Photo: Michele McDonald for Strategies for Children

When Sherri Killins, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, talks about high-quality early education, she often says that the state is in the process of defining what quality means. That nascent definition comes in the form of a pilot Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) that EEC plans to update in January. I recently attended the regional forum on QRIS held at the department’s Boston headquarters and learned more about what the next phase of QRIS might look like.

The purpose of a QRIS is to evaluate programs, help them improve and provide information to aid parents in their decision-making. Currently 23 states and the District of Columbia operate a QRIS, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Most of the rest are either piloting a program, as Massachusetts is, or exploring QRIS. In May, EEC awarded 640 grants to programs participating in the QRIS pilot.

The key words at the regional forum were research and streamline. Consultants from the Education Development Center described determining which components of the pilot are research-based and taking a hard look at eliminating those not shown to have a positive effect on outcomes for children. “Certain variables predict quality,” Diane Schilder of EDC told the group. “There’s a much richer knowledge base than there was three to five years ago.”

EDC and EEC are also looking at streamlining the process, so that measures required by other evaluation systems – such as Environmental Rating Scales or CLASS or NAEYC accreditation – could serve as documentation for QRIS.

“It’s really around simplifying the process. We’re really looking at streamlining it based on the feedback,” Schilder said. “We heard from many of you that the documentation was a little bit burdensome.”

The Massachusetts pilot QRIS contains five levels, organized around five categories of standards: curriculum and learning, environment, workforce qualifications and professional development, family involvement, and leadership, management and administration. The QRIS is tailored to the settings – center and school-based programs, family child care, and out-of-school-time programs.

For those who missed EEC’s regional forums on QRIS, the department will hold conference calls on Wednesday, November 10, at 7 p.m. and on Friday, November 12, at 1 p.m. To participate in a call, please contact Stephanie Kimura ( or 617-618-2724) at Education Development Center, Inc.