Photo: Michele McDonald for Strategies for Children

Defining and supporting quality is a critical element of creating a statewide system of high-quality early education and care. Only high-quality programs, research shows, deliver lasting educational, economic, social and health benefits. Last week Massachusetts took an important step toward defining what constitutes quality in early learning settings when the state’s Board of Early Education and Care unanimously approved Revised Provisional Standards for a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS).

The new standards will take effect in January and mark the official launch of a QRIS, after a pilot program that began in the spring when the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) awarded 640 grants to programs to participate in the initial phase. Approximately 200 additional programs participated in the pilot without receiving grants.

As important as the board’s December 14 action is in establishing a QRIS, without adequate resources to help programs improve and sustain quality the vote alone is not sufficient to ensure that all children in Massachusetts have access to high-quality early education and care.

The purpose of a QRIS is to measure program quality, help programs improve and provide information to aid families in their decision-making. With this vote, Massachusetts joins 23 states and the District of Columbia that operate a QRIS, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Most of the remaining states are either piloting a program or exploring QRIS.

The Massachusetts QRIS will include five levels of quality, with the first, level one, being licensure and subsequent levels specifying additional elements of quality. The standards adopted last week define four levels of quality; level five is still undefined.The QRIS standards cover five categories: curriculum and learning; safe, healthy indoor and outdoor environments; workforce qualifications and professional development; family and community engagement; and leadership, management and administration.

As I noted in a previous post about the QRIS process, the key words in the revision process were “research” and “streamline.” That is reflected in the revised standards, which were developed with the help of consultants from the Newton-based Educational Development Center.

After reviewing 412 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, EDC found many standards were not evidence-based and deleted a number of these. EDC also found that 114 standards were covered by licensing regulations. The revised QRIS does not repeat standards that are contained in licensing guidelines and regulations. EDC also found that Environmental Rating Systems, accreditation and Head Start standards aligned with many of the provisional standards – and other systems, including CLASS, aligned with some standards. The revised standards accept documentation of meeting the requirements of these other systems where appropriate.

This PowerPoint presentation summarizes the revision process and results. Here are links to revised center and school-based standards, family child care standards and after-school and out-of-school-time standards.