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Study: Quality First works to improve and measure quality in early learning

Quality First Study

A recent study has proven that Quality First works to improve the quality of early learning settings and that the scale used to rate programs does reflect distinct levels of quality.

Quality First is FTF’s signature strategy. The program partners with child care and preschool providers to improve the quality of their early learning settings through coaching, assessments, professional development, and incentives. After about two years in the program, participating early learning sites are rated on a scale of 1-5 stars, and that information is published at along with other tools that help families find quality child care that meets their needs.

This is phase one of a series of studies recommended by a national panel of experts to ensure that Quality First is improving child outcomes.

The findings from the phase one study include:

  • Quality First programs tend to improve in their quality levels between assessments. In fact, since 2013, the percentage of programs that meet or exceed quality standards (3-5 stars) has increased from 25% to 71%.
  • The Quality First Rating Scale does differentiate between distinct levels of quality.
  • 92% of directors and 77% of teachers said they made changes to their program as a result of joining Quality First.
  • And, 85% of directors would recommend that other early learning programs join Quality First.

Early learning quality improvement – including scholarships so that more young children can access quality child care and preschool – is the single largest investment at First Thi ngs First (almost 50 percent of spending in fiscal year 2016). The voluntary program currently serves about 1,000 child care and preschool programs – roughly one-third of the licensed or certified early learning settings in Arizona.

This study demonstrates that the program is meeting its goals, but also recommended several areas for improvement. With the support of an $800,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, First Things First will begin a pilot program to test program modifications that were recommended by FTF’s Quality First Advisory Subcommittee and that mirror some of the opportunities for improvement noted in the studies. The goal of the pilot is to determine if the modified program continues to move providers along the quality continuum while, hopefully, creating costing models that allow Quality First to serve more providers.

To read the full Executive Summary of the study, visit To see stories of how Quality First has impacted school readiness for Arizona children, visit our Family Stories page.

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