Quality Rating & Improvement Systems — Alliance for Early Childhood Finance

Quality Rating & Improvement Systems


Quality Rating and Improvement Systems are a powerful policy trend that has the potential to unify distinct sectors of the early care and education market into a coherent system that is focused on producing quality services for children and families. Read more on QRIS as system reform.

What is a Quality Rating and Improvement System?

A Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) is an organized way to assess, improve and communicate the quality of early care and education programs that families consider for their children. A QRIS empowers parents to become savvy consumers who choose high quality for their children; gives policymakers effective tools to improve EC&E quality; promotes accountability so that donors, legislators and taxpayers feel confident investing in quality; gives providers a roadmap to quality improvement; and promotes the health and development of children in early care and education.

These systems are conceptually similar to ratings of restaurants and hotels that are made by groups such as the American Automobile Association. This common-sense approach has appeal across the political spectrum and explains in part why QRIS have spread so rapidly. In 2004 Anne Mitchell wrote Stair Steps to Quality documenting the first five years of QRIS.

Nearly half the states and the District of Columbia now operate statewide Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRISs) and nearly all other states are planning or piloting them. The first such system was launched in Oklahoma in 1998, the second in North Carolina in 1999, and other states followed quickly, making this a very fast-moving policy trend. For current information, check the QRIS National Learning Network.

Originally most systems described themselves as a Quality Rating System, or QRS, but several states have begun to describe their systems as QRIS to recognize the two major purposes of these systems: not only rating, but equally important, improvement. At least one state calls it QIRS, to emphasize that improvement precedes rating. All of these state systems have unique names such as Keystone STARS, Qualistar, Going for the Gold, Reaching for the Stars and Quality Counts.

How do QRIS work?

A QRIS affects the early care and education market through three major avenues:

  1. Quality assurance. All QRISs have progressive quality standards – usually three to five levels of quality – with their standards based on research and best practice. The systems include monitoring and assessment to determine how well providers are meeting the standards of quality.
  2. Supply-side interventions. Programs receive supports — for example, technical assistance on conducting self-assessments and developing quality improvement plans, and professional development to enhance the knowledge and skills of practitioners and to increase their educational qualifications. Financial incentives are offered to providers to encourage improvement, and significant ongoing financial awards help to maintain higher quality.
  3. Demand-side interventions. All QRISs use easy-to-understand symbols for the ratings, usually multiple stars. The star ratings of programs are publicly available and financial incentives are offered to reward consumers who choose higher quality.

For more on supply and demand incentives, read Quality Rating and Improvement System Financial Incentives (2008).

The Alliance has developed interactive spreadsheets to understand the cost of implementing and expanding different QRIS designs. These are now an online interactive tool – the QRIS Cost Estimation Model – that can be used to estimate the cost of any QRIS system model from small pilot to full-scale multi-year implementation.

QRIS Downloads

Effective QRIS Standards: The Few and the Powerful (2014) – This PowerPoint presentation, delivered by Louise Stoney at the 2014 National QRIS Learning Network Meeting, challenged participants to reduce QRIS paperwork and compliance monitoring and focus standards on a few, powerful measures.

Education Week QRIS Blog Series (2012) – Louise Stoney served as a guest blogger for Sara Mead’s “Policy Notebook” blog in Education Week. These blogs, based on her experience working with a variety of state QRIS systems, identify key challenges and opportunities in QRIS system development.

Aligning Finance with Common Standards (2010) These graphics, created by Louise Stoney, show how finance can be linked to the quality levels of a QRIS and then layered to fund a single child or classroom of children.

Quality Rating and Improvement Systems as the Framework for Early Care and Education System Reform (2009). This brief, written by Anne Mitchell for the BUILD Initiative, describes how QRIS to be the unifying framework for an early care and education system that includes providers from all sectors and all funding streams.

QRIS as a Framework for Quality (2009) This PowerPoint presentation, created by Louise Stoney for a dialogue with Minnesota ECE leadership, describes how a cross-system QRIS can serve as a unifying force for ECE policy and finance.

Standards-Based System Graphic (2009) This graphic, created by Louise Stoney for the Minnesota Early Childhood Legislative Caucus, demonstrates how various components of the ECE system – both formal and informal – can relate to one another as well as to an overall governance structure.

An Actionable Federal Framework to Promote QRIS in the States. (2009) Mitchell and Stoney prepared this memorandum, which describes a strategy for supporting Quality Rating and Improvement Systems in states across the US, in 2009.

Using Tax Credits to Promote Quality Early Care and Education. (2009) Nearly every state has, or is developing, an early care and education quality rating and improvement system (QRIS). But many states find that only a small percentage of providers participate and that parents often do not use the system to guide decision-making. Last year Louisiana enacted an innovative tax credit package designed to address these concerns by offering financial rewards for those who participate in Quality Start, the state’s new QRIS. This blog, written by Louise Stoney, in June 2009, for New America’s Early Education Watch, summarizes the tax credit package. (Also available on New America Foundation’s Archived Blog Page)

Quality Rating and Improvement System Financial Incentives Updated November 2008 Written by Anne W. Mitchell, Kristen Kerr and Juana Armenta – Early Childhood Policy Research The information in this table was collected in spring and fall 2008 from publicly available information on websites and in publications.

Improving and Rating the Quality of Early Care and Education in Florida, Anne Mitchell, June 2007. The Policy Group for Florida’s Families and Children commissioned this issue brief to offer information and guidance on a critical issue facing Florida (and the nation): how to improve the quality of early care and education for our youngest citizens. Drawing on information both from the experience of other states and the pioneering efforts in several Florida counties, this brief outlines the context and case for action in Florida.

Stair Steps to Quality (2005) – A guide for states and communities developing quality rating systems for early care and education Written by Anne Mitchell, Alliance for Early Childhood Finance.

Financing Quality Rating Systems: Lessons Learned (2004). By Louise Stoney, Alliance on Early Childhood Finance for United Way of America Success By 6, September 2004