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A Brief History of the Environment Rating Scales

The original Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS) by Thelma Harms and Richard M. Clifford was published and made nationally available by Teachers College Press in 1980. The idea for a comprehensive early childhood program assessment instrument focused on the needs of children, and appropriate for use across different types of programs, was first introduced in a chapter on program evaluation in a book entitled “Environmental Provision in Day Care”, co-authored by Thelma Harms and Lee Cross and published in 1977 by the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In this chapter, three assessments were introduced: a ten page “Day Care Environment Inventory”, a four page “Self Evaluation Guide for Family Day Care Homes”, and a two page “Observation of an Activity”. An earlier preschool program assessment by Dr. Harms had appeared in the NAEYC journal “Young Children” in May, 1970 as a checklist entitled “Evaluating Settings for Learning.” In 1975, when Dr. Harms came to the University of North Carolina from the University of California at Berkeley, where she had been a head teacher at the Harold E. Jones Child Study Center Laboratory Preschool, she was given the opportunity by the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center (FPG) to follow her interests in program assessment and curriculum development.

Shortly after the 1977 publication of the aforementioned “Day Care Environment Inventory,” the serious work of producing a reliable and valid instrument to assess the quality of early childhood programs was begun by Dr. Harms and Dr. Richard M. Clifford. At every stage of development, the authors actively involved early childhood staff, program monitors and teacher trainers to provide feedback and to critique their work. It was particularly valuable that Dr. Clifford brought his expertise in public policy, program administration and research methodology to this effort. The ECERS was thoroughly field tested for reliability and validity before publication. The ECERS (1980) was used successfully to evaluate program quality in the major research projects of the 80’s and 90’s. Because of the practical nature of the content of the ECERS and its levels of quality format, it soon became widely used as well to guide program improvement and as an evaluation tool for program improvement efforts.

As increasing numbers of infants and toddlers were included in child care centers, it became apparent that a separate scale to assess these programs was needed. Drs. Harms and Clifford were fortunate to have Debby Cryer join them in developing the scale for infant/toddler programs. Debby Cryer had worked with the ECERS as a graduate assistant and stayed on at FPG, earned a doctorate at UNC and make significant contributions in the areas of curriculum development and research as well as instrument development. In 1990 the “Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale,” co-authored by Thelma Harms, Debby Cryer, and Richard M. Clifford was published. During this time, the “Family Day Care Rating Scale” (1989) by Thelma Harms and Richard M. Clifford, which had been used in draft form earlier in studies as the “Day Care Home Environment Rating Scale”, was revised thoroughly, field tested, and published. In 1996, a fourth scale, “The School Age Care Environment Rating Scale” was developed and published by Dr. Harms with two Canadian colleagues, Ellen Jacobs and Donna White. While all four Environment Rating Scales share the same format and scoring system, each differs in content in order to meet the needs of the particular age group and/or different setting being assessed.

The current status of the Environment Rating Scales is as follows:

  • A revised edition of the ECERS, the ECERS-R (Harms, Clifford &Cryer) was published in 1998, and an updated version appeared in 2005.
  • A revised edition of the ITERS, the ITERS-R (Harms, Cryer & Clifford) was published in 2003 and an updated version was published in 2006.
  • A revised, updated edition of the FDCRS, the “Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale” (Harms, Cryer & Clifford) was published in 2007.
  • The SACERS has additional notes available on our website, but has not yet been revised.

Video and print training materials are available for the ECERS-R, ITERS-R, and FCCERS-R. Print training materials are available for the SACERS. There are also resource books that contain detailed verbal explanations and photographs to improve the reliability of scale users for the ECERS-R (All About the ECERS-R (2003) Cryer, Harms & Riley) and the ITERS-R (All About the ITERS-R (2004) Cryer, Harms, & Riley).

Detailed information about all publications mentioned in this brief introduction is available on this website.

- Introduction
- Brief History
- Research Use
- Translations
- The Environment Rating      Scales in Program      Improvement
- Related Work
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