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

From 2009 to 2011, MSDE’s Division of Early Childhood drafted a set of program standards for the revised Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System. In addition, the program received a new name, Maryland EXCELS (Excellence Counts in Early Learning and School Age Care). Maryland EXCELS based its standards on the following:

  • A thorough review of the literature on Quality Rating and Improvement Systems and other early child care quality initiatives
  • Funding sources and initiatives
  • Technical assistance models
  • Evaluation efforts and reports
  • Assessment protocols
  • Administrative policies and procedures

The Johns Hopkins School of Education joined the Maryland EXCELS effort in 2010 to continually refine the Maryland EXCELS systems and policies, produce new research, and work with early childhood partners across the state.

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