Assessing QRIS as a change agent.

By Barnett, W. S. & Goffin, S.G. (2015).

This opening commentary presents the catalyst for organizing a special theme issue on QRIS as a Change Agent and summarizes its 12 articles. A brief assessment of the “state of QRIS” is offered, followed by a suggestion of two additional policy approaches worthy of consideration by policymakers as part of efforts to increase the availability of consistently strong early childhood education programs for young children.

Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) as a Change Agent was initiated as a special theme issue of the Early Childhood Research Quarterly with a Call for Papers (Call) issued in Spring 2012. Edited by Steve Barnett, Stacie Goffin, and Kimberly Boller, the Call observed that QRIS had evolved over the previous ten years from a seldom-used approach for informing parents about child care quality to a ubiquitous tool for standardizing states’ early care and education (ECE) programs. The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge made QRIS a centerpiece of its grant application, pushing QRIS forward as the linchpin in ECE systems-building activities. More than half of all states have QRIS, and the remaining have them in development (Office, 2014). Initially developed as a market-based strategy for improving program quality, QRIS has become a delivery system for professional development and, more recently, been positioned as an accountability tool revolving around child outcomes (Zellman & Karoly, 2012). As Boller and Kelly (2014, in this issue) note in their commentary, QRIS’s range of purposes adds to the complexity of assessing their effectiveness as a change agent.