[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 235 (Friday, December 8, 2017)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 57905-57906]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-26483]



Administration for Children and Families

45 CFR Part 1304

RIN 0970-AC63

CLASS Condition of the Head Start Designation Renewal System

AGENCY: Office of Head Start (OHS), Administration for Children and 
Families (ACF), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

ACTION: Request for comments.


SUMMARY: OHS invites public comment on several specific changes being 
considered for the CLASS condition of the Designation Renewal System 
(DRS) as outlined in the Head Start Program Performance Standards. We 
are considering changes to the CLASS condition with a goal of improving 
implementation and transparency of the DRS. Changes being considered 
include removal of the ``lowest 10 percent'' provision of the CLASS 
condition, an increase of the minimum thresholds for the Emotional 
Support and Classroom Organization domains to a score of 5, removal of 
the minimum threshold for the Instructional Support domain, and 
establishment of authority for the Secretary to set an absolute minimum 
threshold for the Instructional Support domain prior to the start of 
each fiscal year to be applied for DRS CLASS reviews in the same fiscal 
year. OHS requests feedback on these possible changes as well as 
alternative changes to the CLASS condition, particularly ways the 
Instructional Support threshold could be set and/or adjusted that would 
incentivize program improvement while acknowledging the current state 
of the field. OHS also invites feedback on other conditions of the DRS.

DATES: Submit comments by February 6, 2018.

ADDRESSES: You may send comments, identified by [docket number and/or 
RIN number], by either of the following methods:
     Federal eRulemaking Portal: https://www.regulations.gov. 
Follow instructions for sending comments. We prefer to receive comments 
via this method.
     Mail: Office of Head Start, Attention: Colleen Rathgeb, 
Director, Division of Planning, Oversight and Policy, 330 C Street SW., 
Washington, DC 20024.
    Instructions: All submissions received must include our agency name 
and the docket number or Regulatory Information Number (RIN) for this 
notice. All comments will be posted without change to https://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information provided. We 
accept anonymous comments. If you wish to remain anonymous, enter ``N/
A'' in the required fields.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Colleen Rathgeb, Director, Division of 
Planning, Oversight and Policy, Office of Head Start, 
[[email protected]], (202) 358-3263 (not a toll-free call). 
Deaf and hearing impaired individuals may call the Federal Dual Party 
Relay Service at 1-800-877-8339 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Eastern 
Standard Time.


Background Information

    The Head Start program provides grants to local public and private 
non-profit and for-profit agencies to provide comprehensive education 
and child development services to economically disadvantaged children, 
from birth to age five, and families and to help young children develop 
the skills they need to be successful in school. Our agencies provide 
these families comprehensive services to support children's cognitive, 
social, and emotional development. In addition to education services, 
agencies provide children and their families with health, nutrition, 
social, and other services.
    To drive program quality improvement, the Improving Head Start for 
School Readiness Act of 2007, Pub. L. 110-134, (the Act) required HHS 
to develop a system to facilitate designation of Head Start grantees 
delivering a high-quality and comprehensive program for a period of 
five years and required grantees not delivering high-quality and 
comprehensive services to enter open competition for continued funding. 
Prior to the Act, when HHS designated a Head Start agency, it remained 
a Head Start grantee indefinitely unless the grantee either 
relinquished funding or HHS terminated its grant.
    To meet the requirement in the Act, HHS established the DRS, which 
is described in 45 CFR 1304.10 through 16. The DRS includes seven 
conditions. If an agency meets any of the seven conditions, it must 
compete with other providers in the community for renewed grant 
funding. The seven conditions are: (1) A deficiency under section 
641A(c)(1)(A), (C), or (D) of the Act; (2) failure to establish, 
utilize, and analyze children's progress on agency-established School 
Readiness goals; (3) scores below minimum thresholds in the Classroom 
Assessment Scoring System: Pre-K (CLASS) domains or in the lowest 10 
percent in any of the three domains of the agencies monitored in a 
given year unless the average score is equal to or above the standard 
of excellence; (4) revocation of a license to operate a center or 
program; (5) suspension from the program; (6) debarment from receiving 
federal or state funds or disqualified from the Child and Adult Care 
Food Program; or (7) an audit finding of at risk for failing to 
continue as ``a going concern.'' The Act also requires HHS to 
periodically evaluate whether or not the DRS criteria are applied in a 
manner that is transparent, reliable, and valid.
    Section 641(c)(1)(D) of the Act requires the DRS to be based in 
part on classroom quality as measured under section 641A(c)(2)(F), 
which refers to a valid and reliable research-based observational 
instrument, implemented by qualified individuals with demonstrated 
reliability, that assesses classroom quality, including assessing 
multiple dimensions of teacher-child interactions that are linked to 
positive child development and later achievement. The third condition 
of the DRS is based on use of the CLASS, which is an observational 
measurement tool for assessing the quality of teacher-

[[Page 57906]]

child interactions and classroom processes in three broad domains that 
support children's learning and development: Emotional Support, 
Classroom Organization, and Instructional Support.

Changes to CLASS Condition Under Consideration

    Since HHS established the DRS, all grantees that had indefinite 
project periods have completed the DRS process. Based on CLASS data, 
observations collected throughout these cohorts, results of a recent 
evaluation, and feedback from the community, we are considering changes 
to the CLASS condition of the DRS in order to better improve 
implementation of the system. There are concerns about some aspects of 
the CLASS condition of the DRS that have been raised by Head Start 
grantees as well as in the recent evaluation. First, the requirement 
for grantees with the lowest 10 percent of scores on any of the three 
CLASS domains to compete may not be optimally targeting the grantees 
for competition with the lowest measures of classroom quality. For 
example, grantees have been required to compete due to an Emotional 
Support score of 5.69, which is very close to the Standard of 
Excellence (a 6--which developers of the CLASS deem the highest 
quality), while grantees very close to the minimum threshold in 
Instructional Support (e.g., score of 2.3) do not have to compete. We 
are considering an approach to establish higher specific thresholds 
that demonstrate an established acceptable level of quality in 
Emotional Support and Classroom Organization and an adjustable 
threshold for the Instructional Support domain where there is the 
greatest potential and need for program improvement.
    Second, we understand that the delay between completion of the 
CLASS review and grantees knowing their DRS designation status, due to 
the need to collect and analyze a full monitoring year's CLASS scores 
to determine the lowest 10 percent, creates uncertainty, stress, and 
concern among grantees, grantee staff, and families. Because classroom 
quality in Head Start programs is improving, as demonstrated by recent 
analysis of data from the 2006, 2009, and 2014 cohorts of the Head 
Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES),\1\ we are exploring 
options for the CLASS condition that would better balance an ability to 
drive quality improvement over time with an approach that would be more 
transparent, timely, and less burdensome for programs.

    \1\ Aikens, N., Bush, C., Gleason, P., Malone, L., & Tarullo, L. 
(2016). Tracking Quality in Head Start Classrooms: FACES 2006 to 
FACES 2014. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human 

    To inform our development of a notice of proposed rulemaking to 
change the DRS CLASS condition to meet the objectives described above, 
we are requesting public comments on several specific changes being 
considered. The changes under consideration are as follows:
    1. Remove the ``lowest 10 percent'' provision of the CLASS 
condition described in 45 CFR 1304.11(c)(2).
    2. Increase the minimum threshold described in 45 CFR 
1304.11(c)(1)(i) for the Emotional Support domain from 4 to 5.
    3. Increase the minimum threshold described in 45 CFR 
1304.11(c)(1)(ii) for Classroom Organization from 3 to 5.
    4. Remove the minimum threshold for the Instructional Support 
domain described in 45 CFR 1304.11(c)(1)(iii) and instead provide 
authority for the Secretary to set an absolute minimum threshold for 
the Instructional Support domain, considering the most recent CLASS 
data, by August 1 of each year to be used for CLASS Reviews conducted 
in the following fiscal year (October 1 through September 30).
    Together, these changes would allow grantees to know by August 1, 
before CLASS Reviews are conducted for the coming fiscal year, the 
exact threshold of classroom quality in each of the three domains that 
will be used to determine which grantees will be subject to an open 
competition for funding and which grantees will receive renewed funding 
non-competitively. Grantees would no longer have to wait until several 
months following the conclusion of the CLASS reviews for the fiscal 
year (September 30) to learn the lowest 10 percent cutoff in each of 
the 3 domains. Setting minimum thresholds of 5 in the Emotional Support 
and Classroom Organization domains would set a clear and consistent 
expectation of quality for all Head Start programs. Allowing the 
Secretary to set the minimum threshold in the Instructional Support 
domain prior to the start of each program year and monitoring year 
would allow for consideration of the most recent CLASS data for Head 
Start grantees while still supporting continuous quality improvement 
across the program as a whole.

What We Are Looking for in Public Comments

    We invite comments about the specific changes being considered for 
the DRS CLASS condition. We also invite comments about any unintended 
consequences of removing the lowest 10 percent condition and whether an 
absolute threshold could influence scores. We are particularly 
interested in recommendations related to how the Secretary would 
consider establishing the minimum threshold for Instructional Support 
each year. For example, the regulation could establish an initial 
Instructional Support threshold (e.g., 2.3 or 2.5) that could be raised 
in increments of 0.1 based on certain criteria related to the available 
CLASS data from all prior years of Head Start monitoring, or the 
threshold could be set one standard deviation below the mean 
Instructional Support score over the 3 or 5 previous fiscal years. We 
are interested in other ideas of ways the Instructional Support 
threshold could be set and/or adjusted that would incentivize program 
improvement while acknowledging the current state of the field. We are 
also interested in feedback on another potential change to establish or 
maintain a minimum absolute threshold (such as a 2) that would require 
competition and a higher threshold (such as 2.5 or 3) and require 
grantees to focus on quality improvement before they were reevaluated 
to see if their Instructional Support score has improved. Only grantees 
without improvement or still below the threshold would then have to 
compete. We are interested in feedback on each of these possible 
approaches as well as others suggested by the field.
    If commenters do not support the changes being considered, comments 
offering alternative proposals to the CLASS condition or to other 
conditions of the DRS would be particularly helpful.

    Dated: December 5, 2017.
Ann Linehan,
Acting Director, Office of Head Start.
[FR Doc. 2017-26483 Filed 12-7-17; 8:45 am]