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QRIS Resource Guide

North Carolina

In 1999, the North Carolina Division of Child Development began issuing rated licenses to all eligible child care centers and family child care homes. Facilities can receive one to five stars in the Star Rated License program. A rating of one star means that a child care program meets North Carolina’s minimum licensing standards. Programs that choose to voluntarily meet higher standards can apply for a two to five star license. In addition, all classrooms in the NC Pre-K program must achieve and maintain a four- or five-star license, and meet additional requirements set by the Division of Child Development and Early Education.

North Carolina Contacts

QRIS Name: North Carolina Star Rated License

Organization: Division of Child Development, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services

Web Site:

QRIS State Profile

This profile is from the QRIS Compendium—a comprehensive resource for information about all of the QRIS operating in the U.S. and its Territories. It was developed by a partnership of the BUILD Initiative, the Early Learning Challenge Collaborative, and Child Trends.

QRIS Resource Guide Examples

Initial Design Process

Alignment of Quality Improvement Efforts in North Carolina

The North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) aligns all initiatives to support improved early care quality around the Star Rated License. Performance measures based on the Star Rated License are integrated into contracts with the child care resource and referral (CCR&R) agencies and with Smart Start, the State early childhood initiative. These measures help DCDEE determine how well partners are integrating and streamlining services and aligning their efforts around the standards of the rated license. Some examples of alignment efforts include:

  • The four- or five-Star rating is the basic requirement for a NC Pre-K classroom in child care or Head Start programs.
  • CCR&R agencies must align all training and technical assistance with the Star Rated License standards and provide ongoing consumer education about the Star Rated License.
  • All local Smart Start partnerships direct their technical assistance to achieving performance measures that align with the Star Rated License, such as achieving an average among all child care programs in their area of at least a 3.5 Star rating.
  • The following early care system partners use the same shared data sources to ensure consistent and aligned assessment of their outcomes: DCDEE Regulatory and Subsidy Reimbursement Databases, Smart Start Secondary Reporting System, NC Pre-K, Head Start, and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Additional information is available at

North Carolina’s First 2000 Days, the time between when a baby is born and they enter kindergarten, is the outgrowth of a series of forums—Smart Investing— held across the state in 2010 and attended by more than 800 people from across the state. The Web Site uses power point presentations, videos, slideshows, fact sheets and research summaries on why early care and learning is important and how North Carolinians can engage others on this issue. There is a strong emphasis on how early childhood investments produce sustained results at the local, state, and national level. The message is reinforced through video interviews with business, religious, education, medical, and law enforcement leaders and social service and early childhood professionals. Supporters are encouraged to post the site on Facebook, sign up for email alerts, contact their legislators, and request a presentation. The project was started by the North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc. with a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. It is now being developed and managed by the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation. The Web site is at

Standards and Criteria

Goals for North Carolina's QRIS Standards

North Carolina began by reviewing the current status of its early childhood system, such as licensing standards, technical assistance, quality supports, subsidy policy and reimbursement, workforce status, and available databases. The State’s goal was to develop a QRIS that included State-specific requirements and standards that providers could achieve and understand and that were research-based and feasible to monitor. The State accomplished this by setting the following goals for the standards:

  • Understandable to providers and the public: Providers are able to explain how they document meeting each standard and the public knows what the ratings mean and how they are achieved.
  • Achievable: Programs can meet the standard at some level.  For example, an analysis of the workforce indicated a significant number of providers had earned additional education in the form of an Early Childhood Credential and there was a scholarship fund to meet the demand for additional education required by standards.
  • Research-based: There is some research to show the connection of the standard with higher quality programs, e.g., ratios and teacher education.
  • Feasible to monitor: Standards can be assessed objectively, in a timely fashion, and with available resources.

Additional information is available at

North Carolina's Revision to Licensing Compliance as a QRIS Standard

North Carolina originally included a licensing compliance history percentages as a component in its Star Rated License standards. A continuous review of the rating data over several years showed that more than 95 percent of the programs received the maximum points in licensing compliance, indicating that this standard was not effective at discriminating levels of quality. In 2005, the licensing compliance history was eliminated as a standard 5 years after its implementation, creating standards that more accurately differentiate levels of the quality. A minimum compliance level with key licensing standards became a requirement to keep a license, rather than a way to earn a higher star. A license in good standing is still required to reach the first star level in the QRIS. Additional information is available at

North Carolina's Point System Provides Flexibility

North Carolina’s Star Rated License has five sets of standards: a set for family child care homes, a set for centers that serve only preschool-age children, a set for centers that serve only school-age children, a set for centers that serve preschool- and school-age children, and a set for centers located in the provider’s residence. Each of these sets of standards has five levels, from one to five stars.   All early care and education programs that are licensed receive a rating, including Head Start and prekindergarten. Child care programs receive an onsite evaluation in two categories: education standards and program standards, which include health and safety, physical facility, ratios, administration, parent involvement, activities, and the ERS. Seven points can be earned in each category with an optional quality point, for a total possible 15 points, creating flexibility for programs. The final point total determines the star rating. Additional information is available at

Quality Assurance and Monitoring

North Carolina Partners with Other States to Develop New Program Level Measure for QRIS

As a part of their Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant (RTT-ELC) proposal, North Carolina proposed to develop a valid and reliable program level measure to evaluate the continuum of early childhood quality.  Rather than assessing at the classroom level, the focus will be on the children’s experience in the various settings (centers, homes, schools) at the program level and will use multiple sources and types of evidence.  Conceptually, the tool will be looking at the child’s experience in relation to environmental factors, relationship factors and the interaction between the teacher and the child.  The goal is to create a program “portrait” that can serve as the foundation of a plan of continuous quality improvement.  Other states that are participating in the development and/or pilot of this tool include Delaware, Kentucky and Illinois.

Provider Incentives and Support

Professional Development in North Carolina: A Foundation of QRIS

For more than 15 years, the North Carolina Institute for Child Development Professionals (formerly the North Carolina Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development) has worked to develop a statewide professional development system. The system is grounded in research that links child outcomes to the professional development of teachers and directors. North Carolina’s professional development system works to ensure the accessibility, availability, and affordability of the education offerings as well as applicability to the work of early care and education programs. All 58 of the State’s community colleges offer an Early Childhood Associate degree program with articulation agreements to many of its 4-year colleges and universities. Financial support for professional development is available through T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood ® Project scholarships, which were first developed in North Carolina. Salary supplements are available through a WAGE$ program based on level of education achieved. The Institute’s latest effort is the Early Childhood Certification, a professional certification system. The investments that North Carolina made in its professional development system became the foundation of its QRIS and help support the higher staff qualification requirements in the QRIS.

Information about North Carolina’s Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development, the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Project scholarships and WAGE$ supplements is available at

Financial Incentives: General and Targeted Support in North Carolina's QRIS

North Carolina has taken a two-pronged approach to incentives to help early and school-age care and education programs improve their quality to achieve higher ratings in the Star Rated License. First, the State expanded its tiered subsidy reimbursement program to correspond to the rating system. As reimbursement rates have increased over time and funds have been insufficient to fully implement rate increases, the 3–5 star rates were often the only rates increased. The second part of this approach is targeted supports, those that specifically offset the increased costs that providers encounter when increasing their quality. These include one-time improvement grants, scholarships for higher education requirements, and wage supplements and health insurance reimbursements to help with staff retention. These financial supports are intended to focus the State’s limited resources on the improvements that are the most costly, thereby helping early care programs to avoid fee increases and minimizing the financial impact to middle-income parents. Additional information is available at

Data Collection and Evaluation

North Carolina QRIS Data Collection Guides Evidence-Based Adjustments

The North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education has for many years collected data to monitor the Star Rated License system process and used these data to guide revisions in the system. Early on, results from environment rating scale (ERS) assessments showed significantly lower scores on the Infant Toddler ERS than on other classroom assessments. To address this concern, the State developed a short-term technical assistance project focused on providing child care health consultants to programs and a long-term technical assistance project that involved adding infant and toddler specialists to the CCR&R agencies. School-age specialists and behavioral specialists were also added to the CCR&R agencies to help with program improvements. Orientation of providers to the ERS was added to the system as well. Similarly, when data indicated that the licensing compliance standard in the QRIS was not linked to statistically significant differences in quality, this rating standard was eliminated from the QRIS. Additional information is available at


North Carolina Evaluation Validates Rating System

When North Carolina first developed the Star Rated License in 1997, it wanted to ensure that the State’s evaluations were actually using measures that would differentiate between levels of quality. A team from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill collected extensive data on randomly selected child care centers. “We concluded from these results that the 5-star licensing system does accurately reflect the overall quality of a child care center. Parents can be assured that there are meaningful program differences among centers that have a 3-star, 4-star, or 5-star rating….” Additional information is available at

At two different times since the ratings began, an analysis of ERS scores and teacher education level has been completed by the North Carolina Rated License Assessment Project at the University of North Carolina–Greensboro. The results show that classrooms with a teacher with an associate’s degree or higher scored significantly higher on the rating scale than classrooms with a non-degreed teacher. This conclusion supports the staff qualification standards of the QRIS. (Cassidy, Hestenes, Hegde, Mims, & Hestenes, 2005).

Cost Projections and Financing

North Carolina Business Redesign and Funding Realignment

The absence of a designated allocation for a QRIS forced the North Carolina Division of Child Development to redesign existing functions in order to implement its QRIS as a Star Rated License, an expansion of its existing licensing system. Existing systems and processes—licensing monitoring, staff qualification checks, automation, and the Web site—were reviewed to determine how to expand or revise them to include the onsite evaluation of child care programs. Automation helped licensing staff to manage monitoring of the expanded regulations for ratings. Agency staff who were managing the voluntary credentialing process and trainer approval were redirected to the new streamlined staff qualifications assessments. North Carolina found that it was more effective to integrate the QRIS into the existing licensing process than create new positions or units that worked on the rating system only. Using redirected quality funds, the State contracted with a university to complete the environment rating scale (ERS) assessments to ensure their objectivity. Cost savings were realized by performing complete rating assessments, including the ERS, once every 3 years, unless a program fails its annual monitoring of rating maintenance. Additional cost savings were achieved by putting some limitations on the ERS assessments—only one-third of classrooms and programs that could meet the other three Star standards were assessed. Additional information is available at

Consumer Education

North Carolina's Marketing to Multiple Audiences

North Carolina felt that the success of its Star Rated License system would be evidenced by high participation rates resulting from the providers’ sense of ownership of the system and consumer demand. The State created a low-cost, high-impact marketing campaign with the following activities:

  • Used the Web site to keep providers and parents informed.
  • Developed a Web-based tool that allows parents to search for child care by rating and provides them with detailed program information.
  • Distributed thousands of posters, in English and Spanish, with attractive pictures and simple statements, such as “Is your child care as great as your child?—Demand the stars.”
  • Distributed materials on the rated license, including business cards and postcards with the Web address; distribution was through local partners, e.g., Smart Start partnerships, CCR&R agencies, health departments, departments of social services, libraries, human resource offices of businesses, offices of obstetricians and pediatricians.
  • Participated in partner-sponsored Star meetings for providers to give them an opportunity to learn about QRIS and begin the application process.
  • Gave providers press release templates along with their Star license to make it easy for them to send information to their local newspapers.  Arranged for local partners, on an ongoing basis for the first year, to host local media events when a group of programs in their area received their star ratings.
  • Arranged for the Governor to visit the first program to receive 15 out of 15 points, and provided additional press coverage for this accomplishment.
  • Distributed monthly letters to legislators that listed programs in their area that had earned the Star license and a template for sending a congratulatory letter to the program.