Ohio's quality-rating system gets an overhaul

Jane Hawes

For the past seven years, many Ohio parents have relied on a quality-rating system for childcare centers and preschools. The Step Up to Quality (SUTQ) system used a three-star system to rate these learning and care centers. That system changed to a five-star system on Oct. 1, but the goal remains the same: To provide parents and other stakeholders with an objective tool for assessing the quality of care that their young children receive.

"There was a choppiness to the standards before," said Amber Hibburt, a strategic-programming manager with Action for Children, a nonprofit childcare resource and referral agency. "There was a huge gap between one and two stars. There was no real step in the middle. Now there are more benchmarks and it made it a more logical system."

A variety of factors go into determining a care provider's rating: staff qualifications and ongoing training, a defined curriculum, developmental screening of children, program management practices are a few.

But the one factor that many people seem to understand most readily is the ratio of staff to children.

The new standards actually raised the ratio in some circumstances, allowing for more children per caregiver.

Sherry Roush, an administrator with the Apple Tree Nursery School in Toledo, wrote to Columbus Parent, prior to the new standards being implemented to protest the new system: "Although the changes appear as if excellence is expanding in Ohio's child care centers, it really has just altered the definition of high quality."

For example, in the three-star system, one teacher per four infants was required for a top rating. In the five-star system, the ratio has been raised to one teacher per five infants. The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends a 1:4 ratio.

But Hibburt said the impact of ratios is balanced by other requirements that have become stricter and better defined: "It's virtually impossible to meet four and five (stars) without lowering a ratio. But you can get points for more qualified staff and administrators."

Michelle Bieber, a spokeswoman for The Ohio Association of Child Care Providers, said her organization, which represents more than 600 providers in the state, supports the new standards.

"Now it's up to each individual center to decide how to maintain their standards," Bieber said. "They give centers the ability to use the assets they have."

Hibburt agreed: "The ratio is certainly a piece of it, but I'm not sure it's as important as qualified staff."

For more information about the new SUTQ standards, visit earlychildhoodohio.org/sutq.php