Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Two strategies are gaining momentum in early learning circles: Quality Rating and Improvement Systems  (QRIS) and P-3 (preschool through third grade alignment). A new policy brief from the BUILD Initiative contends that coordinating the two movements offers promising “opportunities to improve the quality of children’s early experiences.”

The brief — “QRIS and P-3: Creating Synergy Across Systems to Close Achievement Gaps and Improve Opportunities for Young Children” – is written by Kristie Kauerz, director of PreK-3rd education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Abby Thorman, a consultant who works with foundations, states and communities on early learning initiatives. In Massachusetts, the Department of Early Education and Care launched a QRIS in January 2011.

“Across the country and across early childhood and K-12 communities, alignment-based system reforms are increasingly seen as promising ways to improve quality in diverse settings and improve outcomes for children, to close achievement gaps, and to ensure that every child is given a strong foundation for lifelong learning and success,” the BUILD brief concludes.

“Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) and P-3 efforts represent two of the most promising of these strategies. At present, however, these two reform endeavors are on largely separate tracks. When the cross-continental rail system was developed in the United States, construction began on both the west and the east coasts. Although work progressed independently, there had to be constant vigilance and attention to ensuring that the rail tracks would actually align, creating a seamless continuum of track, at designated locations. The QRIS and P-3 efforts are much like this. While they need not be merged into a single effort, nor must one prevail over the other, they do need to be intentionally and meaningfully aligned with one another.”

The brief aims to guide foundations in their grant making, but its recommendations are equally instructive for policymakers:

“Science has confirmed that the first eight years of children’s lives are a unique, sensitive, and critical period of development. During these years children acquire an impressive range of both social and academic competencies that establish the foundation for later learning and development,” the new paper states.

“Policymakers and others increasingly realize that children’s success in 3rd grade and beyond rests largely on the experiences children have before they ever enter kindergarten. As a result, there is growing interest in developing systems that support and improve the full range of early care and education (ECE) programs that serve children from birth to school entry. Simultaneously, there is growing recognition that maintaining and extending the cognitive and social gains children acquire in ECE programs rests largely on ensuring that the early elementary school years – kindergarten through 3rd grade – are of high quality. As a result, more than ever, there is interest in connecting, aligning, and creating continuity between children’s experiences to ensure all investments in the early years are maximized and achievement gaps are closed.”