ExceleRate Illinois uses a consistent set of standards organized into four domains:

  • Teaching and Learning
  • Family and Community Engagement
  • Leadership and Management
  • Qualifications and Continuing Education 

Programs achieve one of the Circles of Quality below based on meeting standards under each of the four domains. 

  • The Licensed Circle of Quality is the foundational circle of quality, and recognizes compliance with the licensing standards of the State of Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
  • The Bronze Circle of Quality recognizes qualifications and professional development, with completion of a robust series of trainings. Bronze Circle trainings are aligned with the standards of ExceleRate Illinois, and prepare programs for success as they progress through the Circles of Quality.
  • The Silver Circle of Quality recognizes completion of a rigorous self-assessment and implementation of a continuous quality improvement process, as verified by an independent assessor. Silver Circle programs meet or exceed specific quality benchmarks on learning environment and instructional quality, along with selected administrative standards; qualifications; and professional development.
  • The Gold Circle of Quality recognizes programs which have demonstrated quality on all standards, as validated by an independent assessor. Gold Circle programs meet or exceed specific quality benchmarks on learning environment, instructional quality, and all administrative standards; group size and ratios; qualifications; and professional development.



There are also Awards of Excellence in specific areas that can be achieved once the Gold Circle of Quality is reached. These are based on what research says is required to help at-risk children be prepared for success in school and later life, and include awards for:

  • Preschool Teaching & Learning
  • Infant & Toddler Services
  • Family and Community Engagement
  • Inclusion of Children with Special Needs
  • Linguistically and Culturally Appropriate Practice


The ExceleRate Illinois QRIS Validation Study has been completed. To read or download, go to the website of the Governor's Office of Early Childhood Development.

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