Practices for Promoting Young Children’s Learning in QRIS Standards

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This is an excerpt from the full brief.


Quality Rating Improvement Systems (QRIS) have emerged as a central strategy in states’ efforts to improve the quality of early care and education programs and the capacity of these programs to promote positive outcomes for children. Currently, 23 states have a statewide QRIS. At the heart of each QRIS is a set of standards that describe the requirements a center-based program or homebased early care and education setting must meet in order to qualify for a QRIS rating. Because children’s school readiness is a key goal of QRIS, requirements concerning practices that can promote children’s learning and development are of special interest. These requirements are typically found in standards’ descriptions of acceptable curricula or learning activities, including methods for promoting the learning of children with special needs and children who are English language learners, as well as practices related to child assessment and parent involvement.

A recent analysis found that about half of statewide QRIS refer to the state’s Early Learning Guidelines (ELGs), most often in standards that require staff training in how to implement ELGs or the use of a curriculum or learning activities aligned with ELGs. This brief provides a further examination of the strength of supports for children’s early learning in QRIS standards. An analysis of QRIS standards in 23 states, and ELGs in a subset of these states, addressed the following questions:

  • How many states have QRIS standards that describe specific practices for promoting children’s early learning beyond statements that reference ELGs? What types of practices aimed at promoting children’s learning are described in QRIS standards?
  • When standards that describe specific practices for promoting children’s learning are found, at what level in the QRIS do these first appear? (This question applies only to block systems in which a program must meet all requirements at one level of the QRIS before advancing to the next level.)
  • In states with QRIS standards that require an alignment with the state’s ELGs, do the ELGs describe practices that support children’s early learning in key areas such as supports for children who are English language learners and parent involvement?

While QRIS’ requirements that programs align their curricula and other activities with ELGs provide a practical way to reference important elements of early care and education quality, some states include descriptions of early-learning focused practices within their standards. One example from a state profiled in this report is a QRIS standard requiring that children participate in daily shared book reading, including sessions involving individual child-teacher interactions. A potential benefit of specifying certain practices in QRIS standards is that these practices may gain prominence in both the process of assessing the program in order to assign a quality rating and in quality improvement efforts designed to help a program attain a higher rating.

While a particular practice, such as daily interactive book reading, might be embedded in a state’s Early Learning Guidelines, practitioners and technical assistance providers may not be fully aware of the detailed contents of lengthy ELG documents.

In a recent study, a significant number of QRIS technical assistance providers indicated that they do not frequently focus on helping teachers improve practices that support children’s learning in such key areas as oral language, social-emotional growth, and early mathematics; similarly, they did not frequently focus on helping teachers support parents’ involvement in their child’s learning or on individualizing learning supports for children based on progress monitoring. As discussed later, research showing that certain practices have a strong impact on positive early learning outcomes could be used to identify a limited number to specify in QRIS standards (see sources of information about research-based practices, page 12).

To preview findings from the analysis, QRIS standards that describe specific practices for promoting children’s learning are the exception rather than the rule across current state-wide systems. However, the examples that exist suggest possible directions for other states, and can inform ongoing discussion of how best to formulate QRIS standards. This brief is organized by the following sections:

  • A description of methods used in the analysis
  • Results from the analysis that include:— an overview of early learning content in QRIS curriculum requirements;— a list of states with QRIS standards that describe specific practices for promoting children’s learning (states are listed for each of eight areas of practice examined in the analysis);— examples from states with QRIS standards that describe specific practices for promoting children’s learning;

    — a list of states with QRIS standards that reference the state’s ELGs and also have ELGs that address a key area, such as parent involvement;

    — information about the levels of QRIS where specific practices and ELG alignment requirements are typically found.

  • Summary and recommendations

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