Special Issue Provides Comprehensive Look at QRIS Research

Goal: To reduce uncertainties about using QRIS as a means for promoting systems change
Dec 16, 2014

Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) have become a key tool for states to assess, improve, and promote quality in their early care and education programs. A new theme issue of Early Childhood Research Quarterly, co-edited by Mathematica senior fellow Kimberly Boller and her colleagues, Steve Barnett at the National Institute for Early Education Research, and Stacie Goffin of Goffin Strategy Group, looks at QRIS's range of purposes and effectiveness as a change agent.

QRIS were pushed to the forefront of the policy and practitioner agendas after the Race to the Top–Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) made them a centerpiece of its grant application. They serve many purposes beyond assessment, including as accountability tools for funding and measurement of child outcomes, benchmarks for standardizing programs, and delivery systems for professional development.

The special issue of 12 articles includes an opening commentary presenting the catalyst for organizing the special issue. This commentary assesses the state of QRIS and suggests two additional policy approaches worthy of consideration by policymakers as part of efforts to increase the availability of consistently strong early childhood education programs for young children. The issue's closing commentary identifies the articles' strengths and gaps and suggests five steps for improving QRIS research and informing practice. Articles co-authored by Mathematica staff include the following:

What do quality rating levels mean? Examining the implementation of QRIS ratings to inform validation, by Gretchen Kirby, Pia Caronongan, Lizabeth M. Malone, and Kimberly Boller, examines specification of the quality standards and the implementation of the rating process across five QRIS, noting common components and variations according to rating levels. The authors note that QRIS implementation can affect the readiness for and interpretation of validation studies.



Impacts of a child care quality rating and improvement system on child care quality, by Boller, Diane Paulsell, Patricia Del Grosso, Randall Blair, Eric Lundquist, Danielle Z. Kassow, Rachel Kim, and Abbie Raikes, presents one of the first randomized controlled trials conducted in the context of a QRIS. The study identified large impacts in observed classroom quality that did not yield higher QRIS ratings overall.



QRIS research: Looking back and looking forward, by Kimberly Boller and Kelly Maxwell, reviews the research landscape and makes five recommendations for the future of QRIS research. They include:

QRIS requires conceptual models that recognize the multiple desired outcomes of a QRIS—and researchers should study the extent to which QRIS is meeting those outcomes.

We need answers to "big picture" QRIS design and implementation questions, such as whether the evidence for validity is stronger for QRIS with fewer standards.

Policymakers and funders should invest in increasing the rigor of the studies they commission, and all stakeholders should work together to focus on and disseminate evidence on understudied issues of importance to QRIS and other quality improvement efforts.

The RTT-ELC provides a unique opportunity to bring states together to answer important cross-cutting questions and to develop a data archive that can be analyzed for years to come.

Federal and state leadership and collaborative efforts that bring together policymakers, program administrators, and researchers are good investments in moving the field of quality improvement and QRIS forward.


Full List of Articles—Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Volume 30, Part B (1st Quarter 2015)
Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) as Change Agents

Assessing QRIS as a change agent. Stacie G. Goffin, W. Steven Barnett


Validating Virginia's quality rating and improvement system among state-funded pre-kindergarten programs. Terri J. Sabol, Robert C. Pianta


Comparisons among quality measures in child care settings: Understanding the use of multiple measures in North Carolina's QRIS and their links to social-emotional development in preschool children. Linda L. Hestenes, Victoria Kintner-Duffy, Yudan Chen Wang, Karen La Paro, Sharon U. Mims, Danielle Crosby, Catherine Scott-Little, Deborah J. Cassidy


Identifying baseline and ceiling thresholds within the Qualistar Early Learning Quality Rating and Improvement System. Vi-Nhuan Le, Diana D. Schaack, Claude Messan Setodji


Quality Rating and Improvement Systems: Validation of a local implementation in LA County and children's school-readiness. Sandra L. Soliday Hong, Carollee Howes, Jennifer Marcella, Eleanor Zucker, Yiching Huang


Improving QRISs through the use of existing data: A virtual pilot of the California QRIS. Gail L. Zellman, Lynn A. Karoly


Associations among tiered quality rating and improvement system supports and quality improvement. Noreen Yazejian, Iheoma U. Iruka


Comparing state policy approaches to early care and education quality: A multidimensional assessment of quality rating and improvement systems and child care licensing regulations. Maia C. Connors, Pamela A. Morris


Approaches to validating child care quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS): Results from two states with similar QRIS type designs. Michel Lahti, James Elicker, Gail Zellman, Richard Fiene


What do quality rating levels mean? Examining the implementation of QRIS ratings to inform validation. Gretchen Kirby, Pia Caronongan, Lizabeth M. Malone, Kimberly Boller


Impacts of a child care quality rating and improvement system on child care quality. Kimberly Boller, Diane Paulsell, Patricia Del Grosso, Randall Blair, Eric Lundquist, Danielle Z. Kassow, Rachel Kim, Abbie Raikes


Inequities in access to quality early care and education: Associations with funding and community context. Bridget E. Hatfield, Joanna K. Lower, Deborah J. Cassidy, Richard A. Faldowski


Substantive or symbolic stars: Quality rating and improvement systems through a new institutional lens. Kate Tarrant, Luis A. Huerta


QRIS research: Looking back and looking forward. Kimberly Boller, Kelly Maxwell

Related Projects
  • Evaluating Child Care Quality Rating Systems (QRS)

    Mathematica's assessment involved gathering, analyzing, and organizing information to inform each piece of the QRS logic model. We also helped states better understand the full picture, the interactions that can occur, intended and unintended consequences of policy and implementation.