Incorporating Child Assessments into State Early Childhood Quality Improvement Initiatives

Quality rating and improvement systems (QRISs) have become an increasingly popular mechanism in states and localities seeking to raise the quality of their early care and education (ECE) programs. Typically, QRISs provide ratings of ECE programs based on multicomponent assessments designed to make quality transparent to parents and funders, as well as feedback, technical assistance, and financial incentives tied to ratings to both motivate and support quality improvement (QI).

The ultimate objective of these and other QI initiatives is to ensure that ECE programs promote child development, yet QRISs rarely directly assess children’s functioning as a way to evaluate whether specific programs or the ECE system as a whole are improving child outcomes. This stems from the challenges of reliably measuring child functioning and quantifying the contribution of any given ECE program to a child’s developmental progress. Thus, QRISs tend to focus on the quality of the inputs in ECE programs rather than on the resulting child developmental outcomes.

In support of state QI initiatives, a RAND study set out to confront these challenges and identify options for incorporating child ssessments into the design, implementation, and evaluation of QRISs and other QI initiatives. Drawing on prior research and states’ experiences, the study appraises the merits of alternative approaches and offers guidance to designers and policymakers seeking to improve ECE quality.