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THE EARLY CHILDHOOD ENVIRONMENT RATING SCALE-REVISED AS A TOOL TO IMPROVE

CHILD CARE CENTERS

BOBBIE G. WARASH, ED.D.

Professor,Child Development and Family Studies

CAROL A. MARKSTROM, PH.D. Professor,Child Development and Family Studies

BRIrrAI Lucci, M.S.

Child Development and Family Studies West Virginia University Morgantown, WV26506-6124 Of interest in this study were the factors that lead to quality child care centers. The Early Childhood Environmental Rating ScaleRevised (ECERS-R) was examined for its utility as an effective training device to enlighten directors and classroom teachers of what constitutes quality classrooms. An experimental design was employed for this study. Eight classrooms from four preschool centers were evaluated utilizing the ECERS-R. The findings were shared with directors, who, in turn, shared them with their staff. Posttest evaluations of each classroom were conducted again using the,ECERS-R. Pre-and posttest scores were compared according to paired sample t-tests for the seven subscales and the total score. Improvements occurred in all seven subscales, with significance in personal care routines, activities, and interaction subscales, as well as the total score. Marginally significant findings were noted for program structure and parents and staff subscales. Space and furnishings and language-reasoning subscales were not significant. Overall, it was shown that the ECERS-R can be used as a tool to improve the quality of child care centers.

Over the past several decades, child care has become an issue of great concern in the field of early childhood development. This is not surprising considering that over half of the children in the United State under the age of six have mothers who are in the work force and require child care for their children, (Boyer, 1993; Spivey, 1998). The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), among other

organizations, has sought to establish high quality centers through monitoring mechanisms, such as the NAEYC's accreditation system. In this respect Harms (2000) explained that the "widespread public awareness of recent child care research has served as a catalyst for action" (p. 3). Unfortunately, many children are placed in child care centers that are not considered to be high in quality. In fact, the average

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ECERS-R ... /241

rating of child care centers in the United States has been found to be mediocre (Cryer, 1999). This means that many children being cared for away from home are not enrolled in high quality centers. Centers are often described as unsafe, unsanitary, non-educational, and inadequate in regard to the teacher-child ratio for a classroom. In addition, staff members lack training or education in the area of early childhood development, as stated by Barnett (2003): "Poor pay and benefits make it difficult to recruit and hire good early education teachers:' which leads to the high turn over rate of teachers and "harms educational quality" (p. 6). The fact that many children are not receiving quality child care is significant because the benefits of high quality child care centers are numerous. For instance, children attending high quality centers demonstrate advances in cognitive, language, and social skills (Peisner-Feinberg et al., 1999). In the Cost, Quality, and Outcomes Study of Peisner-Feinburg et al (1999), it was shown that quality care in the preschool years has a great impact on future schooling. For instance, high quality care aided in better preparation for formal schooling, positively impacted school performance, helped those children who were at risk of not doing well in school, and had positive effects on children's cognitive and social development. Researchers and practitioners agree that warm, supportive interactions with teachers in safe, healthy and stimulating environments where children's physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development are nurtured constitute the best of conditions (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997).

There are numerous variables that influence the quality level of a center. In addition to teacher salaries, teacher-child ratios, group size, and parent fees, teacher training plays a major role in the quality level of a center (Barnett, 2003; Cryer, 1999; Cryer, Tietze, Burchinal, Leal, & Palacios, 1999; Kellogg, 1999; Philips, Mekos, Scarr, McCartney, & Abbott-Shim, 2000; Spivey, 1998). These issues, which are related to the quality of child care, have caught the attention of leaders in many states. Some states are now offering some type of reward if a child care center goes beyond the basic standards necessary for a license to operate (Harms, 2002). The hope is that the centers will improve the quality of care and improve ratings of "mediocre" to that of "good" or "excellent." Other states are improving the quality of child care by enforcing tougher regulations. This practice makes a difference. For instance, the "literature has revealed that centers in states with more stringent regulations offer higher quality care, on average, than do centers in states with more lax regulations" (Philips et al., 2000, p. 477). Centers, in these cases, are not given a chance to be mediocre. They must meet these stringent regulations in order to be in operation. Whil6 enforcing strict regulations is one effort to improve the standards in early childhood centers, teacher education is another area of focus. Unfortunately, less than half of all early childhood teachers have obtained a four-year degree in early childhood education and many have no college education at all (Barnett, 2003). Some states are addressing the training

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aspect by initiating professional development systems where child care teachers move along a career lattice based on the type of educational trainings or credentialing programs they attend. It is imperative that teachers working in child care centers have appropriate education and training in order to employ appropriate teaching techniques in their classrooms to maintain a quality center. According to Barnett (2003): "Better-educated teachers have more positive, sensitive and responsive interactions with children, provide richer language and cognitive experiences, and are less authoritarian, punitive and detached" (p. 4). Apparently, better educated teachers have learned what the appropriate methods of teaching are, how to handle behavioral problems properly, and what is required to develop positive relationships with the parents of the children, among many other aspects of working with young children. One of the most important skills early childhood educators learn in their training is the use of developmentally appropriate practices (DAP). DAP was formulated to create standards for working with young children. The term developmentally appropriate practice has been used by early childhood educators to define what type of activities, teaching methods, and learning experiences are appropriate for specific age groups (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). It is obvious to researchers that there are multidimensional components necessary to change a center's rating of poor or mediocre quality to a rating of good or excellent. One of the leading researchers in the field of early childhood education, Thelma Harms, has been in the field for

over 45 years and has many noted accomplishments (Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, 2003). She, along with Debby Cryer and Richard Clifford, developed a frequently used environmental assessment tool called the Early Childhood Environmental Rating ScaleRevised (ECERS-R). In this scale many of the components that have been recognized as affecting a preschool's overall quality are evaluated. This scale, along with three other scales developed by Harms and her colleagues, "are being used for training and technical assistance in every state and at least a half-a-dozen countries" (Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, 2003, p. 18). Child care directors also need the necessary knowledge of DAP in order to adequately supervise and support teachers. One of the complaints of many child care teachers is that their administrators do not support or understand DAP. There are many initiatives to improve the quality of care and education for young children by states and localities who are attempting to build early childhood training systems. Some of these initiatives pertain to leadership and an Administrator/Director Credential. Currently there are 19 states that have a director's credential and 19 others who are in the process of developing a director credential for their own state (Tayman & Lemoine, 2003). Purpose of Study Training for child care workers takes many forms. Some child care workers take college courses or earn such credentials as the Apprenticeship for Child Development Specialist certificate. Others work towards

ECERS-R ... /243

a Child Development Associate credential, while many with limited early childhood education use local workshops and conferences to improve their skills. Regardless of the type and amount of education or training, child care teachers need to stay abreast with current early childhood practices and the quality indicators of an early childhood environment. This study examines the effects of the ECERS-R as a training device to enlighten directors and classroom teachers of what constitutes quality classrooms. Scaffolding was the mechanism employed as means for directors to assist their teachers to move to the next level of quality on the ECERS-R. Vygotsky's theory on scaffolding includes the notion that providing support can help children's learning of particular tasks or progress on tasks. As explained by Bedrova and Leong (1996): "With scaffolding the task itself is not changed, but what the learner initially does is made easier with assistance" (p. 42). As the learner becomes increasingly independent in performing the task, the level of support from the educator can decrease. This same theoretical principle was applied in the present study in the training of directors to equip their teachers so that child care centers could achieve higher levels on the ECERS-R. Specifically, in this study we asked the following questions: 1)Will the total scores on the ECERS-R improve after the initial scores and individual improvement plans are reviewed with the directors who in turn inform the teachers?; and 2) Will each of the seven sub-scale scores improve after the initial ECERS-R scores and individual improvement plans are reviewed with

the directors who inform the teachers? Methods

Subjects

The sample data for this study was obtained from a larger statewide study in West Virginia on the effects of the statesupported Educare Project. Educare was established in 2000 as a collaborative effort to improve preschool experiences for young children. The state evaluation for Educare consisted of several measures, one of which was the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (ECERS-R). This study utilized the ECERS-R scores from participating child care classrooms of one northern county in West Virginia. In the target county there were four licensed child care centers comprising eight different classrooms. The children in the classrooms were between the ages of three and five. The teachers in the classrooms were all females. The educational level of each teacher was not formally recorded but ranged from high school graduate to bachelor's degree. This information was verbally collected from the directors of each center prior to each observation.

Measures

The participating classrooms were observed using the ECERS-R. Both structural and process qualities have been divided into subcategories in the ECERSR developed by Harms, Clifford, and Cryer, (1998). This assessment tool has been used in numerous studies to determine quality ratings in nationwide child care centers and preschools. The average rating given to schools using this tool has been a four (4) on a Likert Scale of one (1) "Inade-

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quate" through seven (7) "Excellent."

Procedures

Child development students from the local state university were trained by a graduate assistant and the first author to use the ECERS-R. The training consisted of reviewing the training video, practicing in the training class, and completing a trial practice at the University Child Development Laboratory under the supervision of the first author. Upon completing the training, child development students and the graduate assistant engaged in observation in the assigned childcare classrooms. Observations occurred in pairs in order to compare scores. The ECERS-R required three to four hours to complete in each classroom. Prior to leaving the childcare classroom, the child development students discussed any discrepancies in their scores and then came to an agreed score on the ECERS-R rating. These discussions were held before leaving the classrooms so the students could provide evidence for their reasoning. For example, one student may have missed some exposed electrical outlets that were noted by the other student. After the observation was completed and scored, an individual training plan was developed for each classroom by the first author. The initial ECERS-R observation, along with an individualized training plan and a summary of recommended improvements, were shared with the director of each center. In return, the director provided and shared the information with the corresponding classroom teacher. The ECERS-R was used as a guide in developing the training plan. The calculated

ECERS-R score on each indicator was written on the training plan. The training plan included scores for all 43 indicators and requirements to bring the scores on the indicators up one level. Some requirements were very tangible and could be easily reached while others required more specific training. For example, a classroom with an outdoor sand play area but without an indoor sand area would earn a rating of a three on indicator number 23. Subsequently, a recommendation on their individual classroom plan would be to provide sand play inside-a task that could easily be fulfilled by providing an indoor sandbox and a variety of toys to be used in the sand. In contrast, a classroom that received a rating of three on discipline (indicator 31,) may have earned this rating because it was observed that the staff did not use physical punishment and they maintained sufficient control through other means to prevent children from hurting one another. However, this classroom could earn a higher score on the indicator by setting up the program to avoid conflict and promote age appropriate interaction. Such a strategy would require advanced instruction and training not so easily obtained. The plan addressed all 43 indicators and included a summary sheet to help the director to focus on areas to be improved. Directors received a copy of the plans for each classroom that was observed. In addition to reviewing the plans with the child care director, strategies for attaining a higher rating on each indicator were reviewed. Essentially, the directors acquired an appreciation of the ECERS-R as an instrument to improve quality. Discussions lasted approximately two to three hours with each

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director. After all of the directors received the improvement plans, appointments were made to conduct the second ECERS-R observations. The second observations were completed between seven and ten months after the initial ECERS observation. Results

StatisticalAnalyses

An experimental design was employed for this study. Pre-and posttest scores of the ECERS-R were compared for the seven subscales and the total score. An alpha level of 0.05 was used for the statistical analysis. A series of two-tailed paired-sampled

t-tests were conducted to determine significance for the eight classrooms on their pre- and posttest ECERS-R scores. Significant findings in personal care routines, activities, interaction, and the overall total scores were revealed (see Table 1). The scores for the personal care routines subscale significantly increased from a mean of 2.50 to 4.02, which is supported by the two-tail paired-sampled t-test; t(3.382) df=7, p=.012. For the activities subscale, the mean of the first observation was 2.43 and the second observation was 3.19, t (-3.637) df=7, p=.008. The interaction subscale significantly increased from a mean of 3.30 to 5.34, which is confirmed by the results of the t-test, t (-2.981)

Table 1 Table of Means, Standard Deviations, and Two=Tailed t-test for the ECERS-R Subscales for the Statistical Analysis

SUBSCALES Space and Fumishings Pretest Posttest Personal Care Routines

Pretest Posttest

MEANS STD, DEV.

d f 7

TWO-TAILED t-test 0.506

3.39 3.59

2.50 4.02 3.25

0.63 0.48

1.16 0.68 1-11

0,012

7

Lan2uage-Reasoninp

Pretest 7

0.146 4.25 2.43 3.19 3.30

5.34

Postlest Activities Pretest Postlest Interaction Pretest

Posttest

1.57 0.008 0.46 0.63 1.98

1.13

7 0.020 7 0,073

Propram Structure Pretest Posttest Parents and Staff Pretest Posttest Total Pretest

Posttest

2.61 4.06 4.58 5.25 3.15

4.12

1.01 1.41 0.57 0.98 0.46

0.63

7 0-073 7 0.007 7

Notej An alpha level of .05 was used.

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Table 2 ECERS-R Scores for Eight Classrooms

SPF

Pre Classroom 1 Classroom 2 Classroom 3 Classroom 4 Classroom 5 Classroom 6

Classroom 7 3.50 3.13 2.50 2.88 4.38 413 3.50

PCR

Pre

1.67 1.83 2,33 4.33 4.33 1.50 2.17

LR

Pre

4.00 2.75 2.50 3.50 5.25 1.50 3.50 3.00

ACT

Pre

3.20 2.10 2.55 2.10 2.30 2.50 2.0 1.80

INT

Pre

5.60 1.80 1.00 6.60 400 1.60 3.00 2.60 6.40 5.40 4.40 4.50 6.40 3.40 5.80 640

PRS

Post

5.66 2.66 4.66 3.75 5,33 2.25 5.50 2.66 3.33 2.33 3.75 3.33 1.00 2.50 1.33 3.33

P&S

Pre

3.67 5.33 5.10 4.33 4.33 4.33 4.33 5.20

TOT

Pre

3.76 2.76 2.81 3.64 3.67 2.72 3.07 2.60

Post

3.12 3.25 4.37 3.37 425 3.25 3.75

Post

4.66 3.33 4.33 3.16 5.00 3.33 4.33 4.00

Post

5.50 5.00 3.75 2.50 320 2.25 6.75 5.00

Post

3.80 2.70 3.77 2.22 300 2.60 3.70 3.70

Post Pre

Post

5.83 6.00 6.83 4.33 4.33 4.00 5.33 5.33

Post

4.69 3.90 4.56 3.35 430 3.04 4.72 4.26

Classroom 8 3,12 3.37 1.85 KEY SPF = Spaces and Furnishings PCR = Personal Care Routines LR = Language-Reasoning ACT = Activi·ies

INT PRS P&S TOT

= = = =

Interactions Program Structure Parents and Staff Total Average

df=7, p= 020. The overall total means of the seven subscales also showed a significant increase from a mean of 3.15 to 4.12; t (-3.81) df=7, p=.007. Marginally significant findings were noted for program structure, t (-2.10) df=7, p=.07, and parents and staff subscales, t (-2.11) df=7, p=.07. In both cases, scores improved from preto posttest. The analysis did not reveal significance for space and furnishings and language-reasoning subscales. ECERS-R subscale and total scores are shown for each of the eight classrooms in Table 2.

Discussion This study examined the effects of using the ECERS-R as a training tool to improve the quality of child care classrooms. Preand posttest scores on the ECERS-R were compared to determine if scores improved after a training session was held with each director to review the initial ECERS-R scores. Formal discussions on the individual improvement plans were conducted. It was shown through a series of two-tailed paired-sampled t-tests on the pre- and

posttest scores that there were significant improvements in the personal care routines, activities, and interaction subscales as well as the overall total scores. While not significant, program structure and parents and staff subscales approached significance. Space and furnishings and language-reasoning were not significant. Overall scores did increase from pre- to posttest in all of the subscales (see Table 1). Seven of the eight classrooms improved their overall scores from observation one to observation two (see Table 2). The use of the ECERS-R as a training tool can be an effective way to help centers improve their scores. A key dimension of this study involved presenting the directors with specific objectives that could improve the quality of their classrooms. While lecturebased training is a more typical manner, sessions with each director gave immediate feedback and strategies pertinent to the needs of specific classrooms. The strategy of equipping directors to recognize indicators for quality is a direct method of obtaining classroom improvement. Directors, as well as teachers, need to be aware

ECERS-R ... /247

of the quality indicators expected in a good early childhood classroom. After the training with the ECERS-R, many of the directors purchased the rating scale so they could become more familiar with the performance indicators and maintain their improvements. In closer inspection of some of the specific subscale findings, it was not surprising that the personal care routine subscale score increased significantly. This was an area that was emphasized with each director because of its importance for basic health and sanitation. Each director was provided with an example of a hand-washing policy to help them understand the importance of consistency in good hygiene. Hand-washing is a very basic health issue. It was also emphasized that a facility should have their own center policy so that procedures are consistent for each classroom and all staff. Many issues that contribute to low scores in this subscale are easily remedied. For example, exposed electrical sockets are addressed by simply placing the caps over the sockets. Hence, improvements in the topics of the personal care routine subscale are easily implemented and subsequently resulted in higher posttest scores. The activities subscale also significantly increased from pre- to posttest. This area of the ECERS-R is concerned with appropriate curriculum areas and lessons used throughout the day. Items in this section include fine motor play, block play, music and movement participation. art activities, sand and water play, the dramatic play area, nature and science area, incorporation of diversity, and math and number play. Indicators on the ECERS-R promote the

incorporation of these areas into the daily activities in each classroom. Working with the directors on individual bases provided appropriate guidance to the various curriculum areas. The individual plans for each classroom suggested concrete ways to enhance and include activities that promote the social, cognitive and physical development of children. Also, the use of televisions, computers and videos is addressed in the activities subscale. The proper use of these items was stressed and limited use for each was encouraged during the training session. For example, directors were told that they must have an alternative activity for children if they were showing videos. The proper use of audiovisual technology can be a means to supplement the curriculum but it is not a substitute for hands-on types of experience. The interaction subscale showed a significant increase from pre- to posttest. This subscale is categorized as a process quality component and involves activities that are taught within a child care classroom, including supervision of children's play, disciplinary actions taken on by teachers, individual and group interactions with the children by their teachers, interactions between children, daily routines of the classroom, and the type of materials that are readily available to children. These type of interactions are difficult to observe and even more difficult to improve upon. However, it was an area that was emphasized in the individual improvement plans because of its importance in the social and emotional development of young children. Good interactions with children were a major focus for the group trainings in the

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Educare Project because social interactions are associated with classroom quality (Howes & Smith, 1995). Meeting tangible indicators such as making materials assessable to children were attained more readily than indicators where direct interactions with children were involved. The program structure subscale showed a marginal increase. This subscale of the ECERS-R covers areas such as the daily schedule, how free play is handled, how group time is conducted, and what provisions are taken for children with disabilities. It was observed that many of the centers do not think of "free play" as a time when children learn. Directors, especially, cannot seem to let go of the idea that teaching young children must involve direct instruction. The ECERS-R requires centers to have a minimum of one-third of the day, a substantial portion of the day, as free play or unstructured time. Although the scores increased slightly, perhaps the use of direct instruction was a factor that limited a more decisive change in program structure. The parents and staff subscale improved and was shown to be marginally significant. Funds for professional development such as trainings or fonnal education are expensive but were available through the Educare Project. In addition to the trainings sessions with the director, there were small group workshops and opportunities to attend conferences. During the Educare Project there were small group workshops as well as opportunities to attend conferences. The mean scores on the space and furnishings subscale increased slightly, but not to a significant degree. High quality

furniture and equipment is expensive. Most centers operate on small budgets and must accumulate money over time to purchase long-lasting, durable furniture for their classrooms. However, several items in this subscale can be easily corrected. For example, many classrooms needed to add "softness" to their physical surroundings. Items such as rugs, soft toys, cloth puppets are more easily obtainable than expensive equipment. The mean scores on the language-reasoning subscale improved but did not approach significance. This is an area that is difficult to improve without significant training and experience. It takes time for teachers to learn how to properly respond to children in order to promote language skills, cognitive development, and social skills. Such skills take an extensive amount of knowledge and experience with young children, and require teachers to be reflective of their own interactions. A teacher must be aware of the child's cognitive understanding and thinking processes in order to respond to his or her questions or discoveries. Intentional teaching is a difficult skill to acquire in a short period of time. One potential limitation of this study involved the limited sample size and location. Only eight classrooms were observed in one county in northern West Virginia, making it impossible to generalize across all locations. Expanding both sample-size and areas covered would offer more concrete results. Although there were increases in the total scores and most of the subscales, another possible limitation of the study was that the directors of the centers were

ECERS-R ... /249

responsible for working directly with the classroom teachers. The teachers themselves relied heavily on what the directors conveyed and implemented relative to improvements in the school. Hence, total effective communication may not have been achieved between the director and the classroom teachers. Overall, the results of the study indicate that using the ECERS-R as a training tool can be effective. In child care, quality issues are of great concern and often progress is very slow. Using the ECERSR as a training tool had an impact on raising subscale scores and the overall rating of the centers. Often centers are evaluated and the results are not shared in a timely fashion or nor shared at all. The teaching staff needs to be made aware of evaluation results in order to make appropriate changes. Using the ECERS-R helped directors realize the importance of items that are valued in a quality center. Heightening directors' awareness of areas to target for improvements was a simple but effective way to make necessary adjustments. Becoming familiar with the ECERS-R is a positive consequence of this study. Most directors in this study were not familiar with the ECERS-R and have since purchased a copy. This is a step in the right direction. Recently, West Virginia has made the ECERS-R a mandatory evaluation tool in all public school four-year-old programs.

References

Barnett, S. (2003). Better teachers, better preschools: Student achievement linked to teacher qualifications. Preschool Policy Matters, 2, 1-12. Bedrova, E., & Leong, D.J. (1996). Tools of the mind: The Vygotskian apprvach to early childhood education. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Boyer, E.L. (1993). Ready to learn: A mandate for the nation. Youmg Children,48, 54-57. Bredekamp, S., & Copple, C. (Eds.). (1997). Developmentally appropriatepractice in early childhoodprograms (Rev. ed.). Washington,

D.C.: NAEYC.

Burchinal, M.R., Roberts, J.E., Riggins, R. Jr., Zeisel, S.A., Neebe, E., & Bryant, D. (2000). Relating quality of center-based child care to early cognitive and language development longitudinally. Child Development, 71, 339-357. Cryer, D. (1999). Defining and assessing early childhood program quality. Annals of the American Academy ofPoliticaland Social Science, 563, 39-55. Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. (2003). Roadmaps to quality. Early Developments, 7, 18-19. Harms, T. (2000). Defining quality. All Together Now, 6, 3-5. Harms, T., Clifford, R.M., & Cryer, D. (1998). Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale: Revised Edition. New York: Teachers College Press. Howes, C., & Smith, E. (1995). Relations among child care quality, teacher behavior, children's play activities, emotional security, and cognitive activity in child care. Early Childhood Research Quarterly; 10, 381-404. Kellogg, L. (1999). The Kellogg child development center: High-quality child care. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 563, 56-72. National Center for the Early Childhood Work Force. (1995). Mentoring programs: An emerging child care career path. Compensation Initiatives Bulletin, 1.

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Peisner-Feinberg, E.S., Burchinal, M.R., Clifford, R.M., Howes, C., Kagan, S.L., Yazejian, N., Byler, P., Rustici, J., & Zelazo, J. (1999). The child of the cost, quality, and outcomes study go to school: Technical report. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center. Phillips, D., Mekos, D., Scarr, S., McCartney, K., & Abbott-Shim, M. (2000). Within and beyond the classroom door: Assessing quality in child care centers. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15, 475-496. Spivey, A. (1998). Is day care good enough? Retrieved August 31, 2003, from http://research.unc.edu/endeavors/spr98/daycare.html Tayman, B., & Lemoine, S. (2003, June). State early childhood director credentials.Article presented at the West Virginia Professional Development Retreat by the National Child Care Information Center and Wheelock College, Charleston, WV.

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TITLE: The Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale-Revised As a Tool to Impro SOURCE: Education (Chula Vista, Calif.) 126 no2 Wint 2005 PAGE(S): 240-50 WN: 0534903481005 The magazine publisher is the copyright holder of this article and it is reproduced with permission. Further reproduction of this article in violation of the copyright is prohibited.

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