Improving Systems, Practices and Outcomes

Program Standards

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Early childhood programs across the country are developing program standards as the yard stick against which program quality is measured. Program standards may focus on the system policies (e.g. policies ensure that family supports, service coordination, transitions, and other practices occur in response to child and family needs rather than being determined by the age of the child), or may focus directly on services (e.g. appropriate ratio of children to adults throughout the day, teacher/provider level of education or training).

A variety of terms are used to communicate the same concept, including quality indicators, standards, readiness of schools, program outcomes and early learning standards. Variation also exists with respect to program standards established for typically developing children, children with disabilities, or all children. The National Program Standards Crosswalk Tool (2013) allows users to review and compare the content of various program standards available in the field (e.g., Head Start, accreditation, Caring for our Children). It was developed by the National Center on Child Care Quality Improvement (NCCCQI) in collaboration with a variety of agencies and organizations to help states that are developing and aligning early childhood (EC) program standards across sectors.

National/professional organization recommendations

State examples of program standards and quality indicators

  • WWW: Illinois Birth to Three Program Standards (2014) - Presents the standards and quality indicators that serve as the basis for the development, implementation and evaluation of high-quality birth to five programs in Illinois.
  • WWW: North Carolina School Readiness Assessment looks at both the condition of children when they enter school (Kindergarten) and the capacity of schools to educate all children, whatever each child's condition may be. The condition of children includes health and physical development, social and emotional development, approaches toward learning, language development and communication, and cognition and general knowledge. The readiness of schools includes: (1) knowledge of growth and development of typically and atypically developing children, (2) knowledge of the strengths, interests, and needs of each child, (3) knowledge of the social and cultural contexts in which each child and family lives, and (4) ability to translate developmental knowledge into developmentally appropriate practices.

Measurement tools

  • WWW: Environment Rating Scales are available to professionals serving young children through the FPG Child Development Institute. Scales include:
    • Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS-R), designed to assess group programs for children of preschool through kindergarten age, 2½ through 5;
    • Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale, Revised (ITERS-R), designed to assess group programs for children from birth to 2½ years of age;
    • Family Day Care Rating Scale (FDCRS), designed to assess family child care programs conducted in a provider's home;
    • School Age Care Environment Rating Scale (SACERS), designed to assess group-care programs for children of school age, 5 to 12.
  • PDF: Assessing Program Quality, National Center for Early Development and Learning, Spotlights No. 7, February 1999. The article discusses the NCEDL development of the Early Intervention Services Assessment Scale to comprehensively assess the quality of early intervention services.
  • IDEAs that Work: Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education

The ECTA Center is a program of the FPG Child Development Institute of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, funded through cooperative agreement number H326P170001 from the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the Department of Education's position or policy.

Project Officer: Julia Martin Eile     © 2012-2018 ECTA Center

  • UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute