Policy Resource

Washington Takes on the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge

Feb 9, 2016

In December 2011, Washington 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 proposed to:

  • Implement a tiered subsidy reimbursement for licensed centers and family child care homes participating in the quality rating and improvement system (QRIS).
  • Offer coaching and quality improvement awards to ELD programs that have been rated in the QRIS.
  • Develop training on Early Learning and Development Benchmarks (birth to five), which were being revised at the time.

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

  • The Department of Early Learning (now part of the Department of Children, Youth and Families), in partnership with the community and technical college system, created a three-stage stackable certificate in early childhood education, which aligns with the newly adopted Core Competencies and Early Learning and Development Guidelines. The certificates utilize consistent course numbers, course descriptions, and learning objectives. They build on each other to lead to a state credential that articulates into an Associate degree. The second certificate allows professionals to specialize in one of several areas, including infant-toddler care. All three certificates are reflected on the career lattice and eligible for professional development incentives.
  • Washington implemented a trainer approval process to ensure that state-approved trainers who deliver required continuing education are content experts and have knowledge and expertise in adult learning. Individuals who deliver training on the state’s Early Learning and Development Guidelines and Executive Function must demonstrate competency with infants and toddlers.
  • Washington began statewide implementation of Early Achievers, the state’s QRIS, in July 2012. Over 1,000 early learning facilities are currently participating. Some regions are intentionally connecting Early Achievers with their Infant/Toddler Child Care (I/T CC) Consultation Initiative, marketing I/T CC consultation as a readiness activity to prepare for participation in Early Achievers. I/T CC consultants work with licensed child care providers to help them support the needs of infants and toddlers.

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

  • DEL continued to improve internal infrastructure and systems to support the ongoing management of the RTT-ELC reform areas. The state strengthened its internal program integration at DEL, enabling stronger alignment of resource sharing and creating efficiencies between DEL’s programs. The state also increased its focus in a state subsidy system by aligning with the QRIS.
  • Washington expanded the participation rate in Early Achievers and the number of sites rated Levels 3-5 in 2014. Total participation in Early Achievers reached 2,448 at the end of 2014, reaching 43% of licensed providers. 262 licensed providers had been rated at a Quality Level of Excellence (Levels 3-5) in 2014. The state also implemented several policies that provided incentives for continued high participation rates that were coupled with advancement through the quality levels.
  • The state was able to strengthen the support structure for Early Achievers in 2014 through its participation in the RTT-ELC grant. In 2014 the state implemented Early Achievers Institutes which were offered by the University of Washington to provide additional support on the Early Achievers Standards to participants.
  • The state focused on strengthening its professional development system and opportunities by streamlining its Managed Education Registry and Information Tool (MERIT), professional development registry. This allowed early learning professionals to have their credentials verified more quickly and consistently. Over 900 scholarships were awarded through 22 state colleges through RTT-ELC grant funding.

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

  • The DEL continued to improve the internal infrastructure and systems to support the ongoing management of the RTT-ELC reform areas and grant management. The passage of the Early Start Act (ESA) provided significant new resources for early learning, including internal capacity at the DEL.
  • Early Achievers expanded participation rates and the number of sites rated at Levels 3-5 in 2015 through its participation in the RTT-ELC grant. In 2015, over 2,400 licensed centers and family homes participated in Early Achievers, or 46.9% of all licensed providers. 2015 saw a significant increase in early care and education settings attaining higher levels of quality in Early Achievers – over 500 licensed child care and family homes were rated at a Level 3, 4, or 5.
  • Development of the support structure for Early Achievers had been enhanced in Year 4 of the RTT-ELC grant. Child Care Quality Baselines (CCQB) were developed as a tool to help provide a bridge between the Level 2 activities and the rating process. CCQBs were developed and piloted in the winter of 2014, and the tool was scaled statewide in 2015.
  • Professional development capacity continued to be strengthened throughout 2015. Almost 3,000 facility administrators completed the Strengthening Families training, and almost 11,000 professionals completed the Early Learning Guidelines training. In the fall of 2015, DEL, in partnership with the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, developed a career planning portal that allows students the opportunity to explore career options in early learning, roles, qualifications and desirable degrees.

As of 2016, Washington had made the following progress towards its proposed ELD systems:

  • One of the state’s original goals was to expand the QRIS system at a scale that promoted quality improvements and improved access to quality for high-needs children. Through RTT-ELC funding, the state was able to design and strengthen its QRIS. As of December 2016, there were almost 4,000 child care centers, family home child care providers, and ECEAP/Head Start providers participating in Early Achievers.
  • The state also hoped to build strong alignment between new professional development guidelines and system elements. The state was able to administer Washington Scholarships for Child Care Professionals (WA Scholarships) and support educators working towards their Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, state stackable certificate, and AA/AAS or BA degree in Early Childhood Education. Since July 1, 2012, the WA Scholarships program awarded over 2,800 scholarships to over 1,900 individual early childhood education professionals. As a part of the state’s original goal, the Early Achievers Institutes were created to provide additional support on the Early Achievers Standards to participants. Sessions and handouts were made available in English, Spanish and Somali with a focus on language diversity and a stronger focus on supporting children with special needs.

Washington’s early learning systems have been profoundly impacted by the RTT-ELC grant. This grant enabled Washington to build a strong foundation of quality, test and refine delivery systems, and validate the state’s approaches. When Washington received the RTT-ELC grant in 2011, Early Achievers was a small pilot program. Now, the program has attained scale across the state, has a clear set of supports for providers to increase their quality, and has significant public and political support to ensure its future. As a result of the structures that were built, the Washington Legislature passed The Early Start Act, which sustains and builds upon the progress of the RTT-ELC grant.

Learn more about Washington 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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