Spark: Moving Forward

March 28, 2018

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”  Maya Angelou

In our Spark newsletters this year, we have been sharing the details of the revision process. The goal of the Spark revision process is to “know better” and then “do better.” Information gathered from providers and partners during the field test taught us a great deal. We discovered that some aspects of Spark are working well in supporting high-quality programs for children and families and others need fine-tuning. Specifically, Spark needs to be more inclusive and better reflect the practices related to diverse cultures, languages, program types, and age groups. Spark also needs to be more accessible and have a process that feels less “overwhelming” and difficult to navigate, particularly for programs working with children furthest from opportunity. Currently, the revision work is focused on streamlining and improving the Spark standards.

Why revise the standards?
The standards play a big role in simplifying the revised Spark system and making it more inclusive and accessible. Much of the feedback we received from programs, partners, portfolio reviewers, and Quality Improvement Specialists focused on challenges related to the standards. We learned a great deal about the standards from the field test. Specific feedback included these:

  • The number of standards felt overwhelming.
  • Some standards did not reflect practices relevant to diverse cultures and program types or were not inclusive of all age groups.
  • Some standards were difficult to understand, document, and review.
  • Some standards were good program practices but did not directly relate to children and families.

What was the process used to revise the standards?

We began with the goal of simplifying the standards by determining which have the greatest impact on children and families. From there, we considered which standards could be combined with others or eliminated completely. Finally, we looked to see what, if anything, was missing. Based on this, we developed a revised framework of domains and standards which

  • have the greatest impact on children and families;
  • reflect an awareness of practices relevant to diverse cultures, languages, program types, and age groups; and
  • are clearly written, easily documented, and rated.

This process has included input from a wide scope of early learning professionals. In addition to the providers and partners who provided valuable insight, the Spark Implementation Team, the Early Learning Division, the Ad Hoc Committee, and the Early Learning Council have reviewed drafts of the proposed Spark standards. The working draft includes input from each of these groups.

What is staying the same?
Some aspects of the Spark standards will remain the same. The standards will still be organized into domains. Some of the domains, such as Personnel Qualifications and Learning and Development, will remain in the revised system. Although standards have been rewritten to be clearer, you will find many of the same aspects of quality in the newly revised standards.

What is changing?
We have reduced the number of standards from 33 to 18. Programs will have options of how to provide evidence they are meeting the standard, ensuring that programs can demonstrate their quality in a way that best reflects their program and practices.  
The domains in the proposed revised system will be:

  • Environment
    • The standards in this domain will relate to the physical environment and materials and the ways in which they are used
  • Learning and Development
    • The standards in this domain will address routines, activities, and planning for children’s learning
  • Inclusion of Children, Families, and Culture
    • The standards in this domain support welcoming all children and families, family partnerships, and an environment that reflects the unique cultures of all children and families
  • Positive Relationships
    • The standards in this domain highlight positive interactions between children and adults as well as the social and emotional development of children
  • Personnel Qualifications
    • The standards in this domain focus on the individual and program-wide professional qualifications of adults working with children, with a focus on professional development planning
  • Children’s Safety and Program Stability
    • This new domain includes standards related to a program’s licensing compliance history


Some of the original standards have been combined with others, and some have been eliminated because they have less direct impact on children and families. The removal of the current standards related to administration and business practices is an example of this.


Why are these revised standards better?

The revised standards support the goal of Spark being more inclusive and accessible. These standards will reflect the great diversity of programs, children, and families in Oregon. The reduction in the number of standards will allow programs to focus their energies on program quality and improvement in the areas that have the greatest impact on children and families. For example, the new standards place more emphasis on adult-child interactions, which we know is critical in children’s learning and development. The revised standards will also support a review process that is more streamlined and shortens the time it takes to review portfolios and award ratings.


What is next?
We are currently in the process of filling in the details and determining how each will be documented and scored. Each standard is being carefully reviewed for clarity and cultural and linguistic appropriateness. Additionally, within each standard are specific considerations for different age groups and care settings, such as family care or center-based programs. This will allow programs to address each standard in a way that is meaningful to their particular type of setting and ages of all children in their care. In our spring newsletter, we will share details about the individual standards, including how they will be documented by programs and scored by reviewers. You can also check out our website

We will be posting updates periodically.

As always, feel free to get in touch if you have comments or questions. We would love to hear from you!