States Increase Number of Highly Rated Early Education Programs, but Higher Ratings Aren’t Linked to Better Outcomes for Children

New Publications Review State Efforts to Promote Quality Using Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge Grants
Apr 30, 2019

Race to the Top Early Learning ChallengeStates that received grants under the Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) initiative increased the percentage of early childhood education programs that participate in a quality rating system and achieve top rating levels, according to new findings released by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES). But children attending higher-rated programs generally did not have better developmental outcomes than those attending lower-rated ones. The report and two briefs are from the multiyear evaluation of RTT-ELC conducted by Mathematica.

RTT-ELC grants (totaling more than $1 billion over three rounds of grants) helped states develop and implement systems, known as tiered quality rating and improvement systems (TQRIS), that aim to improve the quality of early childhood education programs. These systems establish rigorous standards to define quality, rate programs based on these standards, and publicize the ratings of individual programs. States use supports and incentives to encourage programs to participate in TQRIS and earn higher ratings.

States that received RTT-ELC grants were expected to make progress in five areas related to TQRIS:

  • Developing and adopting a common statewide TQRIS
  • Promoting participation in TQRIS
  • Rating and monitoring programs
  • Promoting access to high quality programs for high-needs children
  • Validating the effectiveness of the TQRIS

The three new publications focus on the last two areas by examining whether programs participating in TQRIS attained top rating levels and whether ratings convey meaningful differences in program quality. A previous report from the same evaluation examined progress in the first three areas. Findings from these four publications are summarized in an IES Study Highlights.

The following are key findings from the new publications:

  • From 2012 to 2016, the Round 1 grant period, TQRIS participation increased in all nine Round 1 states. By 2015, eight of the nine states had statewide TQRIS (Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington), and California had TQRIS in 16 of its 58 counties.

  • Although most states increased the percentage of programs rated at top TQRIS levels, most center-based programs (that is, programs operating in community- or school-based settings) remained at the same rating level during the study period. Most of the programs rated at the top two levels at the end of the study period had achieved that rating before the first year examined or at TQRIS entry (73 percent), rather than improving their rating over time. Differences across states in the percentages of programs in the top two rating levels appear to be associated with some characteristics of states’ TQRIS. For example, states that had implemented TQRIS for 10 years or more had higher percentages of programs in the top two rating levels than other states.

  • According to states’ validation studies, children attending programs with higher TQRIS ratings generally did not have better developmental outcomes than those attending programs with lower TQRIS ratings. Children attending higher-rated programs had significantly better outcomes, on average, than those attending lower-rated programs in only two of nine developmental domains (comprehension and motor skills). And only two of the nine states (Delaware and Washington) had a significant positive finding for any domain.

“The child development findings underscore a challenge in implementing TQRIS to meet multiple goals,” said Gretchen Kirby, a senior researcher at Mathematica and the lead author of one of the briefs. “States design their systems to draw attention to multiple dimensions of quality that are important. But some dimensions, particularly those at the program level such as management and administration, might not be as directly related to children’s experiences as what happens in the classroom.”

Read the new briefs and report using the following links:

Study Highlights: Implementation of Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement Systems in States that Received Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge Grants

Moving on Up? Program Quality Ratings Under Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge

Quality Ratings and System Characteristics: Patterns in the Round 1 Race to the TopEarly Learning Challenge States

Are Ratings from Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement Systems Valid Measures of Program Quality? A Synthesis of Validation Studies from Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge States


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