Understanding the Quality Standards

The QUALITYstarsNY Standards were created by leading experts in the field of child development and early learning to provide New York State with a common framework for the elements of high quality in early childhood programs. The Standards are used to measure program quality in the QUALITYstarsNY rating process and provide programs with a roadmap for quality improvement based on best practice.

The Foundation for Program Star Ratings

The Standards are made up of distinct quality indicators that span several key areas of an early childhood program—from a program’s classroom environment to management practices. During the QUALITYstarsNY rating process, a program completes an assessment using the Standards to determine their Star Rating of 1-5 Stars.

When a program demonstrates that they meet a quality indicator, they earn points toward their rating score. For programs that receive a Provisional Rating of 1 or 2 Stars, their Provisional Rating becomes their program’s Active Rating and they can begin their quality improvement work. Programs Provisionally Rated 3-5 Stars will undergo an Environmental Rating Scale (ERS) assessment from an independent observation team, the results of which will be combined with their Standards Inventory points to determine the program’s Active Rating. If a program receives an average score of 4.25 or below on their ERS assessment, they will automatically decrease a Star level for their Active Rating. Learn more about the QUALITYstarsNY point system. 

Quality Standards Areas: Elements of a High Quality Early Childhood Program

 The QUALITYstarsNY Standards span four main areas: Learning Environment, Family Engagement, Qualifications & Experience, and Management & Leadership, which are broken down further into sub-areas within each of these main areas. Together, the Standards areas and sub-areas offer a blueprint for educators to assess and improve their program quality and to help parents identify high quality practices when choosing a child care program.

Classroom/Family Care Home Environment:

The Environment Rating Scale (ERS) is a well-known, evidence-based assessment tool used to measure the quality of an early childhood learning environment. Assessing the learning environment using the ERS can help a program determine how well they are creating a safe environment that provides the opportunities for learning and positive interactions that children need for healthy development. Educators are encouraged to use the ERS tool to examine their own program and use the results to plan to improve their learning environment. When used in the QUALITYstarsNY rating process, the ERS assessment is administered by a trained, independent observer.

Child Observation & Assessment:

Child observations should be conducted on a regular basis beginning when a child enters an early childhood program. Observations should be culturally appropriate, properly documented, and used in planning for children’s individual development.

Curriculum Planning & Implementation:

Using a curriculum to inform lesson plans and learning goals helps providers and families keep up with the needs of children as they grow and progress through developmental stages. The curriculum should be evidence-based and teacher should receive adequate training to appropriately use the curriculum and adjust lesson plans for individual children. QUALITYstarsNY recommends that programs use a curriculum or curriculum framework that has been proven to be effective and aligns with New York’s educational guidelines.

Physical Well-being and Health:

A child who eats a nutritionally balanced diet and is engaged in regular physical activity is on the path to lifelong healthy habits. QUALITYstarsNY recommends that all children, from infancy up, engage in regular physical activity and plenty of outdoor play. Early childhood programs should have limited screen time, serve balanced nutritious meals and snacks, and implement practices to support obesity prevention.


Robust and regular communication between educators and families is essential to create a strong partnership that supports a child’s healthy development. Early childhood programs should provide clear communication around program policies through  parent handbooks or similar materials. Parents should be kept informed about their child’s daily activities and have opportunities to meet with educators about their child’s development. Since a child’s development does not stop when they leave the classroom, early childhood programs are encouraged to help families create a support system by sharing information about child development and social and financial support available in the community.

Family Engagement and Support:

Early childhood programs that engage families in their child’s learning and offer family supports are better equipped to care for the whole child and ensure a high quality early childhood experience in and out of the classroom. Supportive practices programs are expected to adopt include accommodating and supporting breastfeeding mothers, supporting home languages in the program, and demonstrating cultural competency. Programs are also encouraged to host social gatherings for families, provide opportunities for families to volunteer, and seek guidance and feedback from families to inform program planning and decision-making.  Programs are encouraged to support families by making accommodations for families that can participate and communicate in ways that respect the restrictions they have on their time.


The early childhood years are full of transitions, which can be trying for children and their families. Programs can help reduce the stress of these transitions by providing families with information about attachment and separation and adopting policies that ease transitions into, within, and out of the program. Programs are also encouraged to limit the number of transitions within the program and ensure no more than one transition within a child’s first two years.

Program Administrator/ Family Care Provider Management:

Managing a child care program requires knowledge and skills in both early childhood development and business management. It is recommended that those in leadership positions in early childhood programs possess the education and experience that will allow the program to succeed. Program leaders with academic preparation and at least three years supervisory or management and leadership experience are well equipped to effectively lead the program, supervise staff, and manage the program’s business and administrative responsibilities.

Teaching/Provider Assistant Qualifications and Experience:

Teachers with expertise in early education and child development are poised to effectively support children in the classroom. Early childhood teachers are encouraged to earn an early childhood degree or take college courses through an accredited college or university. They may also earn a credential like the Child Development Associate, Montessori Credential, NYS Infant Toddler Credential or the NYS Family Child Care Credential. These educational achievements and credentials are all recognized by QUALITYstarsNY. Three years of experience for teaching staff and assistants is also recommended.


High staff turnover can be disruptive to children and families and have a negative effect on the children in the program’s care. QUALITYstarsNY recognizes an 80% retention rate in child care centers and preschools, and at least 5 years of operation for a family child care as an indicator of quality.

Administrative Self-Assessment:

Good business practice is essential for early childhood programs to continue operations. There are a number of tools available for programs and family care providers to use to examine their business practices. QUALITYstarsNY recommends that programs and family care providers use the recommended tools to assess their current practices and use the results and quality improvement resources to make improvements to their business practices.

Financial Accountability & Sustainability:

Maintaining a healthy financial outlook is important for business. It is especially important to keep tuition and fees as reasonable as possible while adequately compensating staff. QUALITYstarsNY recommends that liability insurance is up to date, taxes are paid on time, the program operates on a budget, and income and expenses are carefully tracked. There should be an independent review of all accounting records. Programs and providers should also have a plan in place to fill vacant slots when they become available.

Policies and Procedures:

Having written policies and procedures in place provides a roadmap for a program operations. In family child care, the recommended policies address the use of employee substitutes, confidentiality, and professional development. In centers and public schools, the recommended polices address job descriptions, employee expectations, confidentiality, employee performance reviews and professional development.

Staff Compensation and Benefits:

Early childhood leaders and educators are historically underpaid and many do not receive adequate workplace supports and benefits. All programs should provide full time staff with sick time, holidays, professional development days, and health insurance. Centers and preschools should also have additional benefits that may include flexible scheduling, retirement, tuition reimbursement or other benefits, and an established wage scale.

Staff Planning:

It is imperative for the health and well-being of children that early childhood professionals have the opportunity to be present and prepared for work. Educators should have paid planning time outside of the classroom and access to resources such as computers, so that teachers can be prepared and attentive to children when they are in the learning environment. In the case of a teacher’s absence, the program must be prepared. QUALITYstarsNY recommends having a written plan to cover planned and unplanned absences.