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 Gold Circle of Quality chart (311 KB) .

What can Licensed Child Care Centers do to prepare for the application process? Check out these helpful tips (782 KB) !  You can also connect with a Quality 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 and the additional requirements for alignment with ExceleRate Illinois.

  2. The Assessment Path - If you chose this path, download and print the Steps to Apply (899 KB)  ( Steps to Apply Spanish (904 KB) ) document to begin your process.  As part of this process 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.

    Upon application to ExceleRate, a state-approved assessor will conduct assessments using ECERS-3, ITERS-R, SACERS-U, and PAS 2nd Edition in 1/3 of your classrooms, including one classroom per age group.  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 & 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 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 also have an organized Program Portfolio (see the Steps to Apply for what must be included) for on-site review 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 programs 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 staff qualification requirements
- Submission of a CQIP
- Additional items as needed



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