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Frequently Asked Questions

Courious Baby
Frequently Asked Questions
  • How is quality assessed?

    Highly trained assessors record the daily activities and interactions observed in a child care setting using the items found in one of the following four rating scales:

    • Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale, Revised - For children birth through 30 months
    • Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale, Revised - For children 31 months (e.g., over 2 1/2 years) through 5 years
    • Family Day Care Rating Scale and Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale, Revised - Multi-age care for children birth through 12 years old, located in a home environment
    • School-Age Care Environment Rating Scale, Updated edition - For children age 5 year through 12 years

    How is it decided whether the ECERS-R or ITERS-R will be used in a classroom for 2 year olds?

    The ECERS-R is used in classrooms where the majority of children are 31 months old and older. The ITERS-R is used when the majority of children are younger than 31 months of age. If a classroom enrollment is exactly half and half (e.g., 3 of 6 children are 30 months or younger and 3 children are 31 months and older) then the ITERS-R will be used.

    On the morning of the assessment, the assessor will double check children’s birth dates to insure that the correct rating scale is used that day, based on children’s ages. Programs may be concerned that a classroom will suddenly change from an ITERS-R classroom into an ECERS-R classroom because of one child’s birth date. Compared to the ITERS-R, the ECERS-R does include requirements for additional materials and activities. However, it is important to remember that as two-year-olds mature, these additional materials are developmentally appropriate, and necessary to maintain and stimulate children's interest. Therefore, when a classroom includes materials, activities, and a schedule that is developmentally appropriate, the requirements for the many, specific materials found in the ECERS-R should not be surprising for a group of children that includes older two-year-olds. There should not be a sudden need to overhaul a classroom because one or even a few children are now 31 months old.

    Which Environment Rating Scale is used to assess a small center in a residence?

    In North Carolina, the FCCERS-R is used to assess programs with a FCCH license and also those classified as small centers in a residence.

    How many children need to be present for an assessment to be completed?

    More than half of the children enrolled must be present for more than half of the observation time, for an assessment to be considered valid. If less than half of the children are present, the assessor will ask the teacher and/or director whether more children are expected to arrive. If the observation reaches the halfway point, based on the scheduled nap time) and too few children are present, the assessment will need to be completed on another day. In most circumstances the next assessment attempt will occur within the program’s scheduling window; NCRLAP schedulers will contact the program if their window needs to be extended for some reason. 

    • For example, 10 children are enrolled so 6 must be present for more than half of the observation time. Or if 9 children are enrolled, then 5 must be present for more than half of the observation time.
    • The smallest number of children that can be assessed is two and if only two children are enrolled, then both must be present during the assessment. If only one child is enrolled, an assessment will not occur.

    How is it decided whether a SACERS-U assessment will be needed for an after school program in a child care center?

    School age children need to be in care for at least two hours each afternoon before a SACERS-U assessment can be completed. Beyond that consider the following:

    • When a teacher is assigned to a classroom where only school-age children are enrolled, a SACERS-U assessment will be completed when a program’s Rated License Assessment occurs. At least two children must be enrolled for the assessment to occur.
    • When school-age children are combined with preschool children in the afternoons, the ages of the majority of children enrolled will determine if a SACERS-U is needed. If the majority of children are school-age, a SACERS-U assessment will be completed, even if there are some younger children enrolled.

    My program has NC Pre-K classrooms and also some private-pay classrooms. Are the operating hours different for each classroom or the same?

    For the ERS assessment process, a program’s operating hours are determined based on when the program opens and closes, rather than a shorter time period when specific programming occurs. Therefore, the earliest time any children are allowed to attend, until the time the program closes are the program’s operating hours. For programs that include a specific curriculum day (e.g., 8:00-2:30), wrap-around or before/after care hours operated under the same license will be considered, even if separate fees are required. Therefore, it is important for teachers to be aware of what the children enrolled in their classroom experience at these other times, even when another teacher is responsible for the children. This helps insure that children have appropriate experiences, indoors and outdoors, with much time for child-selected learning and consistent expectations.

  • How should I prepare for the visit?

    According to a survey of providers, the five most common ways to prepare include:

    1. Read and study the Environment Rating Scales and the NC Additional Notes.

    2. Participate in a “self-assessment” before the scheduled assessment. Likewise, if the program has been previously assessed, review of the earlier assessment report(s) can be helpful. Remember to pay attention to items that scored high, and not only any lower scoring items, to make sure the same strong characteristics are present in the areas that scored well before. The assessment report includes a section called "Summary of Indicators Not Receiving Credit" that identifies every indicator where requirements were not met. This can help identify indicators beyond a lower scoring indicator or even those at the 7 level, where additional consideration may be helpful in improving children's experiences. 

    3. Talk with a DCDEE Child Care Consultant about the assessment and/or receive assistance from an outside agency (such as your local Smart Start Partnership or Child Care Resource & Referral). Also consider networking with providers who have experienced the assessment process.

    4. Prepare your facility to maximize the assessment process through quality enhancements. Any changes should reflect the best practices for young children and should improve the quality of the program on an ongoing basis. Remember, it often takes time to change behaviors and practices, so assessment preparation should be viewed as an ongoing process, rather than a short term activity.

    Administrators are likely to have discussion with teachers in each classroom and encourage staff to share their experiences and strategies with each other. Group problem-solving can be helpful. If there are times of the day that tend to be more challenging or there are other predictable "higher need" times or situations, consider whether other program level resources, such as strategically using additional staff at these times, could be used to support teachers and enhance the functioning of each classroom.

    5. Prior to the assessment inform the children that they will have a visitor to help them feel more comfortable during the assessment. Often teachers are concerned that children act differently when there are visitors in the classroom. In our experience, children are often interested in new faces initially, but when their familiar adults are able to go about their day as typical, children settle down very quickly. Since assessors do not interact with them, most children quickly lose interest. Teachers need to be aware of their own reactions to the stress/pressure of an assessment and make sure to avoid changing their own behaviors or expectations for children when there is an assessor present. Children tend to react more-so to changes in their teacher's actions or expectations, than they do to the presence of a new adult, because teachers are the adults they know and trust.

    6. After the assessment is scheduled, a packet of information and forms will be sent to you. Please have the necessary paperwork completed and available to give to the assessors before the observation. These include the Classroom Information Form, the Teacher Information Form and copies of each classroom's daily schedule.

  • What other supplementary documents do I need?

    There are several standard documents that you should be aware and your consultant may have other documents related to the program standards portion of the NC Star Rated License. These documents are available under the "Resources" menu and include:

    1. NC Additional Notes for each rating scale.

    2. NCRLAP's Requirements for Gross Motor Space and Equipment.

    3. Meal Guidelines: Ages 1 - 12 and/or Infant Meal Guidelines: Ages 0 to 11 months.

  • What should I expect on the day of the assessment?

    Upon Arrival of the Assessor
    The assessor will arrive when the center or home opens or when children are arriving. Before the observation begins, the assessor will typically greet the owner/director and provide an overview of the day. In child care centers, classrooms are chosen on the day of each scheduled assessment using random selection based on specific criteria--such as one-third of the classrooms, and assessing each age group.

    The Observation
    The observation will continue for at least 3 hours when using the ITERS-R, ECERS-R, and FCCERS-R, but is also likely that a longer observation will occur.  For after school assessments using the SACERS-U, the observation will continue for at least 2 hours, but may last longer during assessments that occur on full days such as during the summer. During the visit, the assessor will observe and take notes on a wide variety of interactions, activities, and materials as required by the rating scale. For example, the assessor will observe indoor and outdoor spaces for play and routine care, materials used by the children, health practices, staff/child interactions, and so on. To ensure a valid assessment, the typical daily schedule should be followed and only the usual classroom staff should be present. Additionally, to minimize their impact on the child care environment assessors limit interactions with the children or staff during the assessment and will stay in the “background” as much as possible when conducting the observation.

    Interview with Staff
    The Environment Rating Scales require a 30 to 45 minute interview with the teacher or child care provider after the observation to complete scoring. Depending on the facility type, the interview process may involve the child care provider, the lead classroom teacher, and /or other program staff that take care of children at various times of the day. The interview takes place during naptime or while a substitute teacher replaces the child care provider. For after school assessments, assessors may conduct an interview before children arrive as well as a post-assessment interview.

  • What should I expect after the assessment?

    For each observation, the assessor will complete a detailed report that identifies the program’s strengths and areas that could be improved as determined by the Environment Rating Scale assessment. The completed report is forwarded to the DCDEE Child Care Consultant who will contact the owner/provider to review and discuss the summary report.

    The summary report is designed to provide constructive feedback so child care provider and directors may enhance the program’s quality through developing a plan of action. This may include brainstorming with staff, training and technical assistance from local or regional resources, purchasing equipment, rearranging rooms, or reviewing and revising policies, procedures, and daily practices.

  • What if I have questions about my report or disagree with the assessment results?

    It is common for child care providers to have questions about their assessment report(s). We encourage you to share your questions with your child care consultant. Then you and/or your child care consultant may decide to call our office with any questions; your call will be forwarded to the appropriate staff person who will address your questions. Occasionally, child care providers raise objections or disagree with some aspect of the report. In this case they may choose to complete the grievance process and send their concerns about the assessment results in writing. Information about the grievance process can be found on our "Resources" list.


  • Some reasons why the Environment Rating Scales are used in North Carolina:

    The ERS are reliable and valid instruments with many uses, including program enhancement, regulation, and research.

    Observation based classroom assessment that provides comprehensive coverage of the environment experienced by children (e.g., physical environment, language-reasoning, interactions, program structure, health and safety).

    The range of quality scores are easy to understand

    • 1 = Inadequate (dangerous for children)
    • 3 = Minimal (basic care)
    • 5 = Good (developmentally appropriate care)
    • 7 = Excellent (best quality care)

    Are all items on each of the Environment Rating Scales scored?

    For NC's assessment process, items that directly reflect children's daily experiences are scored. There are some items and subscales that are not scored and these are:

    • ECERS-R Parents and Staff subscale, items 38-43
    • ITERS-R Parents and Staff subscale, items 33-39
    • FCCERS-R Parents and Provider subscale, items 35-38
    • SACERS-U, Staff Development subscale, items 39-41. Additionally, SACERS-U items 12, 14, and 43-47 are not scored.
  • How to obtain the Rating Scales or related materials?

    Copies of all of the rating scales are available at your local Resource & Referral and/or Partnership agencies. The Environment Rating Scales can also be purchased from Teachers College Press (1-800-575-6566), Red Leaf Press (1-800-423-8309), Kaplan (1-800-334-2014) and Amazon.com.

  • How often can I go through the assessment process for my stars

    Typically, most programs that choose to complete the assessment process for the Star Rated License will be assessed every 3 years, unless otherwise specified by their DCDEE Child Care Consultant. However, after a program’s star rating is issued, the program may decide to be re-assessed for a higher star rating. If the previous rating scale score was less than 4.0, on one or more assessments, the program may be eligible for a free re-assessment. If a program that scored at least 4.0 on each rating scale assessment wants to reapply for a higher star rating, the facility will be responsible for the cost of the re-assessment(s). It is important to discuss either option with your child care licensing consultant.

    There are additional requirements for a re-assessment process in NC Pre-K programs and Developmental Day licensed sites, when a classroom score is less than 5.0.

  • Learn more about the Environment Rating Scales from the scale authors

    To learn more about the Environment Rating Scales, such as the history or uses in other states, we recommend that you visit the authors' website at: www.ersi.info

    Keep in mind that for questions or information specific to NC's assessment process, NCRLAP's website is the primary source to use.

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