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Study: Preschool Evaluation Tool Does Not Track With Child Outcomes

The Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale-Revised, an assessment of preschool quality that is a common factor in the quality rating and improvement systems in place in many states, has little connection to the academic, language, and social functioning of children evaluated at age 5, according to a study published in the spring 2014 edition of the journal Education Finance and Quality

In addition, children with more exposure to risk factors also didn't appear to derive any academic or behavioral benefit from centers that earned higher ratings under the ECERS-R, the study says.

The ECERS-R currently consists of 43 evaluated elements which are divided into seven subcategories, such as "space and furnishings," "personal care routines" and "language-reasoning." A score of 1 is considered to be inadequate quality, 3 is minimal quality, 5 is good quality, and 7, the top of the scale, is excellent quality.

In the study, the researchers used data collected through the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study by the National Center for Education Statistics. About 800 children were a part of the study, and trained observers evaluated the quality of their preschool programs using the ECERS-R tool. The paper's findings were that children, including children deemed to be at-risk, failed to benefit more from preschool programs deemed to meet medium or high levels of quality compared those that were low quality.

This finding is important because scores on the ECERS-R are a major part of the QRIS programs, which generally give preschools star ratings based on the combination of several measures of quality. An earlier study published by the same research team found that QRIS star ratings also don't appear to relate to children's academic and social skills. 

Terri J. Sabol, a postdoctoral fellow at Institute for Policy Research  at Northwestern University and the lead author of this study, said in an interview with Education Week  that the assessment may be useful in ensuring that centers meet a certain baseline level of quality—indeed, studies of the ECERS-R tool conducted in the 1990s and early 2000s found a positive relationship between children's development and high ratings on the scale, and the scale may have been essential in prompting programs to meet certain levels of structural quality, the study suggests.

But now that preschool centers are mostly meeting the broad standards that the ECERS-R looks for, it may be necessary to develop a more finely-grained tool, Sabol said. "Maybe we need more nuanced measures of quality."

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