Key concepts of quality evaluation
The following concepts are related to the theoretical framework for the national evaluation of early childhood education and care, the evaluation process of Valssi and the content of evaluation tools:
Quality factors, quality indicators and quality criteria describe, in concise terms, high-quality and desirable ECEC, thus providing guidelines for nationally consistent evaluation. The quality indicators are derived from the Act on Early Childhood Education and Care, the National Core Curriculum for ECEC and national and international research on key factors of quality in ECEC. The quality indicators arise from the structural and process-related factors of quality, and the content of the indicators in everyday operations is verified with the quality criteria.
Structural factors of quality are factors related to the organisation of ECEC, which are determined and regulated by laws, decrees and other national documents, for example. Because of this, structural quality factors are relatively permanent. Structural factors of quality are linked to such aspects as who is responsible for ECEC activities, where ECEC activities take place and what type of a setting is created for the activities. As such, they create boundary conditions for pedagogical activities, i.e. process-related factors of quality.
Process-related factors of quality are factors that describe the core functions of ECEC pedagogy and the operating culture of ECEC units, which are directly linked to children’s experiences. Process-related factors of quality describe how the objectives set for and the content of ECEC are realised in practice. The structural and process-related factors of quality are dynamically intertwined and verified in ECEC at its various levels.
Quality indicators are concrete and verifiable descriptions of the essential and desirable properties of high-quality ECEC. An indicator provides a target level and thus the foundation for measurement, summarising a wide range of information into a more manageable and understandable form. ECEC quality indicators lay the foundation for consistent practices and principles at the national level, according to which ECEC can be evaluated and, consequently, developed.
Quality criteria are standards for evaluation. They are attributes that define indicators in greater detail or properties that differentiate them. Quality criteria are properties chosen as the basis for determining quality. They are clear statements or questions that describe practices. The activities under evaluation are compared to the chosen quality criteria, on the basis of which conclusions can be drawn on how well the criteria are met in the activities, i.e. what the current quality level of the activities is. Quality criteria make it possible to concretely evaluate the realisation of indicators in everyday activities either qualitatively or quantitatively.