Program observation offers an important window into program quality and an opportunity to identify strengths and weaknesses of programs. Observations assess the degree to which programs are providing children with safe and stimulating environments and warm, sensitive, and stimulating interactions—the aspects of early childhood environments most closely aligned with positive developmental outcomes.
Although implementing observations can be complex as well as time and resource intensive, data from observations are an important component of quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS) and are used to inform both the ratings for the public and the improvement plans for programs. In a 2010 Compendium of QRIS, 22 of 26 QRIS included program observations as part of the rating system. Recognizing the widespread use of program observations in QRIS, the purpose of this Brief is to highlight issues and recommendations for conducting program observations as part of a QRIS. Some of the issues in this Brief apply to all early care and education settings, including family child care homes; others apply only to center-based programs with multiple classrooms. The first section of the Brief includes considerations when selecting a quality measurement tool. The second section describes issues related to hiring and training individuals to conduct observations. The third section describes issues about planning, scheduling, and conducting observations; the fourth section covers scoring and reporting.