Evaluation of Parent Aware: Minnesota’s Voluntary Child Care and Early Learning Program Quality Rating and Improvement System

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has hired Child Trends to complete an independent evaluation of Parent Aware—Minnesota’s voluntary quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) for child care and early learning programs—using an equity lens. The evaluation is required by law, and the 2021 Minnesota State Legislative Session determined that the federal American Rescue Plan Act would fund this evaluation.

The goal of the evaluation is to understand how well Parent Aware supports positive outcomes for Minnesota’s children, families, and early care and education workforce. The evaluation, which will take place from March 2022 to July 2024, will explore these topics:

  • Children’s progress toward school readiness and changes in development over time
  • The quality of early care and education across the state
  • The availability of high-quality early care and education programs in Minnesota
  • Parents’ experiences with quality in early care and education and opinions of Parent Aware
  • Child care providers’ ability to serve children and families, including those from racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse backgrounds

More detailed information about the various activities under this evaluation and the timeline for each activity can be found under Evaluation Activities and Timeline (below).

Project Updates

To share progress on the evaluation, our team will post updates on this webpage at least twice per year.

Project Update – October 2022

Evaluation work is already well underway! The Child Trends team has reviewed prior research to understand how the state can support program quality. Child Trends has also interviewed QRIS administrators from five other states to understand how Parent Aware compares to other states’ quality rating and improvement systems. Additionally, the team has compared the various pathways through which programs can become Parent Aware Rated and analyzed administrative data to understand statewide participation in Parent Aware. Findings from this work and considerations for ongoing improvements to Parent Aware will be shared via our final report, which we expect to release in July 2024.

This fall, Child Trends will be contacting Parent Aware Rated programs to ask them to participate in study activities during the 2022-23 school year. These activities will include a recorded classroom observation, surveys about providers’ personal and professional characteristics, and questionnaires about children’s development.

Evaluation Activities and Timeline

The evaluation will take place from March 2022 to July 2024, and will include the following research activities:

  • An examination of the standards and indicators that Parent Aware uses to assess program quality, as well as a comparison of the various pathways through which programs can become Parent Aware Rated and their associated requirements
  • A comparison of Parent Aware with other states’ QRIS using interviews with state QRIS administrators and secondary data on state QRIS policies and implementation practices
  • An administrative data analysis to understand statewide participation in Parent Aware, as well as the statewide availability of Rated programs, with comparisons on the basis of geography, program type, and other program- and community-level characteristics
  • Listening sessions with Rated and unrated programs to understand their experiences and perceptions of Parent Aware application processes and supports, the administrative or financial burden of participating in Parent Aware, and the degree to which the application process and requirements account for racial, cultural, linguistic, and ethnic diversity
  • An analysis of quality and assessments of children’s developmental gains in Parent Aware Rated programs, with an emphasis on understanding programs’ practices related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as the unique context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on children’s early learning experiences
    • For our analysis of quality, our team will record two-hour observations in participating Rated programs (including family child care programs and preschool classrooms in center-based programs) using SWIVL, a video recording software that will allow our team to code and analyze observations off-site and therefore minimize the amount of time a researcher needs to be in the classroom. We will also survey participating teachers and providers about their personal and professional characteristics, classroom practices, and other factors that support quality that may be difficult to observe (e.g., attitudes and beliefs). Recorded classroom observations will be coded using two tools:
      • The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), a widely used measure of classroom quality that focuses on three domains: 1) emotional support, 2) classroom organization, and 3) individualized instructional practices (read more about the CLASS tool)
      • The Assessing Classroom Sociocultural Equity Scale (ACSES), which focuses on the sociocultural equity in a classroom setting by capturing five domains: 1) status quo knowledge, 2) equity learning opportunities for racially minoritized learners, 3) equitable discipline, 4) connections to home life, and 5) personalized learning opportunities (read more about the ACSES tool)
    • For assessments of children’s developmental gains, we will select up to five families from each participating classroom or program to participate in the evaluation and complete short surveys about their family and their child’s development in the fall and spring. Teachers/providers will also complete assessments about those children in the fall and spring.
      • After careful review of existing measures to assess children’s learning and development over time, our team plans to use the Healthy and Ready to Learn (HRTL) measure, which captures four domains of children’s skills and behavior: 1) early learning skills, 2) self-regulation, 3) social-emotional development, and 4) physical well-being and motor development (read more about the HRTL).

The project has flexibility for Child Trends to propose additional activities to examine quality improvement or the implications of any new legislation that may inform the state or other Parent Aware stakeholders.

A detailed overview of all evaluation activities, findings, and implications for future improvements to Parent Aware will be included in a final report submitted to DHS in July 2024. The final report will be made publicly available, and the project team will post a link to this page once it is released.

A timeline for each component of the evaluation is provided below.

parent aware timeline

Community Engagement

Throughout the project, the Child Trends team will ask various stakeholders and members of the community to provide feedback on the evaluation through two committees:

  • State Advisory Committee (meets annually): staff from DHS and the Minnesota Departments of Education, Health, and Management and Budget, as well as the Children’s Cabinet
  • Community Advisory Committee (meets once every four months): representatives from state government agencies, Child Care Aware of Minnesota, advocacy and research organizations, and child care providers


If you have questions about the Parent Aware Evaluation, please contact Lyn Rhodes, the DHS Project Manager for the evaluation, at [email protected].

Project Partners

  • Kristine Andrews, Ideas to Impact Consulting
  • Jennifer Valorose & Briellen Griffin, Wilder Research
  • Stephanie Currenton, Center on the Ecology of Early Development (CEED) at Boston University

Project Staff