“The ability to link early childhood data is significant because it allows policymakers to understand how children’s collective experiences contribute to their learning and development across early care and education (ECE) programs and over time,”said Carlise King, executive director of the Early Childhood Data Collaborative. “Coordinated longitudinal early childhood data systems can help program administrators reduce duplicative data collection, ECE professionals tailor programs, parents select needed services, and policymakers develop policies to continuously improve ECE programs.”

Only one state, Pennsylvania, links child-level data across all early childhood education programs and to the state’s K-12 data system. The other 49 states in the country, along with the District of Columbia, do not link programs in this manner. In fact, most states can’t provide answers to important policy questions about publicly-funded early childhood care and education programs because this data is not linked.

Thirty states securely link their early childhood education child-level data, compared to 20 states that link early childhood education child-level data to social services data, and 12 states that link early childhood education child-level data to states’ health data. Twenty-two states are planning to link early childhood education systems to state health data systems, and 18 are planning to link to social services data systems.

State-coordinated early childhood education data systems are more likely to link data for children participating in state pre-kindergarten and preschool special education than children in Head Start or subsidized child care programs. Twenty-five states link preschool special education data and 23 link state pre-kindergarten data, while only 9 states link federal Head Start to K-12.

Thirty-six states collect state-level child development data from early childhood education programs, and 29 states capture kindergarten entry assessment data. The report notes that “aggregate data on developmental screening and assessment, including kindergarten readiness assessment, can be useful at a state level to track, over time, the trends in children’s development status and need for early intervention and/or special education services.”

Thirty-two states have designated an early childhood education data governance entity to guide the development and use of a state-coordinated longitudinal early childhood education data system. Governance entities can help coordinate data across multiple state agencies.

Here are three recommendations the report has for policymakers and practitioners:

  • Strengthen states’ ability to link data on early learning across all state and federal programs, in a secure manner.
  • Expand states’s efforts to gather, connect, and use screening and child assessment data to improve early childhood education program effectiveness, as well as to improve teaching and learning practices.
  • Work to create and sustain early childhood education data governance entities to enhance coordination, security, and proper use of early childhood education data.