In early childhood education, observation tools play an important role in understanding the quality of the classroom environment. While some tools focus on the quantity and types of materials and displays, other tools may focus more on how students engage with their environment or how the environment supports interactions and learning. 

Let's dig into one of the tools: the CLASS Environment™.

Many environmental measures are used to define program quality in preschool and childcare settings across the United States. So, what makes CLASS Environment stand out? Let's dig into three key aspects: what the tool measures (and what it doesn't), how to use the data collected, and how to get trained to observe.

Key takeaways:

  • Redefining “right.” Information collected by CLASS Environment provides specific and actionable information that educators can use to enhance their interactions rather than focus on having the “right” materials or arrangements. 
  • Quality over quantity. Observers and educators using CLASS Environment quickly realize that this tool is designed to measure the type of environmental elements that support meaningful interactions, and facilitate their use in ways that enhance children’s engagement and learning. 
  • Streamlining data. CLASS Environment allows for easy collection of environmental data without additional cost or the burden of learning multiple tools or sending out multiple observers to classrooms.
  • Cost, time, and investment. When investing in your program, you want every dollar to count. CLASS Environment is priced to help you get the most out of your budget. The cost of the training for CLASS Observers includes print materials and access for educators to an online course to help them understand the tool at no additional cost. Plus, CLASS Environment observations add roughly 15 minutes to a CLASS observation, helping you make the most of the time that observers spend in a classroom. 

What the CLASS Environment Measures (and What It Doesn't):

The CLASS Environment™ focuses on observing and measuring the elements of the classroom environment that have a significant impact on educator-child interactions. It provides insights into the essential environmental elements for promoting effective interactions, including the room arrangement, materials, and displays. For many of the elements, observers are looking for the "type" of material and not the "quantity" seen in a space.

All items observed in CLASS Environment™ are measured on a three-point scale, reflecting the degree to which an item was present and/or used within the learning experiences.

+ A score of 1 is assigned when the observer does not see evidence of the item.

+ A score of 2 is assigned when the observer sees few, some, or limited instances of the item.

+ A score of 3 is assigned when the observer sees most, many, or varied instances of the item.

+ A score of n/a is assigned when the item does not apply because it is not part of the program (such as technology) or no need for it is observed (such as adaptive supports).

CLASS Environment™ has two age-level variants: one for infant and toddler spaces and one for pre-K and Kindergarten environments. The infant and toddler version includes 32 elements and the pre-K and Kindergarten version includes 29 elements. 

It should be noted that CLASS Environment™ was designed to align with the inclusivity enhancements in CLASS 2nd Edition. For example, it looks at furnishings that support all learners and variations in materials to accommodate learners of various levels. And another item looks at “Real-world multicultural materials” to ensure that children see themselves reflected in their environment. 

Other elements of the environment such as health, safety, space and furnishings, or use of time are critica and often the focus of licensing requirements. The other elements are necessary as a part of continuous quality improvement systems that CLASS was designed to support.

Bottom line: CLASS Environment is a research-based tool that, when used alongside CLASS, measures the elements of the environment that really matter in supporting the educator-child interaction that matter for child outcomes. By looking at both the quality of the environment, and the quality of interactions in context of each other, educators receive a more comprehensive and holistic picture of the quality of learning experiences. 

How to Use the Data:

The CLASS Environment™ and other classroom environment tools provide valuable data that can inform instructional practices and promote continuous improvement in early childhood education. In fact, these tools are often used in statewide Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) to measure quality in preschools and childcare settings at scale.

CLASS Environment offers opportunities to streamline both data collection and reporting. Once trained, observers can use CLASS Environment to collect data on specific environmental elements that impact educator-child interactions. 

With a subscription to myTeachstone, programs can leverage the updated Data Collection & Measurement Suite that empowers observers to collect and view CLASS Environment data alongside their CLASS data. 

By collecting both data sets, programs can generate a comprehensive report that shows the quality of interactions alongside environmental elements to best support data-driven improvements that impact children's development and learning. 

How to Get Trained to Observe:

To be qualified to use the CLASS Environment™ tool, participants must hold a valid CLASS Observer Certification aligned with the desired age level (pre-K—K or Infant–Toddler), and complete a CLASS Environment Observer training. 

This accessible, cost-effective, 5-hour self-paced training equips observers with the knowledge and skills to observe and measure the environmental elements of the learning setting. 

Observers do not need to pass a test or recertify annually, as they would for CLASS® observer certification. 

CLASS Environment™ is a companion to the CLASS tool and can be used to observe the elements of the learning environment in 15 minutes or less at the start of the CLASS® observation. Certified CLASS Observers can purchase the CLASS Environment Observer training for $75, and will receive the print CLASS Environment Manual and Score Sheets (a $45 value), and the Educator Environment Overview course is provided to the program’s teachers at no additional cost. 

Bottom line: The accessibility and flexibility of the CLASS Environment™ training make it a practical choice for educators seeking efficient professional development opportunities.


To learn more about CLASS Environment, visit our web page. Ready to get started? Contact your Teachstone representative to register for a training today!