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 – March 2023

An important aspect of the Parent Aware Evaluation is to examine the degree to which Parent Aware Ratings capture a program’s quality, as well as the extent to which young children’s growth and learning over time are associated with Ratings. In Fall 2022, the Child Trends team launched this component of the evaluation and began recruiting child care programs and families to participate. However, many programs we contacted were unable to participate; most reported that they did not have time, that they faced ongoing challenges with staffing or staff turnover, or a host of other reasons related to the pandemic’s lingering effects on the child care sector.

Nevertheless, the Child Trends research team is moving forward with the study among the programs that agreed to participate. Because the work is at a much smaller scale, we have a more limited ability to address the originally proposed research questions. The team has been working closely with the Minnesota Department of Human Services to consider different activities for this evaluation using funds originally intended to support the activities related to program quality and children’s development.

The Child Trends team is still finalizing plans for the next year of the evaluation and will engage key partners—including the evaluation’s State and Community Advisory Committees, advocates, and others—to receive feedback on the newly proposed activities. Once our plans are finalized, we will post additional updates to this webpage and update the evaluation activities and timeline below to reflect the new activities. Stay tuned for more updates soon!

Project Update – October 2022

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 lynda.rhodes@state.mn.us.

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