Does the California Quality Rating and Improvement System Predict Child Outcomes?

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Deborah Stipek
Stanford University

The use of the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) to improve early childhood education program quality is based in part on assumptions that the quality of programs can be measured and that quality ratings are associated with meaningful differences in learning outcomes for children. This report reviews all of the state QRIS validation studies that examined associations between individual rating elements and child outcomes as well as other research that exists on four elements of the California QRIS, referred to as Quality Counts California: teacher qualifications, program environment, teacher–child interactions, and child-to-teacher ratio and group size.

The review indicates that the current elements in Quality Counts California have weak and inconsistent associations with child outcomes. The problem is not necessarily with the dimensions measured but with how they are measured and with how points are allocated.

There are a number of methodological reasons that could explain the weak associations found between teacher qualifications and child outcomes. Studies do not always differentiate programs serving different-aged children. Most studies were conducted previous to the increased expectations for preschool teachers’ skills and responsibilities. And studies do not examine the quality and content of courses or interactions between preparation and the support early childhood educators experience in their jobs.

The current measures of program environment (ECERS) and teacher–child interactions (CLASS) may be weakly and inconsistently predictive of child outcomes because they do not assess practices that are directly related to the child outcomes assessed. Furthermore, if the current measures are used, greater validity might be achieved by adding points in the QRIS rating with smaller increases in scores at the top of the CLASS scale and at the bottom of the ECERS scale. The evidence suggests similarly that greater validity might be achieved for the child-to-teacher ratio and group size element by awarding more points for variations in the lower end (e.g., under 7.5 for child-to-teacher ratio and under 15 for group size) than for the same differences at the higher end.

The report recommends: (a) developing a program observation measure that is better aligned to desirable child outcomes, including foundational academic skills; (b) creating a measure of teacher qualifications that includes the nature and extent of courses In early childhood education (ECE); (c) differentiating between programs that serve children of different ages; and (d) considering additional ratings related to the quality of work environment and pay. An examination of cutoff scores in rating rubrics and the use of more comprehensive measures of child outcomes in validation studies are also recommended.