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Process Quality and the Environment Rating Scales

What is process quality? | How and where the scales are used | What the scores mean


What is Process Quality?

The Environment Rating Scales help Tennessee assess levels of "process quality" in child care programs. Process quality simply measures the interactions within a group. These could be interactions between children and staff, between staff, parents, and other adults, and among the children themselves. But it also includes the interactions that children have with their surroundings and the features (like space, schedules, and materials) of the environment that affect those interactions.

Tennessee added the Program Assessment piece to the licensing system for good reason. In the past, mostly "structural indicators" were used. Structural indicators are things like the number of children per staff member, the average number of kids in a group, and the program's cost. But while structural indicators do give some idea of the quality of care a child is receiving, they are not the best or the only way to measure quality. In fact, "process quality" has been found to be better at predicting child outcomes (Whitebook, Howes, & Phillips, 1995).

So under the program, Tennessee uses both kinds of quality indicators. Program Evaluators will continue to look at structural quality. They will do this as part of their unannounced visits and annual review. But now, trained Assessors will also look at process quality. They will do this during their scheduled visit for a Program Assessment.

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How and Where the Scales are Used

In many reliable studies done during the last several years, researchers found a relationship "between higher scores on the [Environment Rating Scales] and more positive child development outcomes in areas that are considered important for later school success." In other words, if we can improve the quality of child care that our children get, we can improve their chances for success in later years.

The Program Assessment section of the Tennessee rated license is therefore an important tool for both providers and parents. For parents, it gives another indication of the quality of care their child is receiving. For providers, it gives clear and reliable insight into areas for celebration and areas that could be improved.

The Environment Rating Scales have been widely tested and are now used in some capacity in several states, including Arkansas, Connecticut, Colorado, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Georgia, New Mexico, California, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Mississippi, Montana, Oregon, and Massachusetts. For more information on the Scales, see UNC's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. This Institute is a wonderful source of information about the Scales and about child care quality in general.

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What the Scores in the "Program Assessment" Area Mean

Tennessee uses the Environment Rating Scales to assess process quality in a child care facility. The score that you (a child care provider) receive on the Assessment piece of the licensing evaluation will appear on your report card in the far-right column, labeled "Program Assessment." (See the DHS site for sample report cards.)

Scores from different items on the Scale are added up and averaged to give your overall Assessment Score. Overall, scores are grouped into 3 ranges:

1 < 3 (at least 1 but less than 3) = Poor
3 < 5 (at least 3 but less than 5) = Mediocre
5 – 7 (at least 5 and up to 7) = Developmentally Appropriate

So what do these scores mean?

Within these ranges, the following information explains the meaning of the scoring in the Environment Rating Scales:

1 = Inadequate

  • Children's needs for health and safety are not met
  • No warmth or support from adults is observed
  • No learning is encouraged

3 = Minimal

  • Children's basic health and safety needs are met
  • A little warmth and support is provided by adults
  • There are few learning experiences

5 = Good

  • Health and safety needs are fully met
  • Staff are caring and supportive of children
  • Children are learning in many ways through interesting, fun activities

7 = Excellent

  • Everything is good
  • In addition, children are encouraged to become independent
  • The teacher plans for children's individual learning needs
  • Adults have close, personal relationships with each child

You can use this same information to interpret your program assessment results. To find out more about scoring of the scales you might consider buying copies of these scales or talking with a specialist at your local Child Care Resource and Referral Center.

Cryer, D. (1999). Defining and Assessing Early Childhood Program Quality. The Annuals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 563.

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© 2008 University of Tennessee College of Social Work Office of Research and Public Service