Evaluation and Improvement

States provide a variety of early childhood programs and interventions. However, these are often administered independently of each other and are not well coordinated. The result is that information on children’s early care and education experiences before kindergarten is siloed and uncoordinated, making it difficult for agency leaders and policymakers to target resources. In consultation with an early childhood data advisory group, and with feedback from early childhood stakeholder groups, the Early Childhood Data Collaborative developed a framework that

  • articulates principles for developing state ECE data systems that enable continuous improvement and answer states’ critical policy questions,
  • identifies ten ECE fundamentals that provide the foundation for coordinated ECE data systems, and
  • provides guidance to state policymakers to ensure appropriate data access and use while protecting privacy and keeping data secure.

The framework, provided below, is intended to help guide states as they work to transform compliance-driven data systems into coordinated, quality-improvement-driven data systems.


Table 2. Ten Fundamentals of Coordinated State ECE Data Systems

Fundamental Number Fundamental Description
1. Unique statewide child identifier

A unique statewide child identifier is a single, nonduplicated number that is assigned to and remains with a child throughout participation in ECE programs and services and across key databases. The child identifier remains consistent even if the child moves or enrolls in different services within a state. A child identifier allows the state to track the progress of each child over time, throughout the early childhood years, and across programs and sites within the state to improve the coordination and provision of services.


2. Child-level demographic and program participation information

Information on child-level demographics and program participation is important to connect children and their families with appropriate services and to understand how child outcomes might relate to various characteristics. Information includes age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and program participation, including early intervention services for children with special needs.


3. Child-level data on development

Assessing and collecting data about young children’s development requires different methods and instruments than assessing older children. State leaders need to ensure that data collected are appropriate, valid, and reliable, using scientifically sound instruments. Collecting developmental data from multiple sources and assessing multiple skills, including social-emotional, physical, cognitive, and linguistic development as well as approaches to learning over time increase the validity of the findings.


4. Ability to link child-level data with K–12 and other key data systems

Linking child-level data with K–12 and other key data systems allows policymakers to track children’s progress over time as well as better understand relationships among ECE programs and other child development programs and services. For example, linked data systems can provide two-way communication between ECE programs and K–12 so that ECE programs know how children progress in K–12, and K–12 programs can tailor instruction to meet individual children’s needs when they arrive at school.


5. Unique program-site identifier with the ability to link with children and the ECE workforce

States need information about program sites to understand whom they serve as well as their impact on children. A unique, statewide program-site identifier is a single, nonduplicated number that is assigned to a school, center, or home-based ECE provider. A program-site identifier allows states to link data on ECE services to a particular site and track these characteristics over time and across key databases. It also allows states to connect ECE program sites with their staff and the children they serve to better understand the relationships among the site and staff characteristics, child program participation, and child outcomes in order to inform policy decisions.


6. Program-site data on structure, quality, and work environment

Program site–level information about ECE programs includes data on program structure, quality, and work environment characteristics, including ECE workforce information.

Examples of structural data include location; ages of children served; length and duration of the programs offered at the site; funding sources; and availability of special services such as parent participation, mental health consultation, or health services. Examples of program quality data include national accreditation information, child-adult classroom ratios, curriculum, and staff-child interaction measures. Examples of work environment characteristics include the availability of professional development opportunities for staff, wages and benefits, and turnover.


7. Unique ECE-workforce identifier with ability to link with program sites and children

Coordinated state ECE data systems that include a unique ECE-workforce identifier help states better understand information about the adults caring for children. A unique ECE-workforce identifier is a single, nonduplicated number that is assigned to individual members of the ECE workforce consistently across program sites and links across key databases. This workforce includes teachers, assistant teachers, aides, master teachers, educational coordinators and directors, and other individuals who care for and educate young children.

A unique ECE-workforce identifier allows states to track workforce characteristics over time and connect the workforce to the ECE programs in which they work and the children they serve. The result will be a better understanding of relationships among the ECE workforce, program-site characteristics, quality of services, and child outcomes.


8. Individual ECE workforce demographics, including education and professional development information

Demographics, education, and professional development data are important to improve understanding of the ways ECE workforce characteristics affect ECE services and child outcomes. These data include race and ethnicity, gender, age, educational attainment, experience in the field, retention, and compensation. Data on professional development and training programs are also important, including information on the focus of the program content and delivery, funding sources, financial aid, and monetary rewards for educational attainment.

Demographic, education, and professional development data on ECE workforce characteristics allow states to understand who is caring for their youngest children and which children have access to different types of teachers and caregivers.


9. State governance body to manage data collection and use

In many states, ECE programs are governed by multiple state agencies, so establishing a governance body that oversees data collection and use is imperative. The governance body establishes the vision, goals, and strategic plan for building, linking, and using data to support continuous improvement. It also sets policies to guide data collection, access, and use to ensure that requested data elements are clearly defined, with common data definitions and standards as well as clear rules on data entry and reporting. These policies also ensure that state data collection and record retention policies, statements, and laws are followed, and members of the governance body include program administrators and legislative and executive-level advisors who understand the meaning behind the data and how they will be used, rather than solely information technology or data managers.


10. Transparent privacy protection and security practices and policies

As state policymakers build coordinated ECE data systems, states must have transparent policies and statements that articulate how they ensure the security of data and the privacy and confidentiality of personally identifiable information. These policies and statements should address important issues including who has access to what data (especially identifiable data), how the information is used and linked, justification for the collection of specific data elements, and how long states retain the information. Coordinating these conversations with the state governance body (see fundamental 9) ensures the privacy, security, and quality of state ECE data systems while allowing appropriate data collection, retention, storage, access, and use.


Source: Early Childhood Data Collaborative. (2010). A framework for state policymakers: Building and using coordinated state early care and education data systems. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/publications/building-using-coordinated-state-early-care-education-data-systems-framework-for-state-policymakers