What is Step Up To Quality?

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State ratings point to preschools that are really schools, not just child care.

By Patrick O'Donnell, The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio – What's the difference between a day care center and a preschool?

State law doesn't make a distinction. And you can't always believe what a center puts in its name and advertisements.

So Ohio is trying to give parents guidance through it's Step Up To Quality preschool rating system, which rates childcare centers from one to five stars based on how well they try to educate children.

The voluntary and still-growing program is designed to separate real preschools, where educating children is a priority, from day care centers that just keep kids safe and occupied until parents pick them up after work.

Centers earn progressively-higher ratings based on the strength of curriculum, qualifications of teachers and even whether a center measures a child's progress to find their strengths and weaknesses.

"It's not babysitting anymore," said Angel Rhodes, the top early childhood advisor to Gov. John Kasich.  "That doesn't move our kids toward learning. It's that mindset shift. Everything has a purpose."

That's an important shift from a time when people were worried mostly about having enough day care slots for working parents, said Billie Osborne-Fears, director of Starting Point. Cuyahoga County and three other counties hire Starting Point to guide parents to the right child services.

Today, she said, quality of child care matters as much as the quantity of it.

"Kids need some skills under their belt when they enter school," Osborne-Fears said. "The last thing a parent wants when a child enters kindergarten is that the child is not prepared and experiences failure."

Kids need to know their names, their numbers and the alphabet to succeed in kindergarten, she said. They also need to know how to behave and work with other children: That they can sit and work for a time, that they know sharing is important at school, that they can take turns, that they have to ask for things or express problems with words - not just with gestures.

The Step Up To Quality scoring structure assigns the ratings based on how seriously a school goes about teaching those age-appropriate skills, with a rating of three stars or above considered to be a quality program.

Consider the curriculum that each center uses: A facility earns one star if it is just working to find a research-based curriculum that meets state standards for early learning.  A facility can earn two stars if it has has developed or bought a curriculum, but is still training staff to use it.

A center advances to the three star rating - the point they are considered a quality provider - when they are using that curriculum in class.

Step Up To Quality has a similar progression for its other main scoring categories: the screenings and assessments uses with students, for the degrees teachers need to hold, for ongoing training of teachers, and how much interaction and feedback centers have with families.

For centers moving above three stars, the state has a series of ways a center can earn points to advance to the next level, all by improving things like staff management and education or curriculum and assessments.

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CitationO'Donnell, Patrick. "State Ratings Point to Preschools That Are Really Schools, Not Just Child Care." Cleveland.com. The Plain Dealer, 09 Jan. 2015. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.