In 2001, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) Division of Early Childhood Development began developing an initiative that would help improve access to quality child care for low-income families in Maryland. Tiered reimbursement was a voluntary program that recognized the quality of child care programs that exceed the minimum requirements of licensing and registration.

Illustration of an African-American child playing with blocks, while an Asian-American woman kneels next to him and watches.Between 2009 and the summer of 2011, MSDE’s Division of Early Childhood Development drafted a set of program standards for the design of the revised Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System, to be renamed Maryland EXCELS (Excellence Counts in Early Learning and School Age Care). The Maryland EXCELS standards are based on a thorough review of the literature on Quality Rating and Improvement Systems and other early child care quality initiatives, funding sources and incentives, technical assistance models, evaluation efforts and reports, assessment protocols and administrative policies and procedures.

The Johns Hopkins University Center for Technology in Education (JHU-CTE), selected for its long-standing expertise in developing technology platforms for education, joined the Maryland EXCELS effort in 2010. MSDE and JHU-CTE work in partnership to continually refine the standards and system based on workgroup recommendations and new research.

Maryland EXCELS opened for voluntary statewide participation on July 1, 2013.  Any licensed child care facility or public prekindergarten program is eligible to apply for participation. MSDE, in partnership with JHU-CTE, is also conducting a validation study of Maryland EXCELS as part of the ongoing evaluation process. Utilizing a team of experts from across Johns Hopkins University and other local and national institutions and agencies, the researchers are conducting a rigorous analysis of the EXCELS standards and program performance within the system to ensure the accuracy and value of quality ratings. Additionally, the research team will seek to understand what impact EXCELS has on accessibility to quality child care across Maryland, particularly for children in poverty, with developmental delays or disabilities, or who are English Language Learners. Ultimately, the researchers will examine the relationship between a child’s exposure to high-quality child care and long-term school success.