Exploring dimensions of process quality measured by the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale

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The Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale, revised edition (ECERS-R; Harms, Clifford, & Cryer, 1998), is an instrument used widely to observe and rate levels of process quality in child care centers. The authors have divided the instrument into six subscales to help ensure broad and flexible coverage of various aspects of child care quality. (The ECERS-R actually contains seven subscales, but the last one pertains to parents and staff instead of process quality experienced by children.) Psychometric analyses suggest the ECERS-R actually measures two latent dimensions of quality at most. Perlman, Zellman, and Le (2004) concluded that process quality, as measured by the ECERS-R, is unidimensional. Sakai and colleagues (2003) and Cassidy and colleagues (2005) concluded that the ECERS-R measures two latent dimensions, although their factor loadings and interpretations differ across the two studies.

I am writing a paper to present at the upcoming American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference in Denver. The paper will report results from a structural equation mediation model of the influence of on-site child care professional development on school readiness through child care quality. Given the lack of agreement among the earlier psychometric analyses of the ECERS-R, I conducted an exploratory factor analysis to see if I could replicate findings from one of the earlier studies. As shown in the table below, my preliminary results and interpretations do not align perfectly with either of the two-factor solutions from the earlier studies, but the similarities helped me decide which items to drop and which of my interpretations to keep. I plan to use a confirmatory factor analysis to formally compare model fit between the one- and two-factor solution before estimating the mediation model. I hope the summary below will help others who are wrestling with the possibility of multiple dimensions of child care quality as measured by the ECERS-R.

Summary of ECERS-R two-factor solutions from three studies

Item numberItemSubscaleSakai and colleagues (2003)Cassidy and colleagues (2005)Moore (2010)Decision
1Indoor spaceSpace and furnishingsProvisions for learning  Drop
2Furniture for care, play, and learningSpace and furnishingsTeaching and interactions Provisions for learningDiscrepancy
3Furnishings for relaxationSpace and furnishingsTeaching and interactionsMaterials/activities Discrepancy
4Room arrangementSpace and furnishingsProvisions for learning  Drop
5Space for privacySpace and furnishings Materials/activitiesProvisions for learningKeep
6Space for gross motorSpace and furnishings  Provisions for learningDiscrepancy
7Child-related displaySpace and furnishingsTeaching and interactions  Drop
8Gross motor equipmentSpace and furnishingsProvisions for learning Provisions for learningKeep
9Greeting/departingPersonal care routinesTeaching and interactions  Drop
10Meals/ snacksPersonal care routinesProvisions for learning  Drop
11Nap/restPersonal care routines  Provisions for learningDiscrepancy
12Toileting/diaperingPersonal care routinesProvisions for learning  Drop
13Health practicesPersonal care routinesProvisions for learning  Drop
14Safety practicesPersonal care routinesProvisions for learning  Drop
15Books and picturesLanguage-reasoningProvisions for learningMaterials/activitiesProvisions for learningKeep
16Encouraging children to communicateLanguage-reasoning  Provisions for learningDiscrepancy
17Using language to develop reasoning skillsLanguage-reasoningTeaching and interactionsLanguage/interactionLanguage/interactionKeep
18Informal use of languageLanguage-reasoningTeaching and interactionsLanguage/interactionLanguage/interactionKeep
19Fine motorActivitiesTeaching and interactionsMaterials/activitiesProvisions for learningKeep
20ArtActivities Materials/activities Drop
21Music/movementActivitiesTeaching and interactions Language/interactionKeep
22BlocksActivitiesProvisions for learningMaterials/activitiesProvisions for learningKeep
23Sand/waterActivitiesProvisions for learning  Drop
24Dramatic playActivitiesProvisions for learningMaterials/activitiesProvisions for learningKeep
25Nature/scienceActivities Materials/activitiesProvisions for learningKeep
26Math/numbersActivitiesTeaching and interactionsMaterials/activitiesProvisions for learningKeep
27Use of TV, video, and/or computersActivities  Language/interactionDiscrepancy
28Promoting acceptance of diversityActivitiesProvisions for learning Provisions for learningKeep
29Supervision of gross motor activitiesInteraction  Language/interactionDiscrepancy
30General supervision of childrenInteractionProvisions for learningLanguage/interaction Discrepancy
31DisciplineInteraction Language/interactionLanguage/interactionKeep
32Staff-child interactionsInteractionProvisions for learningLanguage/interactionLanguage/interactionKeep
33Interactions among childrenInteractionTeaching and interactionsLanguage/interactionLanguage/interactionKeep
34ScheduleProgram structureProvisions for learning  Drop
35Free playProgram structureTeaching and interactions  Drop
36Group timeProgram structureProvisions for learningLanguage/interactionLanguage/interactionKeep
Note: Empty cells indicate loadings less than |0.3|, cross-loadings greater than |0.3|, or items skewed greater than |2|. Item 37, which asks about provisions for children with disabilities was excluded due to high missingness.

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