[Federal Register Volume 83, Number 31 (Wednesday, February 14, 2018)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 6503-6506]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2018-02902]



Administration for Children and Families

45 CFR Part 1304

RIN 0970-AC63

Head Start Designation Renewal System Improvements

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

ACTION: Request for comments; re-issue.


SUMMARY: OHS issues this request for comments to invite public feedback 
on information we inadvertently omitted from the ``CLASS Condition of 
the Head Start Designation Renewal System,'' request for comments, 
published on December 8, 2017. The document withdrawing the ``CLASS 
Condition of the Head Start Designation Renewal System'' request for 
comments is published elsewhere in this issue of the Federal Register. 
This request for comments is similar to the withdrawn publication in 
that it invites the public to comment on specific changes OHS is 
considering for the CLASS condition, as well as other Designation 
Renewal System (DRS) conditions and processes more broadly. 
Additionally, OHS seeks

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comments on ways it can: Incentivize robust competition to include new 
applicants, facilitate smooth transitions when there is a new grantee 
as a result of competition, and improve the DRS processes. The comment 
period is 30 days to allow for the public to address the additional 
issues in this reissued request for comments. We will consider comments 
submitted under the ``CLASS Condition of the Head Start Designation 
Renewal System'' request for comments.

DATES: Submit comments by March 16, 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.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Consistent with the December 8, 2017, 
publication (82 FR 57905), OHS invites public comment on several 
specific changes being considered for the CLASS condition of the DRS as 
outlined in the Head Start Program Performance Standards. We also 
invite public comment on other improvements to the DRS based on 
feedback from stakeholders, grantees, and the results of the DRS 
implementation evaluation. In particular, 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 and alternative changes to the CLASS 
condition. Particularly in ways the Instructional Support and other 
thresholds could be set and/or adjusted that would incentivize 
continuous program improvement while acknowledging the current state of 
the field. OHS also invites feedback on other conditions of the DRS and 
the way it is implemented.

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, Public Law 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 5 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. To include assessing 
multiple dimensions of teacher-child interactions that is 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-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 DRS 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 DRS in order to better improve implementation of the system, 
including changes to the CLASS condition.

The CLASS Condition

    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

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5.69, which is very close to the Standard of Excellence (a 6--which 
developers of the CLASS deem the highest quality). In addition, 
grantees scoring slightly higher than the minimum threshold in 
Instructional Support (e.g., score of 2.3) do not have to compete 
unless they fall into the lowest 10 percent of all grantees' scores for 
Instructional Support, which has been very close to the minimum 
threshold. 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. This 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.

Other Areas of Improvement

    In addition to the CLASS condition, we are interested in receiving 
feedback about other conditions and improvements that could be made to 
DRS. This includes actions we can take without regulatory changes to 
ensure the DRS process is transparent, timely, and results in higher 
quality programs.
    To inform our development of a notice of proposed rulemaking and 
continue improving the DRS, we are specifically requesting comments on:
     Changes OHS can make to incentivize robust competition, 
including ways OHS can ensure there are new and quality applicants at 
the local level;
     Changes OHS can make to facilitate an orderly transition 
between grantees without disrupting services for children (when 
recompetition is required and the incumbent does not regain its grant); 
     Any other administrative changes OHS can make to the 
system that do not require regulatory changes, including changes to 
monitoring processes and timing of notifications and awards.

What We Are Looking for in Public Comments

    We invite comments about the specific changes being considered for 
the DRS CLASS condition as well as alternatives to these changes that 
would continue to improve program quality, while balancing the need to 
continue to provide transparency to grantees about what they will be 
measured on and being mindful of burden on grantees. 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, including in what increments to raise the 
threshold, what data to base the absolute thresholds on, and how often 
to revise the threshold. 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 also interested in whether we should align the approach 
for Instructional Support with the other CLASS domains. 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, whether changes 
to the absolute thresholds or the relative 10 percent threshold, or to 
other conditions of the DRS would be particularly helpful.
    We are also particularly interested in soliciting feedback on other 
changes to DRS implementation that would spur

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local competition and improve the DRS process for grantees.

Ann Linehan,
Acting Director, Office of Head Start.
[FR Doc. 2018-02902 Filed 2-13-18; 8:45 am]