Strengthening the Definition and Measurement of Family Partnership in Illinois' Quality Ratings and Improvement System for Early Childhood Education

Project: Research project

Project Details


Overview of Quality Rating and Improvement Systems Over the past decade, policymakers have dramatically expanded investment in Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) as a way to assess and improve the quality of early childhood education settings. This effort was galvanized in 2009 when the federal government authorized $500 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to fund the Race to the Top- Early Learning Challenge. Illinois received a Race-Top-Early Learning Challenge award in 2012 to expand and strengthen its QRIS. Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) attempt to address the need for systematic and widespread improvement of early childhood education quality by pushing beyond basic individual state licensure requirements. To do so, local professionals and key stakeholders select a set of quality indicators drawing on community-based definitions. States typically choose straightforward measures of structural quality, such as class size and teacher qualifications, as well as observations of children’s direct experiences in the classroom, such as teacher-child interactions or the global environment. Both structural and observational types of indicators are related, albeit modestly, to child outcomes in the preschool setting (Mashburn et al., 2008; Sabol, Hong, Pianta, & Burchinal, 2013). Need for Proposed Study Illinois, in addition to virtually all states in the country, has selected family partnership as a QRIS indicator of quality. Yet, there is a weak evidence base for states to draw upon when developing their measures for family partnership in these rating systems. Most states choose checklists that include the following items: (1) the frequency of parent-teacher conferences; (2) the frequency of written communication with families; (3) provision of a community resource list; (4) use of a bulletin board or suggestion boxes; and (5) inclusion/participation of parents in program development (Tout et al., 2010). Unfortunately, virtually no studies show that these family partnership items predict child outcomes (Sabol et al., 2013; Zellman, Perlman, & Setodji, 2008). As a result, using these indicators as targets for improvement may do little to improve the quality of children’s early environments. Moreover, most validation studies on QRIS focus solely on child outcomes despite the fact that many family partnership activities could also support parents. Family partnership and centers’ support of parents may promote parent involvement and parenting skills as well as parent wellbeing, such as their mental health and educational advancement (Sabol & Chase-Lansdale, 2015). Moreover, early childhood education programs that develop close partnerships with parents in the context of a safe and trusting environment may not only help parents succeed, but also their children. Measuring parent outcomes would allow us to test the dynamic relationships among family partnerships, parent outcomes, and child outcomes. The proposed study seeks to add new measures of family partnership, that are based on strong empirical and theoretical support, and examine the bi-directional associations among family partnership, parent involvement and parenting skills, parent wellbeing, and child outcomes. The proposed study will result in new measures and scientific evidence that could provide a foundation for states to strengthen their QRIS, program improvement efforts, and ultimately child development. Existing Illinois’ QRIS Validation Study Through Illinois’ Race-to-the-Top Early Learning Challen
Effective start/end date8/1/157/31/21


  • Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation (Agmt 05/15/2015)


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