Mission & Outcomes

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What is a QRIS?

The quality of early childhood education settings can vary dramatically within a state. Since the late 1990’s, states have turned to a Quality Recognition and Improvement System (QRIS) as a systemic way to recognize, improve, and communicate the quality of early childhood education programs.

A QRIS is composed of five common elements:

  1. Early childhood education program standards
  2. Supports for programs and professionals
  3. Financial incentives
  4. Quality assurance and monitoring
  5. Consumer education

QRISs are designed to:

  • Provide a quality framework with supports for early childhood education programs that guides practices and support the learning environment
  • Help early childhood education programs achieve high quality
  • Support early childhood educators with coaching and education to advance skills and knowledge
  • Help families become informed about quality and find high-quality early childhood education programs
  • Promote accountability so policy makers and funders feel confident about investing in quality early childhood education

As states and the federal government increase investment in early childhood education, a QRIS can also serve as an engine for a state’s efforts to build early childhood systems. QRIS institutionalizes and sustains cooperation among early childhood stakeholders in government, as well as educators, researchers, and community leaders. In doing so, it can even promote communication and improve alignment between the early childhood and K-12 education systems.

National QRIS History

Initially designed as a consumer education tool and as a mechanism to build upon minimum health and safety standards, the first state sponsored and administered Quality Rating System (QRS) was launched in Oklahoma in 1998. By 2005, ten states had adopted a QRS including North Carolina, Kentucky, Maryland, Montana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Colorado, and the District of Columbia. During this period of rapid development and system implementation, some states added the ‘I’ for improvement to QRS, placing an intentional focus and emphasis on improvement, not just rating.

According to the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) Compendium, there are 40 operational QRISs in 38 states (Florida and California operate several county QRIS programs within their states). States have implemented QRISs in various phases, dependent on resources, partnerships, and state policies. For example, all of the statewide QRISs allow child care centers and Head Start/ Early Head Start programs to participate. Twenty-one of the statewide QRISs allow school-age programs to participate, and all but two allow family child care homes to participate in their QRIS. Twenty of the statewide QRISs allow state-funded prekindergarten programs to participate as well. In July 2016, Alaska joined over 40 states and territories with a QRIS. Learn more about Alaska’s QRIS history.