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Frequently Asked Questions

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How do the scales help advance equity across children?

Use of ECERS-3 in class of children with disabilities

How long should the observation period be? Can it be done over the course of several days?

What is the correct diaper-changing process?

Are anti-bacterial gels or hand sanitizers, or wipes an acceptable substitute for handwashing?

How compatible are the scales with Montessori philosophy?

Can I score higher-level indicators if lower-level ones have not been met? For example, can a room get credit for any indicators under 5 if it does not meet all the requirements of 3?

Why isn't food considered an acceptable art material for children?

In the ITERS -R when it defines ages for "infant" and "toddler," do we use the actual age or the developmental age?

Can the ECERS-R be used to measure quality in a kindergarten setting?




Q.  How do the scales help advance equity across children?

A.  From the very beginning of the development of the ECERS (published by Teachers College Press in early 1980), the authors were focused on issues of equity. The original version of the scale was heavily influenced by a commission of NAEYC that resulted in the Developmentally Appropriate Practice Position Statement (and later book by the same name). The work of the commission did a wide analysis of the literature on children’s development and programs serving young children. Advancing equity has been one of the key elements of the work of NAEYC. In the mid-1970s when we began working on the ECERS there were some very basic aspects of early childhood programs that we were concerned about. As we tested our first versions it became clear that there were very few images of a diverse population of children or adults present in the classrooms we observed. There were few if any traditions of Black families, much less of other children of color. In our early studies, the item on cultural awareness was clearly the lowest scoring item. Incidentally, the item on Provisions for Exceptional Children was rarely scored with an indication that no such children were in the classrooms. We were also concerned about the simple inclusion of children of color or special needs children in the everyday activities. Our first official field test of ECERS was on a small sample of classrooms selected from the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, in and near Chapel Hill. These programs were identified with the assistance of NC’s state child care consultants who monitored all child care programs in the state. We tried to recruit programs identified by the consultants as of low, medium and high quality based on their experience. The small sample size did not allow us to select a truly representative group of programs or classrooms so we chose to get variability of observed quality to ensure that we could validly claim that the new scale would work across the full spectrum of quality. In the end we did have a diverse set of programs, although we did not collect data on race and ethnicity of either the children or staff in the programs.

In the development of subsequent editions, we were able to collect much larger samples from our own research and that of others and use that data to inform needed revisions. For ECERS-3, we analyzed ECERS-R data from some 8,000 classrooms which included the full range of programs in the US. In one particularly important study, authors Peg Burchinal and Debby Cryer looked specifically at the impact of quality on children of color and found that outcomes for minority and low-income populations were particularly sensitive to the level of quality in early childhood programs. We interpret that to mean that what we are measuring in the ERS instruments is of critical importance as we seek to eliminate the gaps in outcomes we currently see in various segments of our population.

In this same vein, the ERS instruments, especially ECERS, have been translated for use in many other countries with widely varying types and varieties of programs. There are formal publications of ECERS in about 20 countries, including the UK, Scandinavian countries, Russia, Ukraine, China, Germany, Iceland, and Japan. There are also many other translations for use in research that are not formally published in such countries as Bangladesh, Brazil, and Turkey. We have found that what we are measuring is seen by early childhood professionals around the world as core to good practice for all children even though we may be at different places along the continuum of quality.

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Q.  Use of ECERS-3 in class of children with disabilities

A.  We continually get the question about whether the ECERS-3 (and the other scales) are appropriate for use in classrooms that are exclusively for children with disabilities.

First, we must consider the important idea that children with any types of disabilities are CHILDREN FIRST. It is our duty to provide them with the least restrictive environment for each child in the group. The children are likely to have a range of abilities, but all deserve the most natural high quality environment that can be provided. So the ECERS-3 can help to ensure that.

Next, the scale can be used to judge whether each requirement is met based on the developmental abilities of the children in the group. If an indicator, for example, requires that the teacher attempt to get a child to say something, it would only apply to the children who can talk at the expected level. For all others, the assessor would adjust expectations to match children’s developmental needs. So credit would be given if the intent of the indicator was met within what was possible based on the developmental abilities of the children in the group.

What we have seen in too many classrooms that are segregated to include only children with developmental disabilities is that the children are often restricted in areas that do not really make sense. And each child is not given the specialized help needed to take advantage of a less restrictive environment as a child in an inclusive environment would be. Too often children’s experiences are provided as a therapy in an environment where generalizing the desired ability is not likely.

The ECERS-3 helps programs identify such problems and helps us question whether the practices in our segregated classrooms are actually representative of what the modern early childhood special education field provides the base for what children with disabilities need for their most successful development.

Obviously children with mild to severe disabilities need something extra that goes beyond what typically developing children need. There are assessments that look at that, such as the Inclusive Classroom Profile by Elena Soukakou, published by Brooke’s but such assessments are supplementary to use of the ECERS-3. It is written for inclusive classrooms but examines practices that should actually be applied to all children, especially those with disabilities.

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Q.  How long should the observation period be? Can it be done over the course of several days?

A.  The scales were designed to be used during an observation period of about 3 hours.  Depending on when the children arrive and when they go down for a nap, this can vary somewhat. The assessor will complete his/her observation first, then he/she interviews the caregiver for about 30 additional minutes to answer some questions. It would be possible to do the observation in shorter periods over the course of several days; however; the scores may not be reliable. In many ways the scales are time samples - to see whether things happen frequently enough for them to make a developmental difference to children. That is why for some items there are places where it specifies that the requirement must be observed at least once, or perhaps more, during the observation. If a teacher is given three different opportunities on three different days to show that behavior, it may be given credit, while if the observation had been done in only one morning, it might not.

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Q.  What is the correct diaper-changing process?


Preparing for Diapering
To minimize contamination outside the diaper changing area, prepare for a diaper change before bringing the child to the changing table, by having ready:

• Changing table paper (if used) to cover the table from the child’s shoulders to feet (in case it becomes soiled and must be folded over to create a clean surface during the change)
• Enough wipes for the diaper change (including cleaning the child’s bottom and the child’s and teacher’s hands after taking the soiled diaper away from the child’s skin)
• A clean diaper, plastic bag for soiled clothes and clean clothes (if soiled clothing is anticipated)
• Non-porous gloves (if they will be used), and a dab of diaper cream on a disposable paper towel if cream is being used

Supplies should be removed from their containers and placed near, but not directly on, the diapering surface before starting the diaper change.

Diapering Procedure
1. Prepare for diapering (as indicated above).
2. Place the child on diapering table. Remove clothing to access diaper. If soiled, place clothes into a plastic bag.
3. Remove soiled diaper and place into a lined, hands-free trash container. (To limit odor, seal in a plastic bag before placing into trash container.)
4. Use wipes to clean child’s bottom from front to back.
5. Use a wipe to remove soil from adult’s hands.
6. Use another wipe to remove soil from child’s hands.
7. Throw soiled wipes into lined, hands-free trash container.
8. Put on clean diaper and redress the child.
9. Place the child at the sink and wash hands following the proper handwashing procedure.
10. Clean and sanitize the diapering surface by spraying it with a soap solution (detergent and water) and drying surface with a disposable towel. Follow this by spraying the diapering surface with bleach-water solution and wait for at least 2 minutes before wiping with a disposable towel or allow to air dry. The surface cannot be sprayed and immediately wiped, nor can the two spraying steps be done together.
11. Adult washes hands using the proper handwashing procedure without contaminating any other surfaces.

Additional precautions
• The diapering surface must be sanitized after each diaper change with a bleach-water or other approved sanitizing solution (all surfaces must be able to be sanitized- e.g., no quilted pads or safety straps, no containers that are stored on the diapering surface). The bleach-water solution must be allowed to stay on the surface for at least 2 minutes, to kill the germs. So it is best for staff to spray the surface as the last step of the diapering procedure before washing their own hands. After the time lapse, the surface can be dried (no additional handwashing required at this time) or allowed to air dry (and wiped dry if still damp) before use with another child.
• Diapers are disposed of in a hands-free covered can (usually one than has a step pedal that lifts the lid) to prevent further contamination of surfaces.
• Toys that are played with or objects that are touched while children’s diapers are changed must be put aside to be washed and sanitized.
• Note: Both child’s and staff’s hands must be washed after the diapering procedure is complete.

From All About the ECERS-R (2003), Cryer, Harms, and Riley, Kaplan Publishing (a Kaplan Learning Co.) Based on the requirements in “Caring For Our Children.”

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Q.  Are anti-bacterial gels or hand sanitizers, or wipes an acceptable substitute for handwashing?

A.  Hand wipes are not acceptable substitutes for thorough handwashing with liquid soap and warm running water except under special circumstances when a disposable wipe may be used in order to avoid injury (e.g., a newborn baby with very little head control; a very heavy baby with little body control). The use of hand sanitizers has recently been approved by Caring for Our Children, third edition, for use by children aged 2 years or older and for caregivers, but only when hands are not visibly soiled. There are specific requirements which must be met to count as acceptable handwashing or hand hygiene. See New Notes for Clarification in each scale. Otherwise, hands must be washed under all other conditions.

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Q.  How compatible are the scales with Montessori philosophy?

A.  We often have questions inquiring about the suitability of using the Environment Rating Scales in Montessori programs. This is an issue pertinent 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.).

These scales have been used in a wide variety of programs, including many Montessori programs, Reggio (including those in an Italian study of quality), High Scope, as well as those following NAEYC guidelines. We have found that quality rests on how well the program meets the three major components of high quality early childhood programs, rather than on the program's philosophy. However, it is true that a program's philosophy or chosen curriculum usually focuses more on one aspect of quality than another.

When an accurate, knowledgeable assessment is made with the scales, program strengths and weaknesses usually become apparent. Thus, a program that values creativity above all else may find that it needs to concentrate more on cleanliness and organization in order to strike a good balance. Similarly, a program that stresses social development may find that it needs to pay more attention to cognitive skills, or vice versa.

Montessori programs differ widely in the extent to which they adhere to the original Montessori philosophy, and  in their inclusion of art, dramatic play, and blocks along with their traditional materials. Montessori staff also have varying educational backgrounds. The Early Head Start study included a number of Montessori programs, and the directors of that project discussed how to use the scales to score the Montessori programs accurately. Giving credit for some traditional Montessori activities in the ERS categories such as water play, dramatic play, and block play, because of the materials involved, is not appropriate. For example, the Montessori daily living activities (such as table washing) are performed as isolated activities following a set pattern, and not in the context of dramatic play initiated by the child. The validity of calling such an activity "dramatic play" which is meaningful pretend play in which children take on roles and act out what they understand about the world,  is not appropriate, since it has a very different purpose and may result in quite different learning.

Programs that consistently apply the Montessori method often do very well on many of the items on the scales, especially in the activities section of the ECERS-R and in some of the language items (See ECERS-R items #17, "Using language to develop reasoning skills," which is typically a low-scoring item in preschools, and #25, "Nature/science" and #26, "Math/number.")

Since the Environment Rating Scales are comprehensive or global measures of process quality, they measure how well all programs, no matter what their philosophies emphasize, meet children's needs in a variety of ways.

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Q.  Can I score higher-level indicators if lower-level ones have not been met? For example, can a room get credit for any indicators under 5 if it does not meet all the requirements of 3?

A.  Under some circumstances, an observer may want to give a score (Yes or No or NA) to all indicators at all levels. This is especially useful when completing an observation for the purpose of providing technical assistance. In this case, even though the number score remains the same, technical assistance staff can use information gathered at the higher levels to show a teacher what is already being done in a classroom to move towards a higher score. But remember, even if many indicators are true at a higher level, indicators scored at a lower level of quality may still determine the quality level score.

In order to move from one level of quality to the next, all criteria for the lower level must be met before moving on to the next level. Ratings are assigned in the following way:

  • Yes is checked on the score sheet if the indicator is true for the situation being observed. No is marked if the indicator is not true, and NA is marked if the indicator is not applicable and does not count in scoring.
  • When scoring an item, always start reading from 1 (inadequate) and progress upward until the correct quality score is reached.
  • A rating of 1 must be given if any indicator under 1 is scored Yes because these indicators describe inadequate care.
  • A rating of 2 is given when all indicators under 1 are scored No and at least half of the indicators under 3 are scored Yes.
  • A rating of 3 is given when all indicators under 1 are scored No and all indicators under 3 are scored Yes.
  • A rating of 4 is given when all of the requirements for 3 are met and at least half of the indicators under 5 are scored Yes.
  • A rating of 5 is given when all the requirements of 3 are met and all indicators under 5 are scored Yes.
  • A rating of 6 is given when all requirements of 5 are met and at least half of the indicators under 7 are scored Yes.
  • A rating of 7 is given when all requirements of 5 are met and all indicators under 7 are scored Yes.

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Q.  Why isn't food considered an acceptable art material for children?

A.  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 consequences of using food in art are considered under the corresponding items in the ITERS-R (#10, Health practices, #11 Safety practices, and #25 Supervision of play and learning), the ECERS-R (#13, Health practices, #14, Safety practices, and #30, General supervision of children), the FCCERS-R (#11, Health Practices, #12, Safety Practices, and #27, Supervision of play and learning), and the SACERS (#13, health practices, #15 Safety practice, and #31, Staff supervision of children). 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.

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Q.  In the ITERS -R when it defines ages for “infant” and “toddler,” do we use the actual age or the developmental age?

A.  The actual age of the children is used as the primary determinant of the scores. However, as stated in the ITERS-R under the “Explanation of Terms Used Throughout the Scale,” an exception to this rule is applied when a child with a disability is enrolled. In this case, the necessity for a requirement will depend on the child's abilities and disabilities. For example, if a child has a speech/language disability and does not have limited physical abilities, then many requirements would still apply, such as for certain furnishings or activities that are not speech/language related.

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Q.  Can the ECERS-R be used to measure quality in a kindergarten setting?

A.  Yes, the ages covered are 2 ½ through 5, preschool/kindergarten age.  Co-author Dick Clifford, with a number of colleagues at UNC, at UCLA and at UVA, conducted a large-scale study of pre-kindergarten programs in six states, which was extended to an additional five states. In this study ECERS-R data were collected in approximately 240 pre-k classrooms in 2001-02. They have followed these children into kindergarten in the school year just ending, and have also used the ECERS-R in more than 750 classrooms the sample children attended this year. The ECERS-R seems to work quite well in these settings as it has in previous studies of kindergarten programs. The reports of the state supported Pre-K programs are available at

Some time ago, Dr. Clifford did a study (with Donna Bryant and Ellen Peisner-Feinberg) of public kindergartens in North Carolina with a randomly selected sample of about 100 kindergarten classrooms. They used the original version of the ECERS. Again, they made slight adjustments in the Scale to fit with the public school setting, and the Scale worked well. [Bryant, D.M., Clifford, R.M., & Peisner, E.S. (1991). Best practices for beginners: Developmental appropriateness in kindergarten. American Educational Research Journal 28 (4), 783-803] As a result of these two large research projects, we feel that the ECERS-R can be used for work with kindergarten evaluation and program improvement efforts.

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