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Identifying Gaps and Equity Challenges in ECERS-3

Photo of Noreen Yazejian beside photo of Iheoma Iruka on dark blue background with cover of Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale Third Edition on right; footer of image reads: New Study looks to identify gaps and equity challenges in ECERS-3

Identifying Gaps and Equity Challenges in ECERS-3

January 24, 2022

The world has changed significantly in the more than 40 years since researchers at the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) developed the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS), now in its third edition. To address these changes and ensure that the rating measures remain relevant and useful in a diverse world, FPG co-principal investigators Noreen Yazejian, PhD, and Iheoma U. Iruka, PhD, recently launched a study, “ECERS-3: Identifying Gaps and Equity Challenges.”

ECERS-3 is a global early care and education quality measure for children aged three to five that examines quality from the child's perspective, guides professional development support, and indicates where resources should be allocated. This new project, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will explore the extent to which the ECERS-3 might contain biases related to definitions, examples, indicators, analyses, and data interpretations, or be less reliable and valid for particular populations. This information will form the basis of recommendations to improve the tool so that it better meets the needs of children and families served by early childhood education programs, with a focus on Black and Latine children served in Pre-K programs.

“We're looking forward to partnering with the Gates Foundation on this,” said Yazejian, senior research scientist and lead of the research and evaluation division at FPG. “It's exciting that they are investing in this strategy to improve measurement and I’m grateful that their focus is on equity and inclusion, with particular emphasis on Black and Latine children and children from low-income families.”

One of the outcomes of the study will be recommendations that can be used by the authors of the next revision of the ECERS tool to make it more culturally responsive and less culturally biased, which is important for children's development, particularly for children who are Black and Latine.

The project has four overall aims:

  • gather Black and Latine ECERS-3 users’ perceptions of the assessment tool to identify potential areas of cultural or racial bias;
  • analyze existing ECERS-3 data to examine reliability of scores across different groups, including those defined by teacher race, classroom composition, and racial/ethnic match of students and teachers;
  • examine associations among scores on ECERS-3 and more nuanced measures of sociocultural equity and responsiveness and/or individual children’s classroom experiences to look for possible gaps in the ECERS-3; and
  • explore interactions among lead-teacher race and rater race as well as differences by classroom racial composition in ECERS-3 scores to look for racial/ethnic biases related to scoring.

To achieve these aims, the researchers and their team have launched the first of a series of three studies, centered around the perspectives of those who use the measure. The first component—listening sessions with Black and Latine Pre-K teachers, directors, and technical assistance providers to find out their perceptions of the ECERS-3 regarding the extent to which it is culturally grounded and asset-based—began on November 1, 2021 and continues through the end of August 2022. The sessions will take place in at least three states, with an eye toward geographical diversity, ethnic and socio-economic diversity of their population, with a special emphasis on Black and Latine children and providers.

The second component of the research, which also began on November 1 and goes through June 30, 2022, comprises analyses of existing data. Researchers will examine a large dataset of ECERS-3 classroom observations through a lens focused on anti-bias and culturally grounded practices. Yazejian and Iruka, along with John Sideris at the University of Southern California, will explore ECERS-3 scores to look for possible areas of bias in the tool and examine teacher-child racial/ethnic match to further probe possible areas of bias.

Classroom observation is the third component of the study. Two trained observers will conduct observations in up to 250 classrooms on the same day, one using the ECERS-3 and the other using measures that are more specifically focused on either equitable sociocultural interactions in early childhood classrooms with Black and Latine children or individual children’s experiences. Researchers will examine the relationship between scores on the tools as a way of identifying possible biases in the ECERS-3. In addition, details about the race/ethnicity of teachers, children, and raters will be gathered to explore how quality may differ across these racial characteristics.

“This is the type of research that FPG should continue to embrace and leverage as the next chapter of applied science,” said Iruka, research professor of public policy and the founding director of FPG’s Equity Research Action Coalition. “We have moved beyond the idea that research is color-blind, but instead recognize that the value of research is about transforming lives, but you can’t do that if you don’t recognize systemic racism and bias, especially in our science. I hope this sort of study sets an example of how we can take the strengths of past research and build upon it through a racial equity and culturally grounded lens.”

Richard M. Clifford, senior scientist emeritus and one of the original scale authors, will serve as an unpaid consultant to the project.