Formal Rating in YoungStar

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Providers who want to earn a 4 or 5 Star in YoungStar must either be accredited by one of the entities accepted by YoungStar, or undergo formal rating, where an Environment Rating Scale or “ERS” observation is completed to assess the quality of their program’s environment. Learn more about the ERS on the Environment Rating Scales Institute website.

Hear a 5-minute synopsis of what to expect during a formal rating:

Meet SFTA’s ERS Observers below: (SFTA also has additional staff support for formal rating when observation requests are high in volume).


Jenny Martin

ERS Observer



Trained & Reliable in ITERS-R, ECERS-R & FCCERS-R
(608) 279.7922

Leah Purcell

ERS Observer


Trained & Reliable in ITERS-R, ECERS-R, FCCERS-R & SACERS-U
(414) 209.4099

Hear more about formal rating from Leah. (Video)

Sue VanderLoop

ERS Observer


Trained & Reliable in ITERS-R, ECERS-R & FCCERS-R
(715) 212.7022

Hear more about formal rating from Sue. (Video)

Formal Rating Resources & Tools

Rating Scales:

Additional Resources:

High Impact Points in Formal Rating

Diapering and Handwashing Procedures

“Much of the Day” & “Substantial Portion of the Day”

Staff Changes During Formal Rating

Playground Checklist

Maintaining Sanitary Conditions

What to Expect: A Walk-Through of the Formal Rating Process

The Phone Call
  • Your ERS Observer will call you to introduce themselves and exchange contact information (phone number and e-mail address).
  • They will set an observation window with you. The observation window is four weeks beginning on a Monday and ending on a Friday.
  • You will determine your blackout dates – a maximum of five days during the four-week window when the ERS Observer will not visit.
  • Your ERS Observer will confirm classrooms, teachers, ages of children, and the ERS tool(s) to be used.
  • Your ERS Observer will discuss with you the daily/weekly schedule of your program such as meal and nap times, regularly scheduled field trips, etc.
  • Your ERS Observer will go over the observation process (learn more about what to expect from your ERS Observer during the formal rating observation here).
  • Your ERS Observer will discuss potential dates for the final feedback session. Encourage staff involved in the ERS Observation(s) to be present during this feedback session if schedules allow.
  • Your ERS Observer will follow-up via e-mail to confirm the final feedback session date and time after confirming with your program’s Technical Consultant.
Day of Observation
  • Your ERS Observer will be on site for 3 ½ to 5 hours.
  • There will be a brief interview before the observation begins (5-10 minutes) so your ERS Observer can ask a few observation-related questions such as the number of children enrolled, oldest/youngest birth dates, children with food allergies, etc.
  • Your ERS Observer will complete a minimum of a 3-hour observation using the appropriate rating scale(s) (To be eligible for a formal rating, programs must provide a minimum of two consecutive hours of child care, and observations will be shortened as appropriate for those programs only).
  • After the observation, your ERS Observer will interview you or your staff to score rating scale items that were not observed (*SACERS follow-up interview may take place over the phone on the following business day).

Click here for a closer look at what to expect during a formal rating observation.

The Results
  • Your ERS Observer will call you to share your observation scores.
  • Your ERS Observer will send a follow-up e-mail with your ERS reports for each completed observation.
  • The date and time of the final feedback session will be confirmed with you.
Final Feedback
  • Your ERS Observer(s) and your Technical Consultant will meet with you, and if applicable your staff, to discuss the ERS reports. It may be necessary to have a web-based interaction or phone call with your ERS Observer(s), depending on their schedule and location.
  • Your ERS Observer will respond to your questions related to ERS reports and your TC will respond to questions related to the YoungStar Evaluation Criteria.
  • Together, you’ll discuss next steps for your program’s quality improvement efforts.

Formal Rating FAQ

What is the benefit of receiving a formal rating?

When a child care program undergoes formal rating they receive detailed feedback from the ERS Observer about the quality of their program environment as related to the ERS tools used. The program can use this information to highlight their program strengths and work on areas that may benefit from improvement. If a program scores well in a formal rating (averaging over a 4.00 on the ERS tools) they could increase their YoungStar star level to a 4 or 5 Star, which can only be accomplished through accreditation or formal rating. A star level increase also impacts how much money the program receives for children in their care who are enrolled in Wisconsin Shares.

How do I know if my program is eligible for a formal rating?
If your program is interested in a formal rating and you have:
  • A high enough education level as a family child care provider, or as a group provider you have high enough education levels among your staff to earn a 4 Star.
  • Performed a Self-Assessment of your program.
  • Demonstrated an ongoing annual line-item budget, budget review, record-keeping practices and accurate and timely completion of taxes.
  • Provided a written copy of employment policies and procedures including job descriptions and hiring practices, personnel policies, salary/benefit schedules, evaluation procedures, staff disciplinary policies, grievance procedures, program policies and staff expectations. (Required for a 4 Star).
  • Offered evidence of using Model Work Standards for administration of business including hiring, staffing and business planning. Must be site/location specific. (Required for a 5 Star).
  • Served nutritious meals or snacks daily.

Each of these requirements are points that are listed in the Evaluation Criteria can be discussed in greater detail with your Technical Consultant (TC). Your program should always discuss the possibility of a formal rating with your TC initially, as they will help you determine whether your program is eligible.

How should I prepare for a formal rating?

Your TC is responsible for completing the Evaluation Criteria portion of the rating with your program and should provide you with the necessary documents when you decide to go for a formal rating. These documents include the Wisconsin Interpretations and the Additional Notes for Clarification (see second bullet point below each scale). Before a formal rating, programs should be familiar with the related ERS tools, review the documents provided by their TC and discuss any questions they have with their TCs prior to formal rating. Programs can find further information on preparing for a formal rating here.

What types of questions will I be asked in the interview portion of my formal rating visit?
Your ERS Observer will ask you questions based on the information in the appropriate Environment Rating Scales book to complete their formal rating scoring. These questions are used to fill in the blanks between what they have seen and what typically occurs in your program, such as inquiring about the frequency of certain occurrences (such as free play time), routines or practices not observed, and items or spaces that the ERS Observer has not seen (such as extra storage and supplies).
What can I expect of my ERS Observer on their visit?
Please review this document to get an idea of what to expect from your ERS Observer during your formal rating observation.
Is a group center scored differently than a family or a school-age program for a formal rating?

Formal rating is approached somewhat differently for different program types. For instance, the type of program affects the ERS tool used in the rating, and the program type, as well as program hours, also affect the ERS Observer’s arrival time. The typical arrival of an ERS Observer to a family child care program (which they would rate using the FCCERS-R tool) or a group program (which they would rate using the ITERS-R and/or ECERS-R tool) is between 7:30 and 9 am. For school-age programs, (rated using the SACERS-U), the ERS Observer’s arrival might be similar to family and group programs in the summer months but during the school year would be about 15 minutes before the program starts receiving children.

Additionally, most group centers receive more than one ERS observation. YoungStar ERS Observers will observe using each type of tool (ITERS-R, ECERS-R, and/or SACERS-U) at least once based on the eligible classrooms at the center and possibly more depending on the number of classrooms. However, family providers typically only have one observation using the FCCERS-R tool. This means group programs earn their formal rating through the average of each of their ERS observations.

What are some common missteps a provider might make during a formal rating?
Sometimes a provider will feel a lot of pressure or feel nervous during an ERS observation and may overcompensate for having the ERS Observer present by trying to take on too much during the observation. This may include trying to do a special project with the children or strictly enforcing something that the children have not learned or practiced. This disturbs the children’s usual routine, which can affect their behavior and frustrate the provider. As a result there may be a negative impact on the observation. ERS Observers are there to view a program’s normal routines and to see how providers interact and engage with the children. Providers should focus on having fun with the children in their program and try to behave as though the ERS Observer is not in the room. This will make the observation a smoother process for everyone.
If I do not achieve the results I would like to from my formal rating, how long do I have to wait to undergo another formal rating?
This depends on many factors, but primarily it depends on your program’s Anniversary Date and contract renewal. Once your program receives their renewal contract and it is resubmitted to YoungStar your program can begin the formal rating process again. We suggest that you receive YoungStar technical consultation to better prepare for observation before resubmitting your formal rating request. Your program is also able to request a formal rating during a non-renewal year, but you would need to indicate this on your YoungStar contract. We strongly suggest requesting technical consultation with your formal rating. This way your Technical Consultant can provide your program with support prior to the rating and your program may also be eligible for a micro-grant to support any improvements.