New findings indicate more coordination is needed; report offers 3 recommendations for policymakers

childhood-dataA new survey reveals that most states cannot answer the most basic questions about early childhood care and education, including whether young children up to age 5 are on track for academic success and if early childhood educators are adequately trained to teach and prepare young children, because data system on young children are house in separate and uncoordinated systems with different managing agencies and processes.

Because of this, policymakers and early childhood education professionals, as well as parents, need timely and accurate access to data in order to make informed decisions.

Early childhood education professionals in particular need data about young children’s development in order to inform and personalize instruction, according to 2013 State of States’ Early Childhood Data Systems, the latest survey from the Early Childhood Data Collaborative.

(Next page: The results of the survey on early childhood data use)

“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.