How Would Programs Rate Under California’s Proposed Quality Rating and Improvement System?

Evidence from Statewide and County Data on Early Care and Education Program Quality

by Lynn A. Karoly, Gail L. Zellman

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Research Questions

  1. What is the likely distribution of early care and education programs across the five rating tiers in the quality rating and improvement system proposed by the California Early Learning Quality Improvement System Advisory Committee?
  2. What are the implications of the findings for California's quality rating and improvement system design and for future pilot studies?

In 2010, the California Early Learning Quality Improvement System (CAEL QIS) Advisory Committee recommended a structure for a voluntary quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) that could apply to the state's 11,000 licensed centers and 36,600 licensed family child care homes (FCCHs). The proposed design consisted of an unweighted block system with five tiers, in which all quality criteria in each tier must be met in order to obtain a rating at that tier. The rating structure provided for five quality elements: ratio and group size, teaching and learning, family involvement, staff education and training, and program leadership. The aim of this study was to conduct an initial examination of some key aspects of the proposed QRIS design. By capitalizing on two existing data sets that included some of the quality elements in the proposed QRIS rating design — one statewide and the other for a specific county — the work highlights some relationships among these quality elements, examines the ways in which different measures of these elements proposed in the QRIS design relate to each other, and provides information about the likely distribution of program-level ratings across the proposed rating tiers. This briefing provides California QRIS planners and other stakeholders with important information about some fundamentals of the proposed QRIS rating scheme that could inform California's QRIS design in advance of field-based pilot efforts.

Key Findings

Center-Based Programs Would Score Better on Some Elements Than on Others

  • Given the proposed cut points in the quality rating and improvement system design, center-based programs would score better on some quality elements than on others.
  • Most programs would reach Tiers 3 to 5 on the ratio and group size quality element.
  • About half the programs would reach Tier 4 or 5 for the staff education and training quality element.
  • Just one in four programs would reach Tier 4 or 5 based on the teaching and learning quality element.

The Teaching and Learning Element Would Constrain Programs from Reaching Higher Rating Tiers More Than the Ratio and Group Size or Staff Education and Training Elements

  • Having staff with levels of education that qualify for the highest tiers does not necessarily ensure that a program will score at that same level on the relevant environment rating scale or on the Classroom Assessment Scoring System.

Few Programs Would Initially Reach the Highest Rating Tiers

  • This is consistent with the California Early Learning Quality Improvement System Advisory Committee's goal of making the top tiers aspirational.

Program-Level Ratings May Be Higher If the Quality Rating and Improvement System Targets Programs with Public Funding

  • More center-based programs in San Francisco County's Gateway to Quality initiative, in which programs receiving public subsidies are targeted, would score high enough to reach Tier 4 than the programs included in the statewide data, which provide a representative sample of all providers.
  • However, few Gateway to Quality programs would reach Tier 5.

Quality Ratings Are Likely to Vary by the Ages of Children Served and the Setting Type

  • In Gateway to Quality, center-based classrooms serving infants and toddlers scored somewhat lower than rooms serving preschool-age children.
  • Family child care homes scored considerably lower than center-based programs.

This study was sponsored by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and was conducted jointly in RAND Education and RAND Labor and Population, units of the RAND Corporation.

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