Early Childhood

Child-Care Rating Systems Earn Few Stars in Study

By Christina A. Samuels — September 10, 2013 4 min read

A new study on child-care rating systems appears to bolster concerns among some in the early-learning field that the ratings generated by those systems are only tenuously connected to learning outcomes.

The researchers, who were from several universities, found that children attending highly rated pre-K programs did not have significantly better results in math, prereading, language, and social skills when they finished the programs, compared with the children attending lower-rated programs.

The findings, published last month in the journal Science, could have implications for states as they work to tie their ratings to real-world outcomes.

Researchers were studying “quality rating and improvement systems.” As a result of federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants, funding from states, and foundation support, nearly every state has or is creating such a system, known by the shorthand QRIS. About 13,000 child-care programs in 20 states have been rated through a QRIS. Most of the systems use symbols such as stars to represent levels of quality. But those systems draw in so many elements that a center’s rank may end up with a distant connection to teacher-child interactions, which are known to be a strong predictor of how well children do in preschool and afterward, said Terri J. Sabol, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University and the study’s lead author.

“My biggest take-away is that states need to simplify their rating systems,” Ms. Sabol said in an interview. “There’s something really appealing about having these five-star systems, but that comes at a cost because those stars don’t mean a lot for child outcomes.”

Gladys Wilson, the president and CEO of Qualistar Colorado, an organization that rates child-care centers in that state, said the rating system has had the benefit of providing a clear path to continuous improvement for care providers. The “improvement” aspect of a QRIS is as important as the ratings themselves, she said.

Extensive Data

Qualistar has been intensively studied by the RAND Corp., which also found little connection between learning outcomes and ratings, though the study couldn’t draw strong conclusions because of difficulty in tracking children.The new study uses data collected in two studies that provided detailed information on prekindergarten teachers, children, and classrooms in 11 states, collected between 2001 and 2004.

Using information on more than 2,400 children in 673 preschools, the authors of the new report plugged those numbers into scoring algorithms that they created for nine states. Each of those states rates programs on staff qualifications, staff-child ratio and group size, family partnerships, and learning environment. Those measures and others are combined to produce a rating.

The researchers also created an additional measure, teacher-child interactions, which was evaluated through the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, or CLASS. The CLASS measure has been adopted in the past few years by Head Start as a method of evaluating preschool quality.

Teachers Crucial

After linking outcomes to the evaluation measures, the authors found that teacher interactions had the highest connection to student learning, followed by learning environment. Teacher qualifications, class size, and family partnerships had a weaker and sometimes inconsistent connection. Thus, rating systems that combined all those measures also had a weaker and less consistent connection to child outcomes, the study shows.

Study co-author Robert C. Pianta, the dean of the education school at the University of Virginia and the creator of the CLASS evaluation instrument, said that one way to simplify rating systems could be to make some elements non-negotiable.

“There shouldn’t be any variation in [teacher-child] ratio, or health or safety provisions, or whether the teacher has certain level of training,” he said. Once those elements are removed, the systems can focus more closely on the most powerful measures, he said."The people doing this work are terrific, they’re very knowledgeable about the field,” Mr. Pianta said, but he added that the desire to include many different measurements is a challenge. “We’re really rolling out a big policy without knowing what the consequences of that policy might or might not be,” he said.

The new findings are similar to the results of the RAND study of the 14-year-old Qualistar program, which included evaluations of 1,300 children served by more than 100 child-care centers and in-home day-care providers. Only 7 percent of the children remained in the study for its entire duration, but the findings suggested more research was needed before ratings programs were implemented at scale.

Gail L. Zellman, the principal investigator on the Qualistar study for RAND, said that child-care rating systems have had the beneficial effect of driving a conversation about what is most important in a good day-care center or preschool. But, she added, “the field has not sufficiently determined how to evaluate quality and how to assess it in a valid way.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 11, 2013 edition of Education Week as Child-Care Rating Systems Earn Few Stars in Study

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
Interactive Learning Best Practices: Creative Ways Interactive Displays Engage Students
Students and teachers alike struggle in our newly hybrid world where learning takes place partly on-site and partly online. Focus, engagement, and motivation have become big concerns in this transition. In this webinar, we will
Content provided by Samsung
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Educator-Driven EdTech Design: Help Shape the Future of Classroom Technology
Join us for a collaborative workshop where you will get a live demo of GoGuardian Teacher, including seamless new integrations with Google Classroom, and participate in an interactive design exercise building a feature based on
Content provided by GoGuardian
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Early Childhood Opinion Waterford Upstart on Providing Remote Learning to 90,000 Pre-K Kids
Rick Hess speaks with Dr. LaTasha Hadley of Waterford Upstart about its use of adaptive software to close gaps in kindergarten readiness.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Early Childhood How Two Child-Care Centers Put Competition Aside and Created a Partnership During COVID-19
Due to COVID-19, two early-childhood centers put their competition aside to work together to support families during the pandemic.
Charles Dinofrio
7 min read
Early Childhood New Players Fill Child-Care Gap as Schools Go Remote
As school districts move to remote instruction for the fall, day-care providers, dance studios, and after-school programs step in to fill school-day child-care gaps.
7 min read
A student works on schoolwork earlier this month at the Wharton Dobson Club in Wharton, Texas, part of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston. For a small fee, the organization is offering a full-day program that provides students a safe place to complete their remote learning classwork and socialize with friends.
A student works on schoolwork earlier this month at the Wharton Dobson Club in Wharton, Texas, part of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston. For a small fee, the organization is offering a full-day program that provides students a safe place to complete their remote learning classwork and socialize with friends.
Courtesy of Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston
Early Childhood Will Kindergartens Be Empty This Fall?
As cases of COVID-19 continue to grow, parents around the country are struggling with whether to send their child to kindergarten this fall. Some say they won't.
6 min read
Satiria Clayton was looking forward to her 5-year-old son Cassius starting kindergarten this year in Tempe, Ariz., but the recent spike in coronavirus cases has left her, like many other parents, worried about what to expect. "In an ideal would I would love to stay at home and teach him,” she said. “The reality is I have to send him to school."
Satiria Clayton was looking forward to her 5-year-old son Cassius starting kindergarten this year in Tempe, Ariz., but the recent spike in coronavirus cases has left her, like many other parents, worried about what to expect. "In an ideal would I would love to stay at home and teach him,” she said. “The reality is I have to send him to school."
Courtesy of Satiria Clayton