The STep Ahead Recognition System (STARS) is Vermont’s quality recognition system for child care, preschool, and afterschool programs. STARS is based on providers earning points for recognition in five arenas: 1. Regulatory Compliance; 2. Staff qualifications and training; 3. Program practices (includes the environment and overall support of children's learning/development; 4. Families and communities (includes implementing Strengthening Families Protective Factors policies and practices); and 5. Administration. Program assessment and plans for improvement are found in both the Families and community and the Program practices arenas. All programs providing pre-kindergarten services must meet the 4- or 5-star level standards or be nationally accredited.
QRIS Name: STep Ahead Recognition System for Child Care Programs (STARS)
Organization: Child Development Division, Department for Children and Families, Vermont Agency of Human Services
Web Site: http://dcf.vermont.gov/cdd/stars/
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
Including Public Prekindergarten in Vermont's QRIS
STARS was developed to include all regulated settings and public Pre-K programs have been regulated for several years prior Vermont’s QRIS ( STep Ahead Recognition System, or STARS) . Some public schools with prekindergarten chose voluntarily to participate in STARS. Pre-K programs receive the same initial STARS bonuses for participation but school operated programs generally didn’t benefit from the increased Child Care Financial Assistance rates because they do not charge a fee to parents. By 2007, about 7 percent of programs in STARS were public school Pre-K programs, which was barely 1% of all regulated programs. The 2013 annual STARS report indicates that programs providing public Pre-K services are now approximately 30% of the STARS participating programs and approximately 8% of the total number of regulated programs in VT.
In 2009, the Vermont legislature determined that Public Pre-K programs must meet the STARS standards at the highest levels (4 or 5 stars) This legislation also determined that public Pre-K services could be provided in all types of regulated settings that met the following criteria: be nationally accredited OR have a minimum of three stars and a DCF/AOE approved plan to achieve four or five stars in 3 years. Programs must have at least two points in each of the five arenas and have a licensed teacher present a portion of the time and consulting with the program. Programs that are nationally accredited meet the STARS criteria. The opportunity to provide public Pre-K services and access public education funds provided an incentive for high quality programs to enter or move up in STARS.
The current standards for STARS have been legislatively approved and were developed and jointly by the Agency of Education (AOE) and Department for Children and Families (DCF). While the STARS standards are consistent across settings, the STARS applications are customized for the type of program applying. The administration arena has an option for documentation that is designed for programs managed by a public school and all programs appreciate the change from annual re-application to STARS to a 3 year certificate that is renewed annually. STARS rules and the applications are available at http://dcf.vermont.gov/cdd/stars/.
Standards and Criteria
Using a Points System in Vermont's QRIS
When Vermont’s STep Ahead Recognition System (STARS) was being developed, the State presented rating systems based on building blocks and points to the early childhood community in a series of focus groups. The consensus was to use points. Blocks were seen as “making us all do the same things” and points “recognize us for our varied strengths and the different ways we operate.” A point system is more flexible than a block system and fits the Vermont ethos of independence.
Vermont STARS assigns up to a maximum number of points in five arenas (categories of standards): Regulatory history (3 points), Staff qualifications and training (3 points), Families and community (3 points), Program practices (5 points), and Administration (3 points). Vermont is continually reviewing its system and has changed the Program Practices Arena to be the arena where most points can be achieved. Vermont has also created customized applications based on program type. An example of a customization is that the Family Child Care home provider application notes only program assessment tools pertinent to family child care in the application and the administration arena documentation reflects the home context. CLASS and the YPQA have been added to the menu of approved tools to assess programs. TS Gold is the child assessment tool that must be used in early childhood programs at the 4 point level in the Program Practices arena, although all public Pre-K programs must use this tool at each point level.
Vermont is intentionally preparing programs for a change to STARS that will require third party on-site program assessment (2 points in Program Practices) before the program can attain 3 stars. This would require a formal change in STARS rules. Vermont is preparing the field by providing more training on the ERS and providing an on-site mentoring visit at the two point level in the Program Practices Arena. http://dcf.vermont.gov/sites/dcf/files/pdf/cdd/stars/Adopted_STARS_rule_FINAL.pdf.
Quality Assurance and Monitoring
Vermont's Grievance Process
Applicants or program participants have the right to appeal rejection of their application materials or other adverse decision related to the STARS program, such as the suspension or revocation of a STARS certificate in connection with enforcement of licensing regulations, subsidy regulations or these standards.
Appeals must be in writing and received by the DCF Commissioner within 30 days of the date of rejection or other adverse decision. If the appeal is from a school-operated pre-kindergarten program, the Commissioner of the Department of Education shall join the Commissioner of the Department for Children and Families in deciding the appeal.
The applicant or grievant shall have the opportunity to present the appeal to a STARS grievance committee. The committee shall be appointed by the Commissioner(s), consist of at least three members including one from the regulated provider community, and provide the Commissioner(s) with a recommendation. The Commissioner(s) shall make a final decision on the grievance and provide the grievant with a written decision. The grievant may appeal the final decision of the Commissioner(s) to the Human Services Board within thirty days of the date of the final decision.
Financial incentives shall not be paid while an appeal is pending. If a successful final appeal results in a determination that a STARS program participant is due a financial incentive or maintenance payment, DCF will award payment in full within 60 days
Additional information is available in Step Ahead Recognition System (STARS) Standards (January 2010), at http://dcf.vermont.gov/sites/dcf/files/pdf/cdd/stars/Adopted_STARS_rule_FINAL.pdf.