All About Program Assessments

What is an Assessment?

During the licensing process, a child care agency is evaluated on many factors. One factor is the Program Assessment. Highly trained assessors go to the child care facility or home and observe it. During the observation, one or more Assessors will look at your indoor and outdoor spaces, activities, materials and the interactions among children and between children and adults. They will observe these things for each classroom being assessed. Assessors will keep a low profile and try to remain unnoticeable while in the classroom. They do this so the adults and children can interact naturally.

Also see the Frequently Asked Questions About Assessments.

Who Conducts an Assessment?

All the members of the assessment staff are highly trained. They want to make sure that, no matter what county or city the agency is located in and no matter which Assessor is doing the observation, it is fair. Reliability checks and careful communication help make sure that all child care programs are assessed fairly.

  • Assessors have experience in the child development field. They are trained to evaluate child care programs using the Environment Rating Scales®. Assessors attend thorough trainings. This training begins with a series of workshops at The University of Tennessee College of Social Work. In these workshops, Assessors learn about using the scales to measure the quality of child care programs. Their training continues with them completing multiple practice observations. In these practice observations, Assessors use the scales in actual child care facilities, under the direction of trained Assessment Specialists and other training staff.
  • Assessment Specialists help Assessors interpret the Scales consistently. It is their job to make sure that Assessors are “reliable.” They do this through reliability checks. Periodically, as an Assessor uses a particular Scale, an Assessment Specialist goes with her or him to do the assessment. Both independently (without sharing information with each other) assess the child care program and then compare notes afterward. For the Assessor to be judged “reliable,” her assessment must closely match the Assessment Specialist’s version.
  • Anchors hold the assessment program to a common standard. As their title implies, they are responsible for “anchoring” the interpretation and use of the Scales. Anchors have the “last word” whenever people have questions about the meaning of something on the Scales. Anchors are also responsible for writing the Additional Notes to the Scales. These Additional Notes clarify and interpret the scales where needed. The Notes are sent to all the assessment staff, so each person who does assessments uses the same interpretations. In all their decisions, the Anchors consult with an Advisory Team and find consensus and agreement before making any decision about a specific interpretation or question. Anchors even play a role in the reliability checks: they make sure that Assessment Specialists and even their fellow Anchors all remain reliable in their use of the Scales.

Because of the careful and ongoing training and the reliability checks and re-checks, child care agencies can be confident that the assessment system is fair throughout the state.

The Environment Rating Scales

Assessors use one or more of the four Environment Rating Scales (ERS, or just “Scales”) to assess the “process quality” within a child care setting.

According to Dr. Thelma Harms (an internationally recognized child care expert and one of the authors of the Environment Rating Scales), all children have three basic needs:

  1. Protection of health and safety.
  2. Building relationships with children, parents, extended family, and community.
  3. Opportunities for stimulation and learning from experience.

These needs do not change through childhood—regardless of a child’s race, ethnicity, culture, or socio-economic background. The Scales are tools to help assess how well a child care agency meets these three basic needs. While children of all ages and backgrounds have the same three basic needs, the expression of those needs—and thus the environment that best nurtures them—changes as children grow. So four different Scales, each carefully designed to address a different age group or setting, are used to assess the environment in which agencies care for children. These four Scales are:

  • ITERS-R™: Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale® Revised
  • ECERS-R™: Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale® Revised
  • SACERS-Updated™: School-Age Care Environment Rating® Scale
  • FCCERS-R™: Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale® Revised

If you want additional copies of the Scales or want to purchase any publications related to the Scales, visit the following website:

Assessors use the Scale that fits the children’s age and setting. All the Scales have been widely tested to make sure they work—that they are valid and reliable. The Scales have been tested to make sure that they also measure quality areas that affect children’s later success. The Scales have been proven unbiased in a variety of studies in culturally diverse settings. They are widely used across the United States and in other countries. In fact, many states now use the Scales in assessment programs similar to Tennessee’s, or in training, research, and education.

Want to find out more? Read Process Quality and the Environment Rating Scales.

Scoring Tools

These resources provide information useful in making scoring determinations:

Tennessee Additional Notes for Scoring the Environment Rating Scales

The Environment Rating Scales contain many descriptive items. These items have been proven to measure quality in early childhood environments. But sometimes, more information is needed to help explain and interpret the intent of an item as it relates to “best practice.

The Additional Notes are written or changed when Assessors have questions about how to interpret and score certain items. The Additional Notes do not change the intent of an item. But they do help clarify its meaning, to assist Assessors when they decide how to score the item. The Additional Notes for each scale are reviewed, and may be slightly changed, a few times each year. As new Notes are developed, they will be posted on this web page. These most recent updates are effective August 1, 2019:

  • Additional Notes to the ITERS-R (infants and toddlers)
  • Additional Notes to the ECERS-R (early childhood)
  • Additional Notes to the SACERS-Updated (school-age children)
  • Additional Notes to the FCCERS-R (family and group home care)
  • Deletions to Notes for the ECERS-R (early childhood)
  • Deletions to Notes to the ITERS-R (infants and toddlers)

Scale-related forms:

Have a question? Don’t understand an interpretation or how it is used? Use the Contact Us form on the Home Page to get answers.

Best Practices: The Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) Statements for the Environment Rating Scales

Each agency might have a different way of doing things. Their way of doing things, or their “practices,” can be seen in the kinds of activities children do, in the way that children and adults talk to each other, in the kinds of toys available to the children, in the daily and weekly schedule for the home or classroom, and so on. But while it is OK for these practices to be different from one place to another, they should always be “developmentally appropriate.” That means they should be geared toward the ages and needs of the children.

At different stages in their development (their age and maturity), children have different needs. Over the years, experts have worked to find out what those needs are and to define practices that are best for children in each stage. To give Assessors and other assessment staff a common definition of the “best practice” for each item on each of the Environment Rating Scales, Tennessee’s Anchors wrote the Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) Statements for the Environment Rating Scales. That’s a mouthful, so the name is shortened to “DAPs.”

Each statement in the DAPs gives a general explanation of an item on the Scale. It also explains why doing things in the “best practice” way is important to the overall quality of care and to helping young children develop properly and positively. You can read each of the DAPs yourself:

Do you have a question that the DAPs didn’t answer? Use the Contact Us form on the Home Page.



ERS® and Environment Rating Scale® are registered trademarks of Teachers College, Columbia University.