Education

Finding the right 'recipe' for a preschool ratings system in transition

preschool workbook coloring crayons
preschool workbook coloring crayons
Photo by Corie Howell via Flickr Creative Commons

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As California’s rating system for preschools transitions from federal funding to state and county support, educators are reflecting on what has worked and what might still need to be fine-tuned.

In 2012 and 2013, the state received $75 million in grant money from the Obama administration’s "Race to the Top" initiative to build a rating system for childcare and preschool programs.

That funding ran out last June, and now the architects of the rating system are receiving funding from two state sources. 

Under the so-called Quality Rating and Improvement System, programs are rated according to seven measures: qualifications of the lead teacher, qualifications of the director, physical environment of space, effective teacher-child interactions, children’s access to annual screenings for vision and hearing, evidence of child assessments for development, and teacher-to-child ratios. Scores range from 2 to 5.

As of 2015, 82 early education sites in Los Angeles County had been rated. Fifty-three of these sites received a rating of 2, 18 sites received a score of 3, and 11 sites received a rating of 4.

Since then, Dawn Kurtz, chief program officer at Los Angeles Universal Preschool, says that her organization has been providing classroom and assessment materials, trainings, and other support to help improve quality.

"There’s discussions about potential changes [to the rating system] some point down the line," Kurtz said. "But we need to wait long enough to make sure that we’re not making any changes that would impact our ability to make comparisons over time."

At a minimum, they need two years. Then Quality Start L.A., the group overseeing the implementation of the rating system in L.A. County, may tinker with the formula it's using, but Kurtz said they have the main elements down.

"There’s still a lot of healthy conversation about is what is the right recipe," Kurtz said. "But I don’t think there’s some secret element out there that we haven’t identified yet. It’s more about the mix."

Eventually, these ratings—and the way they change over time—will be consolidated and available online.

The state is also trying to consolidate some of the data that goes into the rating system into one place, the California Early Care and Education Workforce Registry.

"The goal for California is to have a robust early care and education professional development system where folks can have one place that houses all their qualifications that links to permits, training and the [rating system]," said Fiona Stewart, program director for the Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles. "It’s sort of like a robust Linked-In for childcare providers."

Going forward, when infant and toddler programs and preschools that receive state funding in L.A. County want to participate in the rating system, signing up with the registry will be required.

Then, all of the data collected on this site—including the qualifications of teachers or directors, which are two factors in the seven-factor rating matrix—will be available and easily accessible for those tasked with assigning site ratings.