"Standards, Curriculum, and Assessment in Early Childhood Education: Comparing States’ Preschool Curricula Mandates and QRIS"
SRCD 2019 Biennial Conference
March 21-23, 2019
Title: Standards, Curriculum, and Assessment in Early Childhood Education: Comparing States’ Preschool Curricula Mandates and QRIS
Session: Holding Early Childhood Education Accountability Systems Accountable: Findings from Classroom, State, and National Level Analyses
Authors: Annamarie Auger Whitaker, Jade Jenkins, Jennifer Duer
Abstract: To generate systematic improvements in the early learning experiences of children in public early childhood education (ECE) programs, it is important that researchers, administrators, and policymakers understand the policy levers currently in place that aim to improve the effectiveness of ECE programs. Our study focuses on three policy levers: (1) early learning standards; (2) curricula; and (3) Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). Early learning standards created by state or local governments provide ECE programs with guidelines on content, skills, or knowledge children should have prior to kindergarten entry. These standards are used as indicators of quality by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER, 2018). National, state, and local policies in some cases also mandate that ECE programs use published curricula to shape preschool program instructional quality and cultivate classroom experiences that promote child development. Additionally, in their efforts to regulate program quality and in response to the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Grants mandates, states have either adopted or are in the process of introducing QRIS. Ratings in QRISs are typically based on classroom observations and basic structural information about the program, including curricula, and attempt to capture key features of ECE processes that promote children’s school readiness.
To examine the intersections of these three major policies, we compiled a 50-state dataset from multiple sources to examine preschool early learning standards, curricular guidelines, and QRISs in 2017 to conduct a descriptive analysis of policy integration. Standards and curricular policies were coded from all 50-states, and QRIS information was coded for the 41 states with operating QRISs. We analyzed data separately at the infant-toddler and preschool level. Specifically, we sought to answer: To what extent are preschool curricula or early learning standards included in state or local QRISs, and at what rating levels? If included, which curricular packages are recommended across states QRISs? Does the inclusion of curricular or early learning standards in QRIS vary by infant-toddler or preschool recommendations?
Our findings indicate that the majority of QRISs mention curricula in both their infant-toddler and preschool scales, but only 10 states listed specific curricular packages. The most popular curricula named in both QRIS levels were HighScope and Creative Curriculum, aligning with prior research on curricula use in center-based ECE (Jenkins & Duncan, 2017). Early learning standards in QRISs tell a similar story; only 11 state QRISs at the infant-toddler level and 13 at the preschool level include alignment with state early learning guidelines in their rating scales. Follow-up analyses will examine the lead agencies responsible for QRIS to assess the extent to which ECE systems are dispersed amongst multiple agencies. Overall, our preliminary findings show a general misalignment amongst key state ECE improvement policies. While all states have early learning standards, less than a third of states with QRISs integrate standards in their rating scales. Even fewer states integrate curricular standards. Researchers and policymakers should closely examine why key ECE policy levers are relatively siloed, and whether each component is redundant or uniquely add value.