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Thousands of California early ed programs receive first quality ratings

March 7, 2016
AssessmentOutcomesQuality and CurriculumState & Local
Michael Collier

California’s system, which has assessed the quality of early education sites throughout the state in the past year, answers for the first time a longstanding question for parents with children in child care: How can the quality of their kids’ programs be measured in a meaningful way that parents can understand? The San Jose center’s top-tier rating, and the ratings of more than 3,000 other sites across the state, have been posted publicly, online and at many childcare sites. Parents now can discern how their center stacks up against others, what improvements are needed and whether they should look for another program that may better suit their child’s needs. After these initial scores, each site will be rated every two years.

Provider participation in the rating system has exceeded expectations. As of Feb. 24, nearly 3,300 programs have been rated. The latest numbers surpass the state’s target by 33 percent, and are likely to increase in March, said Cecelia Fisher-Dahms, an administrator in the state Department of Education, which is leading the effort with help from nearly four dozen counties that are sending experts to visit and rate sites.

In 2012 and 2013, California received $75 million in two grants from the federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge program to build a rating system to help improve the quality of childcare and preschool programs. Research has shown that children in high-quality programs are likely to do better in school, have higher incomes as adults and avoid high-risk behaviors. Other studies have found that for low-income students in particular, one or two years of early education are not enough to sustain achievement gains, and current statewide efforts are emphasizing improvements in programs that serve those children. In California, 90 percent of low-income children live in 45 of the state’s 58 counties, which is why the state is focusing its quality-rating efforts on those counties.