Glossary of Terms

To guide the efforts of the QRIS National Learning Network, with the goal of consistent communication and work parameters, we present below a glossary of our terms and some organizing principals to our work.

What is a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS)?

A QRIS is “a method to assess, improve and communicate the level of quality in early care and education settings” (Mitchell, 2005, p. 4). QRIS can exist on a spectrum in terms of their development and implementation and can operate statewide or in a local area. A fully functioning QRIS, however, includes the following components: (1) quality standards for programs and practitioners, (2) supports and an infrastructure to meet such standards, (3) monitoring and accountability systems to ensure compliance with quality standards, (4) ongoing financial assistance that is linked to meeting quality standards, and (5) engagement and outreach strategies (Child Trends, 2009).

A well developed QRIS is or includes the following:

  • Early care and education (ECE) program standards, although standards will vary among states. Note that ECE is inclusive of out-of-school time programs for school age children.
  • A common framework to link and align standards across the whole ECE system, including child care regulatory requirements, early learning guidelines, Head Start/Early Head Start Performance Standards, pre-kindergarten program standards, early intervention program standards, accreditation standards, and so forth.
  • The alignment of policies and procedures across the whole ECE system.
  • A method of educating and communicating consumers about ECE quality.
  • A method of improving ECE quality.
  • A culture of continuous quality improvement.
  • A framework for investment in accountability.
  • A tool used to align all current resources as well as additional investments toward system goals.
  • A tool for benchmarking the progress a state has made toward increasing the availability of high-quality programs.
  • A tool for ECE system reform.

As states review their QRIS, they look for benchmarks to gauge their progress; benchmarks may include the following:

  • Increasing program participation rates including increasing participation rates across program types.
  • Increasing quality of programs overtime including increasing quality in programs that serve children of all: income levels, ethnicities, languages, abilities, age-groups and across different geographic regions of a state.
  • Alignment of public and private funding to quality rating levels.
  • Increased investments in ECE statewide.

Additional Terms

Administrative Entity – organization or agency with authority to govern the development, implementation, and monitoring of the QRIS. In some cases, the Administrative Entity may contract with other entities to assist with administration or monitoring.

Eligible Programs – ECE programs that can participate in the QRIS, such as child care centers, family child care homes, school-age programs, pre-kindergarten programs, Head Start, Early Head Start, etc.

Financial Incentive – financial support “designed to address the gap between the cost of producing a higher-quality program and the tuition prices charged to families” (Mitchell, 2005, p. 41). Incentives include tiered reimbursement, start up grants, improvement grants, quality awards, quality bonuses, scholarships, wage enhancements, retention bonuses, tax benefits, and others.

Monitoring – process whereby ECE programs are checked to assure that they are continuing to meet the criteria for their level of rating. Failing to maintain the criteria may be demonstrated by significant turnover in staff, new director, significant licensing violation, etc. All of these may trigger a new rating.

Participation Data – number of eligible programs that have received a rating.

Pilot – a test run of a QRIS within, for example, a defined service area during a specific timeframe, designed to identify and address implementation problems before full implementation.

Program and Practitioner Outreach and Support – activities and services provided to ECE programs to help them enroll in the QRIS, to improve their quality to achieve higher ratings, and to maintain the improved quality and the higher rating. These include orientation and/or application workshops, application training, technical assistance, training, consultation, coaching, mentoring, grants for materials, etc.

Rating Levels – the number of levels included in the QRIS structure, e.g., 2 levels, 3 levels, 4 levels, etc. These levels are often designed with an easily understood symbol indicating ascending quality such as stars; steps; bronze, silver, gold. The beginning level is usually defined by “being in good standing” with the licensing requirements or meeting licensing with some additional criteria.

Rating Process – process for documenting that an ECE program has met the standards for a specific level and is assigned a rating. States may do a full rating every year or every 2 or 3 years, in which case they may monitor the program’s maintenance of the rating on off years. Participating early childhood programs develop program improvement plans after they receive a full rating and commit to engaging in an ongoing continuous quality improvement process between rating visits.

Rating Structure – method for determining rating steps, i.e., building blocks, points, combination of block and points.

Building Block Approach – requires the program to meet the level of rating in all categories of standards before receiving that rating.

Point Approach – allows the program to earn points in each category of standards, with the total of points determining the rating level of the program.

Hybrid Approach – includes building blocks (for some levels and/or some criteria) and points.

Standards – quality indicators included in the QRIS criteria used to measure the ECE program and assign a rating. Examples of categories of standards include licensing compliance, ratios, health and safety, curriculum, physical environment, teacher/director qualifications and professional development, family involvement, administration and management, diversity, inclusion, Early Learning Standards, child assessment, and accreditation.

Voluntary – participation is not mandated by state law or regulations.