The Gold Circle of Quality recognizes programs which have demonstrated quality on all fifteen standards, as validated by a state approved assessor.  Gold Circle programs meet or exceed specific quality benchmarks on learning environment, instructional quality, and all program administrative standards; group size and staff/child ratios; staff qualifications; and professional development.  Program must be IDCFS licensed.

These standard and evidence requirements are detailed on the Child Care Center Standards Overview Chart (345 KB) .

What can Licensed Child Care Centers do to prepare for the application process? Check out these helpful tips (782 KB)

The program administrator should complete the ExceleRate Illinois Orientation for licensed child care programs to learn the details of participation in ExceleRate. The administrator should also contact a Quality or Infant Toddler Specialist at your local Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) for free technical assistance and consultation services.

There are two paths to reaching the Gold Circle of Quality

  1. The Accreditation Path - If you choose this path you are able to use your accreditation to show evidence for many of the ExceleRate Illinois standards. Please review the crosswalk summary for details of each individual Accreditation process.

  2. The Assessment Path - If you chose this path, you will need to conduct a self-assessment using an approved assessment tool for every classroom. It is recommended that the program complete a self-assessment using the Program Administration Scale (PAS) as well to gauge administrative practices of the program.

The Getting Ready for the Gold Circle of Quality checklist (410 KB)  should be used as a working document, along with the ExceleRate Illinois Child Care Center Standards Overview chart (345 KB) to help track the progress.  

Upon application to ExceleRate, a state-approved assessor will conduct assessments using ITERS-R, ECERS-3, and SACERS-U, in 1/3 of classrooms for each environment rating scale (ie. age group). For 1-3 classrooms in an age group, one classroom is randomly selected. For 4-6 classrooms in an age group, two classrooms are randomly selected. For 7-9 classrooms in an age group, three classrooms are randomly selected. For licensed child care centers that have child care classrooms with Preschool for All or Head Start services provided within them (collaboration classrooms), these classrooms will be included in the random selection of classrooms for assessment. For licensed child care centers that have Preschool for All or Head Start stand-alone classrooms (Preschool for All or Head Start services only), these classrooms will not be included in the random selection of classrooms. (Personal Care Routines and Parent and Staff subscales for the Environment Rating Scale (ERS) will not be scored in the ExceleRate assessment process). 

A state approved assessor will also verify four PAS subscales (using the PAS-2nd edition) as chosen by the program on the application (Child Assessment, Family Partnerships, and Marketing and Public Relations cannot be chosen for verification as they are covered in other ExceleRate standards). The program should have an organized Program Portfolio available for on-site PAS verification as part of the assessment visit.

Training is required at the Gold Circle of Quality, download a Gold Training Tracker (330 KB) to help track your program's training completion toward the Gold Circle of Quality.


A program can apply for the Gold Circle of Quality when the standards have been met.

Gateways Credentials (i.e. ECE Credential Levels 3-5, Infant Toddler Credential Levels 3-5, and the Illinois Director Credential Levels I-III) meet the following ExceleRate Illinois training requirements (across all circles of quality):

•    Finding a Curriculum that Works for You
•    Introduction to Developmental Screening Tools
•    Fundamentals of Child Assessment
•    Welcoming Each & Every Child
•    Family and Community: Partners in Learning
•    An Introduction to Transitions
•    Understanding and Planning for Continuous Quality Improvement
•    Basics of Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Practice
•    Creating Individual Professional Development Plans


Once your application has been received and documentation approved, an on-site assessment by a state-approved assessor will be scheduled if required.

Programs are awarded the Gold Circle of Quality for a period of 3 years.

An appeal process has been established for programs found ineligible at the Gold Circle of Quality.

Annual reports are required to maintain eligibility and need to include:

- License in good standing
- Current accreditation certificate if applicable
- Maintaining administrator & staff qualification requirements. If the program is not meeting Credential requirements, CQIP must be shown of work accomplished over the previous 12 months. This includes specific training/coursework taken to meet applicable Credential requirements. Progress since the last CQIP must be shown.
- Submission of a CQIP on Standards 1A, 1C, 3A (at a minimum).  Progress must be shown each year.
- Additional items as needed



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