allow between 15-30 minutes after the observation for the classroom teacher and director to answer these questions.

Q. Can the assessor give feedback or information immediately after the observation?

An assessor cannot give feedback immediately after an observation. The assessor uses the observation time to gather information needed to score the ERS (Environment Rating Scales). The assessor cannot determine the final scores until they have an opportunity to review their notes and answer questions. Sometimes the assessor will need to consult with specialists, other assessors and/or additional resources before deciding on a score for a particular item.

Q. Why might two assessors visit my program?

Assessors participate in ongoing reliability visits where two or more assessors participate in the same observation. The purpose of these regularly scheduled reliability observations is to ensure that all assessors use the same standards and reasoning for scoring items in the ERS (Environment Rating Scales). These reliability observations assure that all of the assessors across the state score the items in the same way.

Q. What happens after the assessment?

About 2-3 weeks after the assessment you will receive a detailed report. This report will note strengths, areas needing improvement and areas not applicable to your current program. This report will be delivered by your regional consultant.