BUILD Initiative Blog | Advancing a Quality Agenda for Young Dual
Strong Foundations For Our Youngest Children

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Miriam Calderon, special projects at BUILDMiriam Elena Calderon
Special Projects

Young Dual Language Learners (DLLs) are getting more attention than ever before. The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge required states to be explicit about their efforts to ensure that more DLLs were served in high-quality programs. The prevalence of the use of term “dual language learner” connotes a greater awareness of the fact that these children are not just learning English – they are doing so while also trying to maintain and develop their home language.

There are now two federally funded research centers specific to young DLLs: The Center for Early Care and Education Research – Dual Language Learners and the National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness. Both have a focus that includes disseminating research-based practices for young DLLs.

Despite these important advances, a high-quality early childhood experience remains elusive for many young DLLs. Access to high-quality early childhood experiences is one issue. Even when young DLLs are fortunate enough to participate in programs that are deemed high quality, however, the experience may not be truly high quality for them.

The absence of an agreed-upon definition of what constitutes high quality early education practices for DLL children makes it difficult to make informed practice-related decisions in the classroom and in work with families, and even more difficult to monitor and evaluate the use of appropriate practices. Simply put, the early childhood field must evolve from a desire to serve young DLLs in culturally and linguistically appropriate and responsive environments to fully understanding what that means and what it looks like.

States’ efforts around establishing quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS) have the potential to lead to a common vision and more systematic approaches to meeting the needs of young DLLs and their families. In fact, a look at state efforts in QRIS development over time shows that progress is being made.

A review of QRISs in 2005 showed very limited incorporation of any items within QRISs of that time in rating child care homes and centers which addressed any aspects of diversity. Since then, state QRISs have begun to incorporate more indicators into their rating systems, which relate to issues of cultural and language, ranging from a focus on family-program communication, assessing materials in classroom environments, and requiring diversity training for staff.

A few states have established a separate category in their QRIS specifically developed to address issues of quality around the concepts of diversity, language, or inclusion.

A new BUILD paper, Measuring Quality of Practices for Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Children in Early Childhood Programs: Informing State Quality Rating & Improvement Systems (QRIS) reviews several tools and measures which can be useful to states as they continue to build their QRISs to promote high quality practices with culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) children and families.

What is critically important about these tools is that they have been designed specifically for the purpose of assessing practices in early care and education settings in terms of their cultural and linguistic appropriateness and responsiveness. Their use in QRIS systems can lead to greater intentionality and understanding about what is meant by culturally and linguistically appropriate practice. This will be a step forward for the field and for the goal of providing all children with a high-quality early childhood experience.

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