Research shows that quality childcare programs make a positive impact on children. In the dynamic world of early childhood education, maintaining high-quality childcare is crucial. The Childcare Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) sets the benchmark for educators and administrators focused on program quality. This article looks at the basics of QRIS. We share information about its:

  • structure
  • components
  • practical implications for professionals in the field

We also showcase successful QRIS systems across the United States. Explore the gold standard in childcare quality with our comprehensive insights.

What is QRIS?

The childcare Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) is a way to assess an early childhood education program. The goal is overall program improvement. It’s a comprehensive framework that also communicates quality. QRIS serves as a valuable tool for educators and administrators as it provides a structured approach to enhancing program quality. Research shows that quality programs help ensure positive outcomes for children.

Components of QRIS:

QRIS typically comprises a set of criteria and standards. These standards help evaluate different aspects of childcare programs. QRIS components often evaluate five areas including:

  • Learning Environment: Assessing the physical space, resources, and overall atmosphere of the childcare setting.
  • Curriculum and Instruction: Evaluating the educational materials, teaching methods, and the alignment with developmental milestones.
  • Health and Safety: Ensuring compliance with health and safety regulations. This includes staff-to-child ratios, emergency procedures, and sanitation.
  • Family Engagement: Recognizing the importance of involving families in the learning process. It also includes fostering positive relationships between educators and parents.
  • Professional Development: Supporting continuous learning for educators and encouraging relevant qualifications and training.

The QRIS Rating Levels

QRIS assigns rating levels to childcare programs based on how well they meet specific criteria. You might be familiar with these types of rating systems when you have tried to book a hotel or find a classy restaurant. A higher rating means better quality. Understanding these levels is important for educators and administrators who want to improve their programs.

Common Rating Levels:

While each QRIS system is different, most ratings begin by meeting a basic set of criteria. Programs can earn a higher rating when they go beyond the minimum criteria. Many states rate their programs using a system like this:

  • Basic: Programs meeting the minimum standards for quality.
  • Proficient: Programs demonstrating a higher level of quality, often through additional professional development and engagement.
  • Excellent: Programs excelling in all aspects, showcasing exemplary practices and providing a high-quality learning environment.

Advantages of Higher Ratings:

Having a higher star rating in the QRIS means that the program is really good at helping kids learn and grow. When a childcare program has a high star rating, it shows that:

  • the teachers are well-trained
  • the place is safe and clean
  • kids have a lot of fun learning there

This is important because it helps parents feel good about leaving their children there. Parents know their kids are in a place that takes good care of them and helps them get ready for school. Having more stars (or a higher rating) means the childcare place is doing an awesome job. There are other benefits too! These include:

  • Better Learning Outcomes: Programs with higher QRIS ratings are often associated with better learning outcomes for children. They provide a strong foundation for cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development.
  • Increased Parent Confidence: Parents want what’s best for their children. They often use QRIS ratings as a guide when choosing early care and education programs for their children. A higher rating signals to parents that a program is committed to quality and provides a safe and nurturing environment.
  • Professional Development Opportunities: Achieving a higher QRIS rating may involve ongoing professional development for staff. This not only benefits the program but also contributes to the continuous growth and learning of educators.
  • Access to Resources: Some regions offer financial incentives or additional resources to programs that attain higher QRIS ratings. This support can help programs maintain and improve their quality standards.
  • Community Recognition: Programs with higher QRIS ratings are often recognized and celebrated within the community. This recognition can lead to increased enrollment and community support. It also serves as a great marketing tool!
  • Continuous Improvement Culture: The QRIS system is designed to encourage ongoing self-assessment and improvement. Programs with higher ratings are likely to have a strong culture of continuous improvement. Programs stay current with the latest research and best practices.
  • Positive Impact on Staff Morale: Staff working in programs with higher QRIS ratings may experience a sense of pride and satisfaction. Staff know that they are contributing to the positive development of the kids they serve.

Implementing QRIS in Educational Settings

Implementing a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) in a childcare program involves a strategic approach from educators and administrators. To successfully navigate this process, you should consider the following steps:

  • Understand QRIS Guidelines: Begin by familiarizing yourself with the specific QRIS criteria and standards applicable to your region. This understanding is important. It forms the foundation for the entire implementation process.
  • Conduct a Self-Assessment: Engage in a comprehensive self-assessment of your childcare program against your state’s QRIS standards. Identify strengths and areas needing improvement collaboratively. From this assessment, set clear, achievable goals to improve program quality.
  • Prioritize Professional Development: Invest in ongoing professional development for educators. This includes workshops and training sessions. These keep educators updated on the latest research and best practices in early childhood education.
  • Align Curriculum: Ensure that your program’s curriculum aligns with QRIS standards. Make it developmentally appropriate, inclusive, and culturally sensitive. Incorporate evidence-based practices and age-appropriate activities to meet QRIS criteria for program content. You may already be using an accepted curriculum in your facility! Popular curriculums that meet this criterion include Creative Curriculum and HighScope.

Next steps:

  • Foster Family Engagement: Implement strategies to actively involve families in your childcare program. Regularly communicate with parents about their child’s development, involve them in decision-making. This will create a welcoming environment for family participation.
  • Implement Data-Driven Practices: Establish a systematic approach for collecting and analyzing data related to program quality. This data could include regular assessments, observations, and feedback. This input from parents and staff will inform decision-making. It will also help you identify areas for improvement.
  • Develop a Quality Improvement Plan: No childcare facility is perfect and there is always room to grow! Based on self-assessment and data analysis, create a clear quality improvement plan. This plan should outline specific steps and timelines for each goal. Regularly revisit and revise the plan for a dynamic and responsive approach to improvement.
  • Encourage Staff Collaboration: You will have a greater chance of employee buy-in if you include them in the process. Promote a culture of collaboration among staff members. Effective communication, regular staff meetings, and a shared commitment to quality are key. You want to create a cohesive team working towards common goals.
  • Maintain Organized Documentation: If you don’t have an organized way of record keeping, this is the perfect time to start! Keep thorough documentation of all aspects of your childcare program, including staff qualifications and training records. You will also want to keep evidence of curriculum implementation. Well-organized records facilitate the QRIS assessment process and demonstrate transparency and accountability.
  • Engage with the Community: Celebrate your achievement! Strengthen support for your childcare program by engaging with the community. Form partnerships with local organizations, participate in community events, and raise awareness about your program’s commitment to quality.

Navigating Challenges and Overcoming Barriers

Implementing QRIS isn’t always easy. Despite the numerous benefits, educators and administrators may encounter challenges. It is important to identify these challenges and developing strategies to overcome them. This can be vital for sustained success.

Resource Allocation:

Limited resources, both in terms of time and finances, can pose challenges. Educators and administrators must explore creative solutions. They need to leverage available resources effectively. Some of these solutions include:

  • Prioritizing key components
  • Exploring grant opportunities
  • Maximizing existing staff skills
  • Tapping into online resources

Prioritizing key components allows you to identify the most critical components of QRIS. These are the areas that align with your program’s mission. You can focus on areas that will have the biggest impact on quality improvement. This might include:

  • staff development
  • a curriculum enhancement
  • safety measures within the facility

Some of these improvements could actually be covered with a grant! Many organizations, both public and private, offer grants to support programs that are trying to increase quality. Staff may be able to apply for grants on their own to cover things like conference registration or credential fees.

Maximizing existing staff skills can also save money. By building on existing staff strengths, you can use a targeted approach to professional development. Instead of spending money on attending a large-scale conference, your dollars would go further paying for customized training content in a specific area.

Another money-saving strategy is to utilize online learning platforms to access training. Staff can access training materials at their own pace which promotes flexibility. NAEYC offers a variety of online courses through their Learning Lab that are very affordable!

Resistance to Change:

Resistance to change is a common hurdle. Educators and administrators should emphasize the positive impact of QRIS. They can gain support from staff and parents by highlighting the benefits. Some strategies to help gain buy-in from staff include:

  • Communication and Transparency: It is important that staff understand the purpose and benefits of QRIS. They need to know that quality improvement improves outcomes for children. Keep staff informed of any upcoming changes and allow for input.
  • Involve Staff in Decision Making: Take a participatory approach and involve staff in decision-making. During the planning stages, ask for their feedback and input to make sure their perspectives are considered.
  • Highlight Learning Opportunities: Make sure all staff are aware of the professional opportunities available to them with QRIS implementation. Your staff may be very excited about these new opportunities to develop their skills!
  • Implement Changes Gradually: QRIS implementation is an ongoing process. Changes should be implemented gradually and with careful thought. By going slow, staff can adjust to the new requirements and feel more confident in their role.

You will also need to get support from parents during QRIS implementation. Some tips to make this a positive experience for parents include:

  • Effective Communication: Explain any changes associated with QRIS to parents. Share information about how these changes will benefit their child. Emphasizing the benefits QRIS brings to the program can help build trust.
  • Hold a Q&A Session: You could hold an evening workshop or question and answer session to explain QRIS and address any parents’ concerns. This proactive approach can help parents understand the process and what to expect.
  • Solicit Parent Feedback: Establish a way for parents to provide feedback on what they are seeing. Parents should be encouraged to share their thoughts and suggestions. You’ll help parents feel as if they are part of a partnership by providing them with a process to give input.

Examples of QRIS Systems in the United States

At least 45 states have a QRIS system in place. We’ll take a look at five states with comprehensive systems in place so you can see how it works!


The QRIS system in Illinois is called ExceleRate. The system includes over 10,000 childcare programs. This comprehensive rating system includes:

  • Licensed Child Care Centers
  • Licensed Family/Group Child Care Homes
  • School-Based Preschool Programs
  • Head Start/Early Head Start Programs

Illinois uses a Circle of Quality rating system that begins with licensure and moves through Bronze, Silver, and Gold circles based on which standards are met. These standards are organized into four domains including:

  • Teaching and Learning
  • Family and Community Engagement
  • Leadership and Management
  • Qualifications and Continuing Education

A program can achieve one of the Circles of Quality based on how well it meets the standards under each domain. The foundational circle is based on licensing standards provided by Illinois DCFS. Licensed Circle of Quality providers are in compliance with state licensing standards. Programs that achieve the Bronze Circle of Quality are also licensed programs but have completed a robust set of trainings that align with the standards of ExceleRate. Silver Circle of Quality programs have met or exceeded quality benchmarks related to learning environment and instructional quality. They’ve also completed a rigorous self-assessment and continuous quality improvement process that is verified by an independent assessor. Finally, the Gold Circle of Quality includes programs that have demonstrated quality on all standards. Local Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies offer funds to help providers improve program quality to achieve a Circle of Quality.

ExceleRate Illinois offers providers with a Circle of Quality many different benefits. These include:

  • Family and Community Recognition: Tools and resources are available to promote your level of quality to families and the community. Logos for letterhead and personalized press releases are just some ways you can let families know about your achievement.
  • Child Care Assistance Program Add-on: Licensed centers with a Silver or Gold Circle of Quality who care for children on the Child Care Assistance Program can get a higher reimbursement rate from the state.

Illinois provides parents with an online directory that allows them to search for providers in their area at each of the Circle of Quality levels.


Texas features the Texas Rising Star QRIS system for its early childhood programs. They require all Child Care Services (CCS) regulated providers to participate in the program. The CCS program is administered through the Texas Workforce Commission. It provides scholarships for childcare to eligible parents. All providers must meet at least the Entry Level Designation to be part of the process and can move up after meeting the criteria. These levels are tied to graduated enhanced reimbursement rates for children who receive CCS scholarships. What does this mean for you? A provider with a higher star rating earns more money!

The Rising Star Program uses a star rating system to indicate levels of quality. Providers can earn two stars, three stars, or four stars depending on which criteria have been met.

The Rising Star certification levels are based on structural measures and qualitative measures for four different categories. These categories include:

  • Director and Staff Qualifications and Training (20%)
  • Teacher-Child Interactions (40%)
  • Program Administration (20%)
  • Indoor and Outdoor Environments (20%)

Programs that want to be a part of the Rising Star certification process must also have a permanent license or registration with Child Care Regulation (CCR) through Texas Health and Human Services. They must have a high level of compliance with CCR in the previous 12 months. The center director must also have an account created in the Workforce Registry and encourage their staff to create an account.

While the Texas Rising Star certification process is rigorous, it can have significant financial benefits for providers who provide quality care. This financial incentive is a great way to motivate providers to take their programs to the next level!


Quality Counts supports a network of local QRIS and QIS systems in California. Their goal is to raise the quality of early learning and care. Their approach to closing the education gap involves:

  • Prioritizing targeted communities
  • Providing access to resources for quality partners like trainers and coaches
  • Linking early educators to resources and supports
  • Informing parents about the importance of high-quality care
  • Offering information and research to policymakers about the value of investing of early childhood education.

This comprehensive system takes into consideration:

  • Families
  • Early Educators
  • Quality Partners
  • Policymakers

While some components of QRIS or QIS may look different between counties or service areas, each local system works with providers to enhance quality. They do this by:

  • creating individualized quality improvement plans
  • providing professional development opportunities and training for the workforce
  • rating eligible programs based on how well they meet the state’s program standards for quality

We’ll take a look at the system in place for Los Angeles to give an example of how QRIS works in California. Quality Start Los Angeles (QSLA) is the QRIS system for the county. In addition to the support strategies above, they also provide financial incentives based on the provider’s rating. Providers are awarded a tier rating based on quality indicators. Those on tiers 1-3 are eligible for a Quality Improvement Grant up to $4,000. Providers in tier 4 receive a $6,000 Quality Achievement Award and those in tier 5 earn $8,000. The incentive model also includes a Welcome Kit and tips for posting on social media. Providers can also receive QSLA-branded merchandise for teachers and directors.

New York

New York’s early childhood programs benefit from their QRIS program, QUALITYstarsNY. There are two primary goals of the program. These include giving:

  • young children in participating programs have access to excellence
  • families peace of mind that they chose a quality program for their child

The program operates in all 10 economic regions throughout the state. Over 2000 early childhood programs benefit from QUALITYstarsNY. The program is available to all regulated early childhood programs including both center and school-based programs.

QUALITYstarsNY has identified four key areas that impact the quality of an ECE program. These include:

  • the learning environment
  • family engagement
  • qualifications and experience of program staff
  • management and leadership of the entire ECE program

Providers are rated on a five-star scale every three years. Programs that participate benefit from:

  • support from a Quality Improvement Specialist
  • professional development opportunities and scholarships for staff
  • access to high-quality classroom materials
  • a data-driven assessment tool to inform the Quality Improvement Plan

Parents can use this directory to find a provider in their area. The directory gives parents information about the center and their star rating.


While Florida doesn’t have a statewide QRIS in place, there are several counties that have created their own QRIS. One of these counties is Palm Beach. Palm Beach County Afterschool Quality Improvement System (QIS) was developed to improve the quality of afterschool programs throughout the county. The program strives to improve quality by:

  • using the Palm Beach County Program Quality Assessment Tool
  • providing one-on-one consultation and technical assistance
  • offering specialized training

Programs must apply for QIS and those applications are reviewed twice per year. The best after-school programs provide evidence of a:

  • Solid Organizational Framework
  • Supportive Ongoing Relationships
  • Positive and Inclusive Environment
  • Challenging Learning Experiences
  • Family Outreach and Involvement

All programs that are accepted are designated a level of either entry, intermediate, or advanced based on their implementation of system practices. While the benefits to children and families are obvious, there are also benefits to providers. Participating providers can receive consultation, technical assistance, specialized training, and more to effectively develop and deliver high-quality out-of-school time experiences for children and youth.


The Childcare Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) is a powerful tool for educators and administrators committed to providing high-quality early childhood education. Providers can navigate the QRIS landscape by:

  • researching and understanding the components of their system
  • know the difference in rating levels
  • finding appropriate implementation strategies

QRIS systems help promote positive outcomes for children. Participating providers are establishing their programs as the gold standard of excellence in the field of childcare.