Policy Resource

Rhode Island Takes on the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge

Feb 9, 2016

In December 2011, Rhode Island was awarded a four-year Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant and proposed the following targets to improve its early learning and development (ELD) systems.

The state originally proposed to:

  • Develop Early Learning Standards for Infants and Toddlers. Along with the Preschool Early Learning Standards, they would form the basis for program standards, workforce knowledge and competency frameworks, curricula, and child assessments.
  • Offer program quality improvement contracts (ranging from $1,000 to $10,000) to ELD programs serving high numbers of children receiving child care subsidies.
  • Expand Watch Me Grow to provide reliable developmental screening in primary health care settings in communities with large numbers of high-need children.

As of 2013, Rhode Island had made the following progress towards its proposed ELD systems.

  • The state developed new Early Learning and Development Standards for Children Birth to Five. The Board of Education voted to adopt them in May 2013. The state had originally planned to create standards for infants and toddlers separately from its pre-K standards, but decided that a single document with a birth-to-five continuum would better allow parents and practitioners to understand and support young children’s development.
  • In recognition that child care providers serving infants have higher costs, Rhode Island structured its quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS) Program Quality Awards to support infant care for children up to 18 months old. Centers and homes that offer infant care at BrightStars levels 3, 4, and 5 are eligible to receive Program Quality Awards. The awards are intended to offset increased operating costs for programs at higher quality levels.
  • The state began accepting applications for Interim Quality Improvement grants in April 2013. Licensed child care centers and public preschool programs can apply for up to $30,000 and licensed family child care homes can apply for up to $5,000 to support their quality improvement plans. The Departments of Education and Human Services will jointly award grants until the $400,000 funding pool is expended; in July 2013, the Departments intended to make approximately $5 million available for a second round of funding.
  • Part C Early Interventionists are piloting the use of Teaching Strategies Gold (TSG), a formative assessment tool used for ongoing planning and monitoring. The state hopes use of TSG will improve the transition of children from Part C to Part B. TSG is already used by all preschool special education classrooms and state-funded pre-kindergarten classrooms.

As of 2014, Rhode Island had made the following progress towards its proposed ELD systems:

  • Over 75% of all Rhode Island early care and education programs were rated in BrightStars. In 2014, the state transitioned nearly 94% of Starting Star CCAP programs to a rating by increasing communication and outreach and by fully implementing a package of resources and supports designed to help support the costs of improving program quality and/or maintaining program quality.
  • In 2014, Rhode Island conducted a facilities study regarding the overall condition of Rhode Island early learning facilities, with a focus on issues that presented barriers to meeting and maintaining licensing standards, including group size. The report following the study resulted in the state of Rhode Island issuing a contract to the Local Initiatives Support Corporation to implement grants and technical assistance related to facilities in December of 2014.
  • The Workforce Knowledge and Competencies (WKC) for Professional Development (PD) Providers were completed in 2014. The WKCs for PD Providers included five domains: professionalism, building relationships, knowledge of content, supporting adult learners, and evaluating outcomes. The competencies also set minimum expectations for each role in terms of level of education, years of experience, and ongoing PD.
  • Rhode Island opened its statewide PD and Technical Assistance Center in 2014. The Center for Early Learning Professionals (The Center) opened in March of 2014 and was designed to provide high-quality PD aligned with the WKCs, offer technical assistance, implement an information line, and offer resources such as program quality improvement grants. The Center’s services were designed to work collaboratively with the state’s TQRIS in order to improve workforce competencies and skills, and to support a culture of continuous quality improvement within the early care and education community.
  • Rhode Island launched a new bachelor’s degree program to support the early learning workforce in 2014. The Rhode Island College Institute for Early Childhood Teaching and Learning began its inaugural semester in the fall of 2014 with 20 students in the Early Childhood Learning Prek-2 bachelor’s degree program.

As of 2015, Rhode Island had made the following progress towards its proposed ELD systems:

  • BrightStars participation increased 8% in 2015. By the end of 2015 there were a total of 739 programs, or 83% of all eligible programs that were rated in BrightStars. Within that participation rate, 9% of programs had reached the higher tiers – levels 4 or 5. In addition, 13 programs had achieved the state’s highest quality level for one or more classrooms. Additionally, Rhode Island succeeded in supporting 38 programs to maintain their star ratings upon conversion to the 2013 BrightStars standards and 64 programs increased their star rating.
  • In 2015, Rhode Island achieved National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation at the Community College of Rhode Island, offered professional development to 3,111 early care and education professionals, and released a workforce registry.
  • Rhode Island made measurable progress in implementing appropriate developmental screening approaches for all children, including dual-language learners, by strengthening developmental screening systems, promoting screening for children ages birth to five, and providing evidence-based interventions to high-risk children. Rhode Island’s strategies included implementing a developmental-screening public awareness campaign, continuous quality improvement of screening protocols in pediatric offices, grants to support evidence-based interventions for children, modifications to the existing KIDSNET data system to include child outreach screening and supporting the development of a comprehensive assessment system in Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education.

In addition to items noted above, Rhode Island made the following progress towards its proposed ELD systems in the final year of the grant:

  • 81.5% of early care and education programs in Rhode Island engaged with and were rated in the state’s TQRIS – BrightStars
  • 703 programs had a quality improvement plan in place.
  • 428 programs engaged in research-based technical assistance to improve their program quality.
  • 386 parents received training on the state’s early learning and development standards and over 211 facilitators were trained.
  • More than 14,800 children received a developmental screening through their primary care office.
  • More than 7,000 children had access to safer facilities, high-quality learning materials and high-quality curriculum through a LISC facilities grant.

Learn more about Rhode Island and how other states are using RTT-ELC funds to strengthen their early childhood systems in ZERO TO THREEs papers:

Updated July 2018.

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