Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) for early care and education and school age care programs are designed to collect information about quality and to use that information to produce program-level ratings, which are the foundation of a QRIS. The ratings are intended to make program quality transparent for parents and other stakeholders and to encourage the selection of higher-quality programs. The ratings also provide benchmarks that can support efforts to help programs improve their quality. Validation of a QRIS is a multi-step process that assesses the degree to which design decisions about program quality standards and measurement strategies are resulting in accurate and meaningful ratings. Validation of a QRIS provides designers, administrators and stakeholders with crucial data about how well the architecture of the system is functioning. A carefully designed plan for ongoing validation creates a climate that supports continuous quality improvement at both the program and system level.
To date, QRIS validation efforts have been limited. One reason may be that validation is a complex endeavor that involves a range of activities. In addition, there has been little guidance available that clarifies the purpose of QRIS validation or identifies the activities that comprise validation. At the same time, there is growing pressure to validate these systems as stakeholders seek evidence that QRIS are functioning as intended. The federal government has elevated QRIS validation by including it as a central component of the 2011 Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge and requiring state applicants to develop QRIS validation plans as part of their submissions.
The purpose of this Brief is to help QRIS stakeholders better understand validation and to outline a set of complementary validation activities. The Brief defines validation, describes different types of validation studies, and provides guidance on developing a validation plan, including tools to determine the appropriate scope and timing of validation activities. It also lists references and resources for those who wish to learn more. This Brief is aimed at readers in positions to authorize, finance, design, and refine QRISs and other quality improvement efforts, including state child care administrators, early education policy and program specialists, legislators, and other potential funders.