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QRIS Resource Guide


Pennsylvania’s Keystone STARS is an initiative of the Department of Public Welfare to improve, support, and recognize quality child care programs in Pennsylvania by working to support the capacity and quality of programs. The Keystone STARS Performance Standards provide the foundation for the program. The Performance Standards are grouped into four levels: STAR 1, STAR 2, STAR 3, and STAR 4. The standards address staff qualifications and professional development, the early learning program, partnerships with family and community, and leadership and management.

Pennsylvania Contacts

QRIS Name: Keystone STARS

Organization: Office of Child Development and Early Learning, Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare

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

Pennsylvania's Community Outreach Efforts

Pennsylvania’s Local Education and Resource Network (LEARN) partners conduct community outreach in their local communities and work with organizations and individuals interested in quality early education.  LEARN partners can bring together early childhood programs, parents, school districts, and child-serving organizations to assess what quality early learning programs are currently available in the community and to develop ways to encourage quality early learning. LEARN partners may also work with school districts and community-based early learning programs to develop ways to make smooth transition from preschool to kindergarten for children, parents and teachers.  Pennsylvania’s Promise for Children is a statewide campaign to raise awareness about the importance of quality early education in a young child’s life and motivate everyone to learn, get involved, and tell their story.  LEARN partners, Regional Keys, PA Key and the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) are critical partners in achieving Pennsylvania’s Promise for Children.  In part of a team effort, the close partnership between the Regional Key and LEARN partners is vital to developing a strong early childhood system in each county.  Additional information is available at

Including School-age Program Perspectives in Pennsylvania

The school-age community played a key role in the development and implementation of Pennsylvania’s voluntary four-star child care quality system, Keystone STARS, which has been operational since 2002. The Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning relied on a statewide school-age care committee, composed largely of providers and technical assistance providers, to offer feedback on how the standards would affect school-age providers. By involving the school-age care community in the planning process, Pennsylvania created a system that was responsive to quality issues unique to school-age care. Additional information is available at

Standards and Criteria

Performance Benchmarks for the Quality Improvement System Within Pennsylvania's QRIS

A QRIS needs clear expectations and standards for the support systems that assist programs. Pennsylvania’s accountability system for the Regional Keys originally focused on inputs such as employing qualified staff, meeting reporting obligations, and achieving outcomes defined as increasing the proportion of programs reaching higher Keystone STARS (Standards, Training/Professional Development, Assistance, Resources, and Support) levels in the region. This approach could not measure the improvement STARS programs made within a STARS level. To address this, a three-level rubric was created in each standard to differentiate gradations of practice in a level, using the qualifiers of “good enough,” “better,” or “best.” This rubric is also expected to improve a program’s understanding of how it is progressing and provide guidance to help it improve. Additional information is available at

Quality Assurance and Monitoring

Integrated Data Systems in Support of a QRIS: Pennsylvania's PELICAN

PELICAN is an integrated child and early learning system that automates administration and data collection for the statewide QRIS, Keystone STARS, as well as many of the following additional functions: administration of the subsidized child care program; child care provider inspection and certification (licensing); administration and data collection for the State’s prekindergarten program; and data collection and analytics to support a longitudinal database and tracking system for children in Pennsylvania early learning programs. Users of PELICAN include public and private administrators, early childhood program teachers, directors and staff (including those in prekindergarten and the state funded Head Start programs); school districts that provide prekindergarten; parents; and others. Additional information is available in a report by the National Council of State Legislatures at and on the PA Key website at

Provider Incentives and Support

PA Establishes Accountability Measures for their TA System

PA Establishes Accountability Measures for their TA System

In 2008 – 2009 Pennsylvania developed the STARS Technical Assistance Accountability Plan (STARS-TAAP) to support consistency and quality in technical assistance across the commonwealth. The system consists of the following key performance areas:

  • Qualifications, Professional Development and Professionalism includes requirements of technical assistance consultants to ensure consultants are highly qualified and continue to stay current on trends, research and issues in the field.
  • Reporting Obligations to include timely, accurate submission of reports, timely follow-up and completion of referrals, records management and targets.
  • Measurable Impact on Provider establishes the expectation that technical assistance will have some influence on the measurable improvement of a program. Change affected may be in knowledge, skills, attitudes or behaviors in the target population resulting in improvement in specific standards, STAR level change and “stickiness” of the improvement. 

More information on this project can be found at

Ideally, professional development and technical assistance should be part of a larger cross-sector early education effort that helps to link child care, Head Start, Early Intervention, State prekindergarten, and all other early learning programs in the State. In Pennsylvania, the early childhood Core Body of Knowledge (CBK) was originally written by a cross-sector group but focused on child care. Later, this cross-sector group helped to expand the CBK to address all modalities and align it with the cross-sector Early Learning Guidelines. Additionally, this group developed Core Competencies for Technical Assistance Consultants and Core Competencies for Professional Development Instructors.  All tools can be used for 100 percent of Pennsylvania’s early learning programs. In addition, the Pennsylvania Quality Assurance System (PQAS) for professional development has been developed to certify all individuals and organizations that provide professional development and technical assistance within the context of Keystone STARS, and has incorporated the CBK and Core Competencies into its system. Pennsylvania is currently working on enlarging the use of the PQAS system to apply to the rest of its early learning programs as well. A cross-sector group now meets regularly. Leaders from Nurse-Family Partnership, Pennsylvania’s Children’s Trust Fund, Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts, Early Intervention, Head Start, and Keystone STARS jointly explore and work on common understandings, common job specifications, ethics, and effective practices, such as how to deliver professional development to a diverse early childhood audience. Additional information is available at

Keystone STARS, Pennsylvania’s QRIS, does not assign a technical assistance specialist to every program that participates. Instead, technical assistance is “responsive,” meaning that programs may request technical assistance to help them first participate in STARS or to increase their star level. STARS Technical Assistance is an intensive, one-on-one service available to facilities that have been awarded a STAR level and have enrolled in or completed the Keystone STARS Core Professional Development Series. STARS TA is coordinated by the Regional Keys to Quality programs and provided by consultants who have the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to help guide programs in the Keystone STARS content areas of Staff Qualifications and Professional Development, Leadership and Management, Early Learning (and School Age) Program, Partnerships with Family and Community. The facility will develop an action plan with their STARS TA consultant. Facility practitioners are expected to be actively involved in taking the steps necessary to meet the goals of their action plan. With their STARS TA Consultant, the facility will establish a timeline to complete their action plan. Action plans are generally completed in 6 months or less. Additional information on PA’s Technical Assistance is available at

Multiple Financial Awards Linked to Pennsylvania's QRIS

Pennsylvania’s Keystone STARS offers an array of financial incentives to participating child care programs that serve a subsidized population of no less than 10%. These financial incentives are as follows:

Annual STARS Merit Awards are for programs at STAR 2–4 levels. At the STAR 2 level, awards are available to programs three times, or up to five times with a CQI plan and demonstrated progress. Awards are ongoing for STAR 3 and 4 programs.  For Family Child Care Homes, these awards range from $1000 at a STAR 2 to $2000 at a STAR 4.  For Group Homes, these amounts are $1575 to $3225.  Center Merit Awards are based on STAR Level and size of program.  Awards can range from $1500 for a small center at STAR 2 to $49,250 for very large center (serving at least 181 children) at STAR 4.

Education and Retention Awards (ERA) are annual awards for highly qualified staff who have been employed onsite at least 12 consecutive months prior to the date of the ERA request.  To be eligible, Directors must earn less than $45,000 per year and teaching staff less than $35,000 per year.  The information below is for full-time staff (working at least 35 hours per week).  Amounts are pro-rated for less than 35 hours:

Directors with a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education can obtain an ERA of $3090 at STAR 2 to $4120 at STAR 4

Staff with a BA in Early Childhood Education can earn $2320 at STAR 2 to $3090 at STAR 4.

Staff with an AA in Early Childhood Education can earn $1545 at STAR 2 to $2060 at STAR 4

Staff with a CDA qualify for award amounts ranging from $600 at STAR 2 to $800 at STAR 4.

The STARS subsidy bonus is applicable to family and group homes and centers at the STAR 1 level or higher. The subsidy add-on daily rate for different STAR levels include the following:

STAR 1 - $0.35 for full-time, and $0.15 for part-time

STAR 2–$0.95 for full-time, and $0.45 for part-time

STAR 3–$2.80 for full-time and $1.05 for part-time

STAR 4–$5.00 for full-time and $1.35 for part-time

Rising STARS Support Grants.  All active STAR 1 child care certified early care providers who are actively working on a Continuous Quality Improvement plan that includes moving up to a STAR 2 in a reasonable amount of time are eligible.  Providers may not receive more than two previous support grants and STARS Head Start, PA Pre-K Counts and private licensed nursery schools are excluded.  Centers and groups can be eligible for up to $5000; family child care up to $2000.

Rising STARS Tuition Assistance Program pays 95% of tuition costs for eligible college coursework taken by early learning professionals, with a maximum benefit of $4500 per individual each fiscal year.  To be eligible the individual must be employed for at least a year at a Keystone STARS facility, have a base wage of less than $20 per hour, working in the early learning program at least 20 hours per week, be a resident of PA and taking courses from an accredited PA institution of higher education or an accredited distance learning institution.  Once enrolled, the individual must agree to remain employed at the STARS facility for at least two months for each credit paid by the program and maintain an overall grade point average of 3.0 or higher.

Additional information on these grants and awards for Fiscal Year 2013=2014 is available at

Data Collection and Evaluation

Pennsylvania Uses Integrated Data Systems in Support of a QRIS

Pennsylvania Enterprise to Link Information for Children Across Networks (PELICAN) is an integrated child and early learning information management system. In addition to automating and centralizing many of the functions required to administer the subsidized child care program (Child Care Works), it expanded to automate the inspection and certification (licensing) process of child care providers, the administrative processes and data collection efforts for the PA Pre-K Counts and Pennsylvania Early Learning Keys to Quality (Keystone STARS) initiatives, and the data collection and analytics to support the Early Learning Network (ELN), which is a longitudinal database and tracking system for children in Pennsylvania early learning programs. PELICAN users include Child Care Information Service agencies, County Assistance Offices, Regional Keys (the administrators of the Keystone STARS program), PA Pre-K Counts grantees, as well as teachers and administrators for Head Start State supplemental programs, school districts that provide prekindergarten, providers of child care, and others. Families are also able to screen themselves for potential eligibility for child care subsidies, search for providers, and apply for services online. This initiative allows the Office of Child Development and Early Learning and the Regional Keys to track providers, manage STARS, identify resources that were deployed at a program, and manage STARS grant information in the Keystone STARS rating system.  A next phase of development will focus on how to integrate the existing trainer and training registry, the Pennsylvania Quality Assurance System, into PELICAN and make it accessible from the PA Key Web site. An overview of the ELN is available at