In 2014, California launched the Quality Rating and Improvement System – QRIS – in part to help parents quickly assess the quality of childcare centers and preschools. Another goal of the rating system is to identify ways childcare providers can do a better job delivering high quality care by giving them training and tools to improve their programs. Here are answers to some common questions about the system. You can also read more about the QRIS system, particularly how it affected one childcare provider in Contra Costa County, here.
How do the ratings work?
The California Department of Education sets the standards for evaluating facilities with the QRIS. They look at several areas: teacher-child relationships, safety and the environment, teacher and site director qualifications, curriculum, health and development, and teacher-student ratios. In addition to these categories, individual counties can add their own criteria, such as the number of bilingual staff people or how facilities go about engaging children’s families in their care.
While scores take many factors into account, they are not the only measure of a childcare center or preschool. For example, a very good preschool may have a lower score because a play structure is not up to standards, while at the same time it may have strong teacher-child relationships; or there might be less of a reading focused-curriculum but a really engaging outdoor environment and close attention paid to child health. For parents, some factors weigh more heavily than others.
How are the ratings done?
Evaluators, usually from the local county office of education or First Five, a tobacco tax funded agency that advocates for children ages zero to five, visit each site four times in one day, for 20 minutes per visit. They look at each center, their records, their curriculum, the physical space, the materials they have on hand, and observe the providers’ interactions with children. Each facility is then assigned a rating. When scores are low, coaches are assigned to centers to help them improve.
Where can I find my child’s school or daycare center ranking?
As of February 2016, only 3,300 of the more than 50,000 centers statewide had been rated. Evaluators are focusing first on assessing preschools and childcare facilities that serve low-income children and those with special needs. It is very likely that the schools or centers you are looking at will not have been rated.
Because each county reports its ratings differently, the best route to finding out if a local childcare provider or preschool is rated is to call your county office of education or local First Five agency. In Fresno, for example, you can find the ratings on Fresno County Early Stars, the name in that county for the QRIS program. In Contra Costa County, ratings are available on the First Five Contra Costa County website.