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With BUILD’s emphasis on helping early learning leaders improve their quality improvement systems, Executive Director Susan Hibbard was pleased to be interviewed recently by The Colorado Independent on the topic for an article that appeared in our last newsletter. One point made was that while some child care providers are choosing not to pursue changes required for higher ratings, Colorado Shines has experienced significant success throughout the state.

Another point, from BUILD’s perspective, to come out of that article is that a major challenge to all Quality Rating and Improvement Systems is financing—adequate funding for both the infrastructure to improve quality but also for the programs in increasing quality. Quality improvement should not just be another burden on fragile, underfunded early learning programs. For more information on this, check out BUILD’s recent paper on Finance and Quality Rating and Improvement Systems

In response to the interview in The Colorado Independent, Colorado's Office of Early Childhood, the implementer of Colorado Shines, authored this week's blog.


By Stacey Kennedy, Director, Child Care Quality Initiatives

The Office of Early Childhood (OEC) at the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) is very encouraged by the level of engagement in Colorado Shines - the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) - since its implementation in 2015, and is confident that participation will continue to grow.

The Five Quality Levels

Colorado Shines engages early care and learning providers serving children five years of age or younger at five quality levels. Child care licensing is embedded as the first quality level rating; however, providers have the option to seek higher levels of quality. Level 1 indicates a provider is licensed and in good standing with the State of Colorado, and meets basic health and safety standards. At a Level 2, the provider has met additional professional development requirements. At Levels 3-5, programs are considered high quality. At these levels, programs have been assessed and rated based on points earned in five categories: workforce qualifications, family partnerships, administration, learning environment, and child health.

Gains in Rating Levels

A recent article in Chalkbeat highlighted a few early care and learning programs that have chosen not to pursue a higher rating levels in Colorado Shines. While some programs choose not to increase their rating, the OEC has demonstrated significant gains at each rating level:

  • In July 2015, only 20% of eligible providers were engaged. As of March 2017, almost 46% of providers eligible for a Colorado Shines rating had at rating of Level 2 or higher.
  • At the beginning of 2016, only two programs were rated at Level 5. That number jumped to 45 in May 2017. During this same time period, Level 4 programs grew from 364 to 437.
  • Prior to implementing the Colorado Shines QRIS, the state’s Quality Rating System was operated by a private nonprofit. Programs opted into the rating system and had to pay to be rated. Only about 10% of licensed early care and learning programs participated under this system.  Colorado Shines provides rating assessment for free, and offers financial incentives to help offset the cost of quality improvement.
Working Toward Increased Participation in Colorado Shines

In a recent survey of Colorado Shines Level 1 programs conducted by Child Trends research center, providers identified reasons that they would engage in Colorado Shines and increase their quality rating level. The top four reasons were:

  • Access to valuable professional development opportunities;
  • Access to quality incentive grants;
  • Opportunity to attracting families to the program; and
  • Opportunity to participate in cutting edge, innovative early childhood education initiatives.

The survey also asked about reasons programs would choose not to increase their rating. The top three reasons according to the same survey were:

  • Concern that the rating will not accurately reflect the quality of their program;
  • Belief that a higher rating is unnecessary to attract families; and
  • A perception that the rating process is difficult.

The Office of Early Childhood is working hard to better understand and alleviate these concerns. One of the most important steps to doing that is to help programs understand the variety of benefits offered by Colorado Shines and the process of attaining a higher rating level. It’s also important for providers to understand that Colorado Shines is a flexible rating system, helping programs develop and implement a customized quality improvement plan that meets their needs and aligns with their educational philosophy. These plans can be implemented slowly or quickly, depending on each program’s needs.

Moving Forward 

As Colorado Shines grows, awareness of the ratings will also grow. The OEC is striving to make Colorado Shines a responsive, parent-driven system, increasing demand for quality ratings and high-quality early care and learning programs, which will make the rating system even more valuable to providers. The OEC continues to dedicate resources to supporting providers through the rating process, and making the steps clear through coaching and technical assistance. In order to achieve greater engagement levels, the OEC is committed to continued investments in research to best understand real or perceived barriers to quality rating and improvement. It also looks forward to better serve providers in order to give Colorado’s children an early and strong start in high quality early care and learning programs.

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