MOTIVATION: Unknown parameters of dynamical models are commonly estimated from experimental data. However, while various efficient optimization and uncertainty analysis methods have been proposed for quantitative data, methods for qualitative data are rare and suffer from bad scaling and convergence. RESULTS: Here, we propose an efficient and reliable framework for estimating the parameters of ordinary differential equation models from qualitative data. In this framework, we derive a semi-analytical algorithm for gradient calculation of the optimal scaling method developed for qualitative data. This enables the use of efficient gradient-based optimization algorithms. We demonstrate that the use of gradient information improves performance of optimization and uncertainty quantification on several application examples. On average, we achieve a speedup of more than one order of magnitude compared to gradient-free optimization. Additionally, in some examples, the gradient-based approach yields substantially improved objective function values and quality of the fits. Accordingly, the proposed framework substantially improves the parameterization of models from qualitative data. AVAILABILITY: The proposed approach is implemented in the open-source Python Parameter EStimation TOolbox (pyPESTO). pyPESTO is available at https://github.com/ICB-DCM/pyPESTO. All application examples and code to reproduce this study are available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4507613. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.