Step Up To Quality Stories

How Observations Support Early Childhood Programs

Step Up to Quality helps Nebraska child care providers boost the quality of their care through our 5 Steps, which involve learning, training and observation. In this blog post, we’re focusing on our two types of observation tools, Environment Rating Scales (ERS) and Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), that we use to assess the quality that’s happening in early childhood programs in Steps 3-5.

The idea of having an observer come into your space and review your work can be intimidating, but observations give credibility to your program’s quality in addition to noting areas for growth. From a parent’s perspective, knowing that an objective early childhood professional has visited Step Up to Quality-rated programs is one more aspect of our process that provides peace of mind.

Before an observation ever occurs, we ensure that the provider has a solid understanding of and training with their chosen observation tool. Quality Specialist Jenny Fleming stresses that providers should not expect perfect scores when they have an observation done.

“Observers are not there to catch providers doing something ‘wrong,’” Jenny said. “Rather, observers are there to see all the great opportunities being offered to the children in their care and help them identify areas they can grow for the benefit of the children.”

What’s it like to be an observer? Observer/Environment Rating Scale Anchor Erica Timperley loves partnering with child care homes and classrooms to boost the quality of their care.

“As an observer, I see myself as a partner with the teacher to offer feedback and information from an outside perspective,” Erica said. “An observation is just a short snapshot of time compared to the amount of time and love our Nebraska teachers pour into their classrooms. I’m hopeful that teachers use the information from an observation to celebrate the wonderful things that are being done in their classroom already, continue to set new goals and reflect on what items they feel are most important to provide for the children in their room. Perfection is not required. Celebrate successes, applaud your progress and keep making new goals to enhance your program.”

Choosing an observation tool

The two types of observation tools are similar in many ways, but they each have unique focuses. Once providers achieve Step 1, they can choose which tool to hone in on by learning more on the Step Up to Quality website’s observation tools page or talking with a free, optional Step Up to Quality coach (available to providers who have achieved Step 1) or another member of our team. We also recommend attending both introduction trainings, which can be found and registered for on the NECPRS calendar, before making a decision. You may discover that one tool aligns better with your child care program or philosophy than the other.

Each of the two observation tools has introductions and higher-level trainings.

“When directors, teachers and home providers attend trainings for the ERS tools and/or CLASS tools, it increases their confidence,” Jenny said. “They are able to know what to expect when an observation will occur and feel better prepared.”

Environment Rating Scales (ERS)

Of the two observation types, ERS (FCCERS-3/ITERS-3/ECERS-3) has a broader focus and includes information on best practices for health and safety, building positive and supportive interactions, and offering ample and varied materials to children. There are different scales within the ERS: Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS), Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS) and Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale (FCCERS).

There are four training options for the ERS. The first recommended training is the introduction course: Introduction to the Environment Rating Scales (ITERS-3/ECERS-3) or Introduction to the Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale (FCCERS-3). During this training, providers learn how the scoring of the tools work, the philosophy behind the tools and a general overview.

After completing the intro course, we recommend a Closer Look training. These are specific to one scale and provide a more in-depth look at each item within it. After completing this training, you should have an excellent foundation of the ERS tool, but we do have additional options if you want to dig in further: You can attend an Item Analysis training where we dive in even deeper to each item and indicator in the scale, or you can join an observer in a classroom by signing up for our new Practice Using the ERS training.

The Practice Using the ERS is a full-day training where a group of participants applies the basic concepts shared in the introduction training. Small groups observe in early childhood programs and practice the observation and scoring process using one scale. After the observation is completed in the morning, the group gathers again in the afternoon to discuss the indicators of quality observed. If you’re interested in attending this training, you can now fill out this form to indicate interest in your area. You will be contacted once a trainer, observation site and participant group have been arranged, which can take between 30-90 days.

“It’s very exciting to offer this training for providers,” Erica said. “Not only is it a great opportunity for them to learn more about the ERS tools and continue to familiarize themselves with the information, it’s always fun for providers to get into different classrooms and homes to see the different strategies others are using.”

Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS)

CLASS is more heavily focused on the interaction pieces in the classroom, helping build quality relationships and encouraging teachers to focus on those deeper-level learning moments. CLASS measures the effectiveness of classroom interactions among teachers and children, including emotional support, classroom organization and instructional support. These daily interactions promote children’s social and cognitive development.

CLASS observation tools have been developed for Infant, Toddler, PreK-3rd, Upper Elementary and Secondary age groups. For every age group, there are two levels of training that focus on interactions that support learning. Family child care providers will want to focus specifically on the Toddler CLASS trainings, whereas center-based programs can choose between the Infant, Toddler and/or PreK-3rd CLASS trainings.

The two types of trainings offered for CLASS are the Introduction to the CLASS or the CLASS Observation training. If you’re looking for a basic overview of the CLASS tool, the four-hour Introduction to the Infant, Toddler, or PreK CLASS training is recommended. If you’re interested in not only receiving the introductory-level training but also learning the full scope of the CLASS tool with the option to certify at an observer level, we encourage enrollment in the Infant, Toddler, or PreK-3rd CLASS Observation training. The introduction training is not a prerequisite to the observation training — you can take the observation training without having any experience with or knowledge of the CLASS tool.

Interested in becoming an observer?

The Nebraska Department of Education, Office of Early Childhood is recruiting observers for Step Up to Quality in community child care programs, family child care homes, school district programs, Head Start programs and for Results Matter in public school district early childhood programs. Beyond completing appropriate training, candidates should have a passion for quality care for children in the early childhood field, an eye for detail and the ability to leave their opinions at the door to ensure consistency between observations. Learn more and apply at the bottom of this page.