Going Beyond the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS): A New Way to Evaluate Early Learning Programs

Brain development is critical during children's early years, yet nationally less than 50 percent of children enter Kindergarten ready to learn. Every year, Excellent Schools Detroit puts out a K-12 scorecard with information about the performance and culture of every Detroit school. Beginning in 2013, AIR and Excellent Schools Detroit developed the Early Learning Scorecard to provide families and the community with information about the best early learning and care options in Wayne County, Michigan.

The innovative scorecard system goes beyond the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) and incorporates the community to provide ratings of climate and culture as part of a high-quality early care and learning program. The Early Learning Scorecard measures both structural and process quality, as well as five key dimensions of culture and climate:

  • Cultural and linguistic competence;
  • Professionalism of staff;
  • Safety of facilities;
  • Relationships and interactions in the classroom; and
  • Family and community partnerships.

The ratings drew on 60 local volunteers trained by AIR experts to serve as program reviewers as well as surveys of families and program staff. In all, observations covered 94 programs during the spring of 2014. Final ratings of Gold, Silver, Bronze, or On the Way to Medaling are assigned based on these data. The Early Learning Scorecard also highlights each program’s strengths across the five dimensions of culture and climate.

The ratings prompted increased interest among families in programs with higher scores, desire by program leaders to provide complete data, and a means to highlight and address blight throughout the City of Detroit and Wayne County.

AIR team members include Natalie Tucker, Kimberly Kendziora, and Leah Brown.