Evaluating Child Care Quality Rating Systems (QRS)

Prepared for
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation

Quality Rating Systems (QRS) are tools to assess, improve, and promote quality in early child care and education. The tools can be used by parents in selecting child care, by providers as a benchmark to achieve better quality care, and by programs as an accountability measure for funding.

Statewide or local child care Quality Rating Systems are in place in 44 states and under consideration in others. While system attributes vary widely, they all attempt to bring accountability to the large public investments made in early child care and education. QRS activities include one or more of the following:

  • Supporting parents’ awareness of and use of quality information to select care
  • Rewarding child care settings that achieve increased levels of quality
  • Supporting professional development of the early childhood workforce
  • Expanding supply of quality programs, particularly those serving low-income children
  • Increasing children's school readiness and success

As QRS policy and program practice becomes more mainstream, states and municipalities that adopt these methods need support in determining the most useful ways to build and evaluate models. 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.

The study:

  • Developed a compendium on 26 QRS, providing descriptive and comparative information, as well as evaluation evidence
  • Conducted an in-depth, comparative multi-case QRS study of quality measurement and rating practices in five states
  • Conducted a comprehensive secondary analysis of QRS components, using data from three existing systems
  • Conducted an in-depth study of the role of QRS in integrating the early care and education system in two states
  • Developed a toolkit that provides resources to states regarding best practices in the evaluation of QRS