Defining and Measuring Quality: An In-Depth Study of Five Child Care Quality Rating and Improvement Systems

Publication Date: August 15, 2011


Quality measurement serves as a foundation for child care Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS). Understanding the variation that exists in quality measurement, the different contexts in which states make decisions, and the factors that play into their decisions can help administrators identify where their state may fall along the spectrum in practice (or the direction in which they should steer), and can help researchers design approaches that take these differences into account. Such information can also aid in identifying opportunities for moving toward some common practice and research goals.

The quality components included in a QRIS define a state’s framework for measuring quality and signal to providers and parents the practices that should be included in high-quality early child care and education programs. There are commonalities in the quality categories that are included across QRIS (Tout et al. 2010), demonstrating that many states and communities are using a similar foundation upon which to build their rating systems. However, the manner in which states and localities combine and aggregate these quality categories to develop QRIS ratings has many nuances, producing rating systems with important variations that can impede direct cross-QRIS comparisons and research approaches.

Recognizing the need for information on the quality measurement practices in QRIS, this in-depth study of select QRIS was launched as part of the Child Care Quality Rating Systems (QRS) Assessment project, funded by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) within the Administration for Children and Families.

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