About Quality Ratings

Studies show that children who participate in high quality preschool are better off than their counterparts in many ways. Investments in high quality early learning result in improved rates of high school graduation, years of education, adult employment, and higher life-long earning potential. Children who participate in high-quality early care and education settings also have higher outcomes in physical and social-emotional health*.

San Diego County’s Quality Preschool Initiative is a systemic approach to assessing, improving, and communicating the level of quality in early care and education programs. The Quality Preschool Initiative engages a variety of program types in its Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), including center-based preschools and infant/toddler programs as well as family child care homes. All participating programs are dedicated to working toward high quality care and education by addressing key elements of quality within their program. Points can be earned on a scale of 1-5 in each of seven elements, and a site’s total score determines their tier rating, which is also on a scale of 1-5. While participation at any level demonstrates a program’s commitment to quality, programs earning tier ratings of 4 or 5 have implemented many specific practices to ensure a high quality program for children.

Here are a few important things to note about this rating system:

  • Regardless of their rating, all providers and educators who are included in QRIS are committed to quality and already have an expressed stake in quality improvement.
  • Ratings do not equate to letter grades that you would normally find in a report card. A QRIS rating is a comprehensive assessment that is based upon multiple elements, such as: how well the program incorporates child screening and assessment into its curriculum; teachers’ level of training and qualifications; the ratio between teachers and children; and the richness of the learning environment.
  • Each element of QRIS’s comprehensive assessment is considered when the rating for participating programs is ultimately calculated. The rating serves to give insight into the early learning program’s level of quality and commitment to continually improve quality.
  • In addition, many factors influence a family’s choice in choosing an early care and education program for their child beyond a number rating. Every child is different and every family has unique needs. Families who do consider the quality rating of a particular program may choose to focus on certain elements over others, depending on what is most important for them.




There are many additional elements of quality, which are currently unrated by the San Diego QRIS for a variety of reasons. These elements are still important areas of focus for building quality in early care and education settings, and families seeking the best learning environments for their young children may also consider these elements of quality care.

*Heckman, James. “Research Summary: The Lifecycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program.” The Heckman Equation. (2016)