Preschool & child care Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS)

Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) are a framework for developing and assessing early child care and education systems. Complete QRIS include quality standards, support and infrastructure to meet standards, financial assistance and incentives, processes to monitor standards and ensure compliance, and public engagement and outreach efforts (QRIS Network, Child Trends 2010). QRIS vary, especially in the quality indicators used and the process for translating indicators into quality ratings. QRIS can be implemented at the local, regional, or state level; some states mandate program participation (QRIS Network, ).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Improved child care quality

  • Improved preschool quality

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) lead to improvements in the quality of participating early child care and preschool programs (, , OPRE-Tout 2010, Tout 2011, Ma 2011). However, additional research is needed to confirm effects.

QRIS appear to validly measure program quality (OPRE-Tout 2010) and, over time, participating programs appear to improve (OPRE-Tout 2010, Tout 2011, Ma 2011, RAND-Zellman 2008). A Florida-based study suggests that teachers in QRIS programs score higher on classroom quality, instructional and emotional support, and literacy environment measures than peers in non-participating programs (). Coaching early educators can facilitate such improvements, especially when coaching programs use defined models and explicit coach selection criteria, support and monitor coaches, and closely link educator lessons to onsite practice (OPRE-Zaslow 2012).

In some cases, QRIS is positively associated with increased cognitive skills () and improved child outcomes (). A Virginia-based validation study of QRIS suggests that children in higher rated pre-kindergarten programs have greater literacy growth than children in programs with lower QRIS ratings; however, growth was not maintained over time (). A Los Angeles-based study suggests that QRIS quality measures are positively associated with children’s school-readiness; however, QRIS ratings computed using those measures are not associated with increases in cognitive, academic, or social child outcomes (). Some QRIS measures such as quality of the learning environment are modestly related to children’s skills; however, neither QRIS measure selection nor the composite rating process has been systematically studied with respect to children’s learning (). Overall, additional evidence is needed to understand the link between QRIS and child outcomes (OPRE-Tout 2010, ).

QRIS measures typically assess process oriented and structural indicators such as teachers’ qualifications; researchers suggest QRIS use (or weight more heavily) measures that have been linked to children’s learning such as the quality of teacher-child interactions (). The definitions of QRIS standards, selection of measures, and rating computation process all influence whether program improvements can change the overall QRIS score (). Researchers suggest that QRIS also can become more effective with time as its systemic processes develop and mature (Ma 2011, ).  

QRIS programs are a suggested strategy to incorporate obesity prevention standards into state early childhood care and education systems (Geary 2017).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

As of 2017, 38 states have statewide Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS). In addition, Washington DC has a district wide QRIS program, one state and three US territories have launched pilot programs, seven states are planning such programs, and three have regional QRIS programs (QRIS Network-Map). As of 2016, 29 states with QRIS programs also include obesity prevention efforts in their state QRIS standards (CDC-ECE state 2016), and 20 states have at least one QRIS standard that aligns with high-impact obesity prevention components, typically related to physical activity, screen time, or nutrition (Geary 2017).

Some states have evaluated their QRIS, but evaluation breadth and focus varies greatly (). A Colorado-based study indicates that classrooms in the same center can vary significantly in quality. Researchers therefore recommend that QRIS administrators consider evaluating multiple classrooms in the same center, balancing the benefits of more accurate ratings against the cost of additional evaluation ().

Implementation Resources

QRIS Network - Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) National Learning Network.

OPRE-Tout 2013 - Tout K, Starr R. Key elements of a QRIS validation plan: Guidance and planning template. OPRE 2013-11. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2013.

OPRE-Kirby 2011 - Kirby G, Boller K, Zaveri H. Child care quality rating and improvement systems: Approaches to integrating programs for young children in two states. OPRE Report 2011-28. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE); 2011.

Faria 2016 - Faria AM, Greenberg A, Hawkinson L, Metzger I. Development and implementation of quality rating and improvement systems in Midwest Region states (REL 2016–143). Washington DC: US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest. 2016.

Quality Compendium-QRIS - Quality Compendium, Build Initiative. A catalog and comparison of quality initiatives like Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS).

Citations - Evidence

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OPRE-Tout 2010 - Tout K, Starr R, Soli M, et al. Compendium of quality rating systems and evaluations. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2010.

Tout 2011 - Tout K, Starr R, Isner T, et al. Evaluation of parent aware: Minnesota’s quality rating and improvement system pilot. Washington, DC: Child Trends; 2011.

Ma 2011 - Ma X, Shen J, Kavanaugh A, et al. Effects of quality improvement system for child care centers. Journal of Research in Childhood Education. 2011;25(4):399-414.

RAND-Zellman 2008 - Zellman GL, Perlman M, Le V-N, Setodji CM. Assessing the validity of the Qualistar Early Learning quality rating and improvement system as a tool for improving child-care quality. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2008.

OPRE-Zaslow 2012 - Zaslow M, Tout K, Halle T. On-site approaches to quality improvement in quality rating and improvement systems: Building on the research on coaching, Research-to-policy, research-to-practice brief OPRE 2012-40. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2012.

Tout 2013* - Tout K. Look to the stars: Future directions for the evaluation of quality rating and improvement systems. Early Education & Development. 2013;24(1):71–8.

Jeon 2014* - Jeon L, Buettner CK, Hur E. Examining pre-school classroom quality in a statewide quality rating and improvement system. Child & Youth Care Forum. 2014;43(4):469-487.

Boller 2015* - Boller K, Paulsell D, Grosso PD, et al. Impacts of a child care quality rating and improvement system on child care quality. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 2015;30(Part B):306-315.

Geary 2017 - Geary NA, Dooyema CA, Reynolds MA. Supporting obesity prevention in statewide quality rating and improvement systems: A review of state standards. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2017;14(E129):160518.

Jeon 2015* - Jeon L, Buettner CK. Quality rating and improvement systems and children’s cognitive development. Child & Youth Care Forum. 2015;44(2):191-207.

Sabol 2015* - Sabol TJ, Pianta RC. Validating Virginia’s quality rating and improvement system among state-funded pre-kindergarten programs. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 2015;30(Part B):183-198.

Sabol 2013* - Sabol TJ, Soliday Hong SL, Pianta RC, Burchinal MR. Can rating pre-K programs predict children’s learning? Science. 2013;341(6148):845-846.

Hong 2015* - Hong SLS, Howes C, Marcella J, Zucker E, Huang Y. Quality rating and improvement systems: Validation of a local implementation in LA County and children’s school-readiness. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 2015;30(Part B):227-240.

Hestenes 2015* - Hestenes LL, Kintner-Duffy V, Wang YC, et al. 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. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 2015;30(Part B):199-214.

Citations - Implementation Examples

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Karoly 2013* - Karoly LA, Zellman GL, Perlman M. Understanding variation in classroom quality within early childhood centers: Evidence from Colorado’s quality rating and improvement system. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 2013;28(4):645–57.

Tout 2013* - Tout K. Look to the stars: Future directions for the evaluation of quality rating and improvement systems. Early Education & Development. 2013;24(1):71–8.

QRIS Network-Map - Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) National Learning Network. Current status of QRIS in states.

Geary 2017 - Geary NA, Dooyema CA, Reynolds MA. Supporting obesity prevention in statewide quality rating and improvement systems: A review of state standards. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2017;14(E129):160518.

CDC-ECE state 2016 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Early Care and Education (ECE) State Indicator Report 2016.

Date Last Updated

Aug 6, 2018