Quality Ratings of Early Education Programs

Participating in a high-quality early learning experience can make a world of difference for a young child. First 5 San Francisco is at the forefront in developing programs that not only increase opportunities for all children in San Francisco to attend early education programs, but also improve the quality of the programs that they attend. In partnership with the California Department of Education, First 5 is developing and testing a new Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) to monitor the quality of the city’s child care centers and family child care homes and support them in achieving the highest standards of quality.

A Commitment to Improving Quality

The main purpose of San Francisco’s QRIS is to enhance the quality of learning environments, curriculum, care, and instruction that programs provide to children from birth through five years of age. Consultants with expert knowledge visit programs, observe their practices, review pertinent documents, and develop a comprehensive rating of each site using a “quality matrix” of seven key elements of quality. First 5 San Francisco and its partners use information from quality ratings to create training and other supports to help programs, and the programs themselves use QRIS rating information to develop quality improvement plans.

Participation in the QRIS voluntary, so by choosing to be rated, programs are demonstrating their commitment to delivering the best possible early education to children and connecting their teachers and administrators to a robust network of training and education opportunities. First 5 is grateful to programs participating in the initial phase of QRIS, because they are helping to advance knowledge about quality in early education settings. QRIS ratings represent a particular point in time, and, with support from the City as well as programs’ own dedication to continuous quality improvement, the goal and expectation is that all rated programs will eventually reach the highest standards.

First 5 San Francisco has connected with other Bay Area counties to strengthen and bring greater consistency to QRIS efforts across the region. Together, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties are working to make high-quality early education a priority throughout the Bay Area.

How to Understand the QRIS Ratings

Parents of young children may find that QRIS ratings for programs provide valuable information to help them better understand programs – whether they are shopping around for a program for the first time or already have their children enrolled. Feel free to ask a participating program about the specifics of their rating or their quality improvement plans – programs in the QRIS are excited to talk about quality! Parents are encouraged to consider this information in alongside other priorities they may have, such as proximity to home or work or use of a particular curriculum or approach to learning.

The QRIS ratings provide insight on up to seven key elements of quality:

  1. Child Observation: How does a program use assessments to better understand the learning needs of its children?
  2. Developmental and Health Screenings: How does a program check children for health and developmental concerns and follow up on any identified issues?
  3. Minimum Qualifications for Lead Teacher/ Family Child Care Home (FCCH): What levels of education and training do teachers have?
  4. Effective Teacher-Child Interactions: CLASS Assessments: How do teachers support children’s development through their interactions with them?
  5. Ratios and Group Size: How many teachers and children are in each classroom?
  6. Program Environment Rating Scale(s): How does the classroom environment support children’s development?
  7. Director Qualifications: What levels of education and training do program directors have?

Programs may score up to five points on each element. Under guidelines set by the state, centers are rated on all seven elements, while family child care homes are rated on five elements. Points are then added up to come up with a total score, which determines the star level of the site, which can range from one to five stars, with five stars being the best. A program that meets the state’s licensing requirements is considered a one-star program, so programs with 2-5 stars are going above and beyond what they are required to do and taking extra steps in the interest of giving every child a strong start on the path to an excellent education.

Program Ratings and Other QRIS Information

You can find out which early education sites in San Francisco stepped up to participate in the initial phase of the QRIS and how they did on each component of quality by clicking on the link below. Also included below are additional documents providing background on local and state QRIS efforts.