The development of this short policy document was supported by the Atkinson Charitable Foundation, the Lawson Foundation and the Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation.
Increasing numbers of young children are being cared for and educated outside of their homes. Ontario’s early learning agenda is dramatically changing the early childhood education and care (ECEC) landscape. Over the next few years Junior and Senior Kindergarten programs, which are currently half-day programs, will become full day programs. As public spending and children’s exposure tthese programs increase, it is essential that we monitor the quality of services children receive. Having a strategy for monitoring the quality of programs is part of the blueprint outlined by Charles Pascal in “With our Best Future in Mind”. This Q & A briefly addresses key questions about what such a monitoring system should look like.
Why should we assess quality in early childhood education programs?
- Quality improvement. Quality measures provide useful feedback tstaff and teachers that can be used tinform and improve their practice.
- Accountability. Quality measures provide objective information about services. This information allows for informed policy making as programs are refined and resource allocation decisions are made.
- Public education. Quality measures provide parents with information about programs they may be considering for their children.
What should we look for when assessing program quality?
- Provide children with warm and nurturing environments.
- Provide children with access tactivities and materials that they can interact with and that have been selected by educators tfurther specific educational goals.
- Provide children with useful and supportive feedback about their own performance.
- Meet the needs of children from diverse backgrounds whhave different learning needs.
- Facilitate the connection between home and the early childhood education program.
- Provide good adult:child ratios with low staff turnover. Have experienced staff with early childhood education backgrounds.
Who should be assessed?
How should we monitor ECEC program quality?
- Fairly. In order for assessments to be fair the measures must be valid (i.e., they must measure what they claim to measure) and reliable (i.e, they must be applied consistently across assessors, programs and time).
- Objectively. In order to avoid self-presentation biases in self-reported (i.e., survey) measures, assessments need to include an observational component. The observers conducting the assessments must be third parties who are independent of the ECEC program. Another advantage of observational measures is that they are likely to generate useful feedback for quality improvement purposes.
- Efficiently. In our resource constrained reality we need to balance the costs of conducting assessments with funds available for investing in the ECEC programs themselves. Given that assessments can be expensive we need to find efficient ways to get information about program quality. For example, childcare licensing specialists could collect information beyond what they currently collect. Even small incremental investment in the information gathered could be very useful in monitoring program quality.
Which measures should we use?
When and where should ECEC quality monitoring assessments be conducted?
- Quality monitoring needs to happen on an ongoing basis. It is necessary to balance cost, fairness and quality of feedback in deciding on an assessment schedule. Different localities have tried different lag times between assessments. While annual assessments are fairly common they may be too costly to sustain over time. Decisions about assessment schedules should be tested as currently there is little empirical basis for making these decisions.
- Assessments must be conducted in individual classrooms within programs. Additional research is needed to determine whether all classrooms need to be assessed, or whether it is possible to focus on a subset of classrooms in any one assessment cycle.