The process by which an early childhood education program demonstrates that it meets a set of national or state standards for quality, such as those established by Maryland Accreditation or other MSDE recognized accrediting organizations.

Accreditation and Rating Scales (ACR)

Accreditation and Rating Scales is one of five Maryland EXCELS Content Areas, focusing on accreditation, program assessments and program improvement plans.

Accreditation Support Fund

Maryland provides the Accreditation Support Fund to assist licensed child care centers and registered family child care providers with the cost of pursuing accreditation.

Additional Achievements

Maryland EXCELS recognizes programs that provide services above and beyond those outlined in the standards. Additional Achievements currently include Accredited Program, Asthma and Allergy Friendly, Cultural and Linguistic Competency, Eco-Friendly Program, Health and Wellness, and Quality Business Practices.

Administrative Policies and Practices (ADM)

Administrative Policies and Practices is one of the five Maryland EXCELS Content Areas, focusing on sound policies and practices that help programs run smoothly and deliver quality services to families.

Check Child Care Maryland (CCCMD)

The Check Child Care Maryland website is a resource available to families and the general public for reviewing licensing information about a child care program, including the license status, verified complaints and inspection results.

Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)

The Child and Adult Care Food Program is a federal program that provides reimbursements for nutritious meals and snacks to eligible children and adults who are enrolled in participating child care centers and family child care homes.

Child Care Aware of America (CCoA)

Child Care Aware of America is a third-party administrator for the Department of Defense (DoD) initiative, Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood (MCCYN), that helps families learn more about the elements of quality child care and how to locate high-quality, affordable child care programs in their community. CCAoA also provides  child care assistance for military families through Fee Assistance and Respite Child Care Programs. In addition to nationally accredited programs, CCA and DoD recognize Maryland Accreditation as an indicator of quality child care.

Child Care Career and Professional Development Fund (CCCPDF)

The Child Care Career and Professional Development Fund is a tuition assistance program for child care staff to obtain a college education at participating colleges/universities in Maryland.

Child Care Center

Maryland EXCELS Child Care Centers are programs that are licensed as Child Care Centers by the Maryland State Department of Education, Office of Child Care, Licensing Branch. Programs may be licensed to enroll children ages 0-4, 0-5, 5-15 years, or another combination of those ages.

Child Care Resource Center (CCRC)

Maryland’s regional Child Care Resource Centers make up the Maryland Child Care Resource Network (MCCRN), which provides leadership, training and other services to improve the quality, availability, and affordability of child care in communities across the state.

Child Care Scholarship (CCS)

The Child Care Scholarship program provides financial assistance with child care costs to eligible families in Maryland.

Child Development Associate (CDA)

The Child Development Associate program is designed to assess and credential early childhood education professionals who work in all types of early care and education programs. Learn more about Maryland Family Network’s CDA Funding Opportunities.

Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®)

The Classroom Assessment Scoring System is a measurement tool of teacher-child interactions. CLASS® is used by Maryland EXCELS to  assess and provide feedback to licensed Child Care Centers, Family Child Care providers, and Public Prekindergarten programs.

Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR)

The Code of Maryland Regulations is the official compilation of all administrative regulations issued by agencies of the state of Maryland and authorized by the General Assembly. COMAR governs the requirements of child care facilities in the state of Maryland.


A comment is text written and posted directly into the comment area of a subcategory by a program user or the assigned Program Coordinator.

Continuing Education Unit (CEU)

CEUs are a nationally recognized standard of measurement of non-credit continuing education activities and training.

Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI)

Continuous quality improvement for all Maryland child care programs is the goal of Maryland EXCELS.

Continuous Quality Improvement Visits

MSDE Quality Assurance Specialists conduct Continuous Quality Improvement Visits to published programs in order to verify implementation of Maryland EXCELS Standards in achieved subcategories. The QAS team also provides follow- up and technical assistance related to Continuous Quality Improvement Visit observations.

Core of Knowledge (COK)

Core of Knowledge refers to continuing education and/or training  that are recognized by Maryland Accreditation and the Maryland Child Care Credential Program. COK hours are beyond the training hours required by the Office of Child Care. COK hours are identified and broken out by the following content areas on training certificates:

  • CD – Child Development
  • CURR – Curriculum
  • HSN – Health, Safety, and Nutrition
  • SN – Special Needs
  • PROF – Professionalism
  • COMM – Community


A planned set of educational activities and experiences designed to support children’s learning and development.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP)

Developmentally Appropriate Practice is one of five Maryland EXCELS Content Areas, focusing on children’s developmental needs, interests, and abilities.


Staff approved by the Office of Child Care Licensing Branch to serve in this capacity in a child care center.

Division of Early Childhood (DEC)

MSDE’s Division of Early Childhood is responsible for early care and education in Maryland. Their main mission is to improve early education in Maryland so that young children are well prepared for school. The division is composed of the Office of Child Care (OCC), the Early Learning Branch, and the Collaboration and Program Improvement Branch.


Programs upload documentation within the Maryland EXCELS system to demonstrate that they meet the requirements of a subcategory at any level.

Draft Rating

The draft rating is the rating at which a program is eligible to request to publish. Programs achieve a draft rating when they complete all the requirements, in all five content areas, of one of the five rating levels. A program with a draft rating may request to publish the rating and will then proceed to the MSDE verification process. If approved, the draft rating is published and becomes a quality rating.

Early Childhood Education (ECE)

Early childhood education is the field of study that focuses on the development of children from birth through age eight.

Early Learning Assessment (ELA)

The Early Learning Assessment is a free tool for child care programs designed to be used in the natural environment multiple times throughout the year. It is based on seven domains of school readiness for children between the ages of 36 months and 72 months.


The number of children enrolled in a child care program.

Expiring Subcategories

Subcategories identified by MSDE as “expiring” have ratings that are valid for a finite length of time.

Family Child Care Association (FCCA)

The Family Child Care Association is a statewide association that provides resources and support to family child care providers in Maryland.

Family Child Care Home (FCCH)

Family Child Care Home providers offer care in their own home to one or more children who are not related to the provider. A FCCH provider may care for up to eight children with no more than two under the age of two. The provider’s own children under the age of six are counted within the enrollment.

Family Engagement

Family engagement is the practice of involving families in their children’s education and building strong partnerships between families and early childhood education programs.

Find a Program Directory

The Find a Program Directory is a resource for families searching for quality child care in the state of Maryland. It is located in the Maryland EXCELS website and includes a comprehensive, searchable database for all licensed programs in Maryland.

Head Start and Early Head Start Programs

Head Start and Early Head Start programs are federally-funded programs that provide comprehensive services to support the mental, social, and emotional development of children from birth to age 5. In addition to early childhood and education services, these programs provide children and their families with health, nutrition, social, and other services. Head Start services are responsive to each child and family’s ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage. The program encourages the role of parents as their child’s first and most important teachers, building relationships with families that support positive parent- child relationships, family well-being, and connections to peers and community.

Healthy Beginnings

Healthy Beginnings is a set of standards developed by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to guide early childhood education programs in providing high- quality, developmentally appropriate experiences for young children from birth through age three.


Inclusion is the practice of providing all children, including those with disabilities or special needs, with equal access to early childhood education programs and activities.

Individual Education Program (IEP)

An IEP is a legal document for children ages 3 through 21 that clearly defines how a school plans to meet a child’s unique educational needs that result from a disability. The purpose of an IEP is to assess a child’s present performance, set reasonable, measurable goals for the child, and specify the services a program or related service providers will provide.

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)

An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is both a process and a written legal document provided for children with developmental delays that are eligible for early intervention services from birth through the age of two.

Kindergarten Readiness Assessment Report (KRA)

The Kindergarten Readiness Assessment Report identifies kindergarten readiness assessment data of Maryland’s children — statewide, by subgroups, and for each of Maryland’s 24 counties. The KRA measures school readiness in four domains: social foundations, language/literacy, mathematics, and physical well-being and motor development.

Large Family Child Care Home (LFCCH)

Large Family Child Care Home providers offer care in their own home to one or more children who aren’t related to the provider. An LFCCH provider may care for up to 12 children with no more than four under the age of two. Enrollment of three or four children under the age of two or more than eight children in total requires an additional staff person. The provider’s own children under the age  of six  are  counted  within the enrollment.

Lead Staff

Lead staff are the qualified child care teachers (per COMAR designation) who are assigned by the program to be responsible for the overall functioning and supervision of each classroom/group, including but not limited to licensing requirements, educational programming, and parent communication.

Letter of Compliance (LOC)

Nonpublic child care programs run by tax-exempt, religious organizations may be issued a Letter of Compliance by MSDE in place of a child care license.

Licensing and Compliance (LIC)

Licensing and Compliance is one of five Maryland EXCELS Content Areas, focusing on license status and compliance records. Child care centers and family and large family child care homes must be licensed by the Maryland State Department of Education in order to participate in Maryland EXCELS.

Licensing Specialist (LS)

MSDE Child Care Licensing Specialists are responsible for performing  the duties and responsibilities of inspecting, licensing and monitoring child care centers, family child care homes, and nonpublic nursery schools to ensure compliance with child care regulations and the provision of quality child education development programs.

Maryland Accreditation

Maryland Accreditation is a voluntary process in which programs commit to continuous quality improvement to benefit children, families, and staff within the state of Maryland.

Maryland Child Care Credential Program

The Maryland Child Care Credential Program recognizes individual child care providers who increase their qualifications beyond the requirements of state licensing and registration regulations. There are six staff credential levels and four administrator levels offering various recognition of achievement based on a child care provider’s professional development and education, years of experience, and professional activities.

Maryland Child Care Training Calendar

The Maryland Child Care Training Calendar offers all child care providers in Maryland a tool to search for and identify MSDE-approved trainings, trainers, and organizations to meet their professional development needs.

Maryland Early Learning Standards (MELS)

The Maryland Early Learning Standards are a set of guidelines that define the key aspects of development and learning that are the foundation for a child’s school and life-long success. The domains of learning include language and literacy, mathematics, social studies, science, health, physical education, fine arts, and social foundations.

Maryland EXCELS (Excellence Counts in Early Learning and School Age Care)

Maryland EXCELS is a voluntary Quality Rating and Improvement System for early childhood education and school-age programs in Maryland. Maryland EXCELS recognizes programs that meet or exceed Maryland’s licensing standards for quality early childhood education.

Maryland EXCELS Bonuses

As part of the transformative Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, Maryland EXCELS Bonuses are distributed to child care programs participating in Maryland EXCELS based on the type of program, quality rating and program’s licensing capacity.

Maryland EXCELS Certificate

When a program publishes a quality rating at any level, a Maryland EXCELS certificate becomes available in the program’s Maryland EXCELS online profile. This certificate can be downloaded and printed at any time. The Accessing and Downloading Your Maryland EXCELS Quality Rating Certificate tutorial provides instructions for downloading a Maryland EXCELS certificate.

Maryland EXCELS Payments

Maryland EXCELS Payments (previously called Tiered Reimbursement) provide quality differential payments to programs that participate in the Child Care Scholarship program and have a Maryland EXCELS published quality rating of level 3, 4, or 5. Maryland EXCELS Payments range from 10 percent (10%) to 44 percent (44%), depending upon the age of the child, the type of care, and the quality rating of the program.

Maryland EXCELS Toolkit

The Maryland EXCELS Toolkit provides information and resources to support Maryland EXCELS participants in making quality improvements to their early childhood and school-age programs.

Maryland Family Network (MFN)

The Maryland Family Network offers services to help Maryland families find child care providers in their region through LOCATE: Child Care, and offers professional development opportunities for child care providers.

Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE)

The Maryland State Department of Education is the state agency responsible for overseeing and regulating early childhood education programs in Maryland.

Military Child Development Centers

The Department of Defense currently oversees Military Child Development Centers on military installations worldwide. These centers offer a safe child care environment and meet professional standards for early childhood education. Child care is typically available through these centers for children ages six weeks to twelve years.

Montessori Programs

Montessori education is an educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori and is characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social development.


A noncompliance is a finding during a Licensing inspection that the program is not in compliance with one of Maryland’s child care regulations (COMAR). Noncompliances that may affect a Maryland EXCELS rating are those in one or more of the following four compliance categories: Injurious Treatment; Child Protection; Supervision; and Capacity, Group Size and Staffing.

Office of Child Care (OCC)

The Office of Child Care is the division of MSDE responsible for licensing and regulating early childhood education programs in Maryland.

Personnel Qualification Evaluation (PQE)

The PQE, colloquially known as the Orange Card, is completed by the OCC for each child care staff member within Maryland upon hire and when they qualify for a different position. The document outlines qualification variables, including age, high school diploma, preservice training, college coursework, higher education degree, and experience.


For the purposes of Maryland EXCELS documentation, a program policy is one that is shared with families and/or staff (and possibly other stakeholders or associated parties) in printed program materials. When the required documentation is a policy, the policy must be uploaded as an attached file in the form in which it is shared with families/staff.

Program Assessments

Program assessments allow a program the opportunity to identify areas for improvement. Self-assessments and classroom assessments conducted by MSDE are a critical component of ACR 2 requirements.

Program Coordinator (PC)

The primary role of the Maryland EXCELS Program Coordinators is to review all documentation submitted by programs, ask for and verify additional information when needed, and provide a rating based on the submitted documentation using the current PC guidance. PCs are employed by Johns Hopkins University.

Program Improvement Plan (PIP)

A program improvement plan is developed by programs to identify areas for improvement and strategies for achieving higher levels of quality. Program improvement plans are included in the Maryland Accreditation process and in Maryland EXCELS.

Provider/Child Care Provider

A “provider” typically refers to staff registered by the Office of Child Care Licensing Branch to provide care in a family child care home or large family child care home.

Public Prekindergarten (PPK)

Public Prekindergarten is a state-funded program for 4-year-old children. The overall goal of PPK is to provide high-quality learning experiences to help children develop and maintain the skills, knowledge, and behaviors necessary to be successful in school. Local school systems are required to develop their own policies and procedures for implementing prekindergarten programs in accordance with state regulations.

Maryland EXCELS Public Prekindergarten Standards differ slightly from those for Child Care Centers, Family and Large Family Child Care Homes, and School-Age Only Programs. PPK Standards include the following five content areas:

  • School Approval (APV)
  • Teacher Qualifications/Professional Development (TQF)
  • Accreditation/Validation and Rating Scale (AVR)
  • Developmentally Appropriate Learning and Practice/Child Assessment (DAP)
  • Administrative Policies and Practices (ADM)

Quality Assurance Specialist (QAS)

Quality Assurance Specialists are employees of the Maryland State Department of Education’s Office of Child Care. Their roles include providing regional support for Maryland EXCELS participants; recruiting new participants; providing training and technical assistance; and conducting Continuous Quality Improvement Visits to published programs (as determined by MSDE).

Quality Rating (QR)

A quality rating refers to a program’s published level. Programs earn ratings on a progressive scale from 1 to 5. A quality rating of 1 indicates a program has met initial quality requirements. A rating of 5 signifies a program has demonstrated the highest quality rating. By enrolling their children in Maryland EXCELS quality-rated programs, families are choosing programs that emphasize achieving high standards and implementing practices that support children’s development and learning.

Quality Rating Badge

A Quality Rating Badge is awarded to programs when they publish or republish a quality rating. Quality Rating Badges are digital and can be used within a program’s website, written communication, social media, and more. The Accessing and Downloading Your Maryland EXCELS Quality Rating Badge tutorial provides instructions for downloading a Quality Rating Badge.

Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS)

A Quality Rating and Improvement System is a systemic approach to assess, improve, and communicate the level of quality in child care programs. Maryland EXCELS is the Quality Rating and Improvement System for the state of Maryland.

Ready for Kindergarten (R4K)

Ready for Kindergarten is Maryland’s Comprehensive Early Childhood Assessment System, a coordinated system for measuring the knowledge, skills, and behaviors of young children. R4K aligns with the Maryland Early Learning Standards and has two components: Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA) and the Early Learning Assessment (ELA).

Request to Publish (RTP)

Programs submit a request to publish by selecting the Request to Publish button within their Maryland EXCELS account when they are eligible to do so. Programs can request to publish when they have reached a new draft rating or within 60 days of their expiration date.

School-age Classroom Environment Rating Scale (SACERS or SACERS-U)

SACERS is a comprehensive rating scale for school-age programs based on developmental appropriateness for children ages 5-12.

School-Age Only Program (SAO)

School-Age Only Programs are child care centers licensed to enroll only school-age children (K and up), usually 5-15 years old although sometimes also age 4. These programs only provide care before and/or after school hours, during school holidays and vacations (including summer), and during out-of-school programs due to inclement weather.

School Readiness Goals

Specific, measurable school readiness goals must be included in a program’s program improvement plan as part of the Program Improvement Process. School Readiness goals support young children’s development and prepare them for success in school and beyond.

Staff Qualifications and Professional Development (STF)

Staff Qualifications and Professional Development is one of five Maryland EXCELS Content Areas, focusing on professional development. Programs participating in Maryland EXCELS are encouraged to seek ongoing training for their staff and to participate in Maryland’s Child Care Credential Program.


For the purposes of Maryland EXCELS documentation, a statement is a description written for Maryland EXCELS by the Lead Contact or other associated staff to provide specific, requested information. When required as documentation, a statement must be uploaded as an attached file.

Technical Assistance (TA)

Typically conducted by MSDE and/or Child Care Resource Centers, Technical Assistance provides support and guidance to programs to help improve their quality and meet Maryland EXCELS Standards.

Technology Support

Maryland EXCELS participants have access to a 24/7 Technology Support Help Desk to provide support with the Maryland EXCELS system and technology, such as Microsoft applications, tablets, etc.


Tutorials provide step-by-step instructions to help navigate and use the Maryland EXCELS system.

Workforce Advancement

Workforce Advancement is the process of recruiting, training, and retaining a skilled and qualified workforce in the early childhood education field.