After identifying the critical policy questions confronting state policymakers, the ECDC identified 10 fundamentals of coordinated state ECE data systems.

The 10 fundamentals allow stakeholders to better understand the relationships among children, program sites and ECE workforce characteristics over time. In addition to collecting data, coordinated data systems have the capabilities to link select information longitudinally and with other key programs. A governance structure manages data collection and use, and states have transparent privacy protections and security practices and policies.

These ECE fundamentals are the backbone of the data systems, but based on a state’s unique interests and political realities, state stakeholders may choose to include additional information and capabilities.

Fundamental 1: Unique statewide child identifier

A unique statewide child identifier is a single, non-duplicated number that is assigned to a child and remains with them 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. State policies need to ensure that the unique identifiers are secure and protected, and only certain stakeholders, like parents and teachers, have access to identifiable information.

A child identifier allows the state to track progress of each child over time, throughout the early childhood years and across programs and sites within the state. It improves the coordination and provision of services. And a unique child identifier alleviates redundant data entry on children participating in multiple ECE programs by allowing information about a single child to be linked across various data systems.

Fundamental 2: Child-level demographic and program participation information

Information on child-level demographics and program participation is important to connect children and their families to the appropriate services and to understand how child outcomes might relate to various characteristics. This information includes age, ethnicity, socio-economic status and program participation, including early intervention services for children with special needs. Additional information on risk factors known to correlate with school readiness and academic success would enable states to explore how the impact of these characteristics relate to children’s progress toward school readiness and target services to children.

Fundamental 3: Child-level data on development

Assessing and collecting data about young children’s development requires different methods and instruments from assessing older children. State leaders need to ensure that the data collected are appropriate, valid and reliable, using scientifically sound instruments. Collecting developmental data from multiple sources (e.g., observations and ratings by teachers, collecting samples of children’s work, and parent questionnaires) and assessing multiple skills, including social-emotional, physical, cognitive and linguistic development, and approaches to learning over time increases the validity of the findings. Data on child developmental outcomes allow ECE professionals to monitor child progress and quickly address concerns. Local ECE providers have used child-level development data formatively to tailor services and instruction for continuous improvement, but these efforts have occurred without coordinated data across state programs and systems. Teachers can use developmental history to tailor curricula and care to particular skill development, and policymakers can use the aggregated data to help improve programs. Information on child demographics and program participation connected to developmental data also allows stakeholders to understand how different children, including key subgroups, are progressing. States may evaluate, for example, whether children who are English language learners are progressing appropriately in all developmental domains and make any necessary adjustments to curriculum and ECE workforce training.

Fundamental 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 the progress of children 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 communications 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.

Linking select and secure ECE data with other programs and services, like health and child welfare, allows policymakers to understand the relationship between ECE programs and other services that support child development, program administrators to improve the coordination of services with other providers, and the ECE workforce to target and improve services for individual children based on their access to other supports. Linked data systems also can help with referrals, such as the federal mandate in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to refer any child under age 3 who is involved in a substantiated case of abuse and neglect to Early Intervention services.

Fundamental 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 and their impact on children. A unique, statewide program site identifier is a single, non-duplicated number that is assigned to a school, center or home-based ECE provider. States also may assign unique classroom identifiers to identify individual classrooms within a site. 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 to inform policy decisions.

Fundamental 6: Program site data on the 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 program(s) offered at the site; funding sources; and the 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.

Such data allow states to monitor the availability and quality of ECE program sites and services offered to children and to track this information over time. These data help policymakers better understand the impact of public investments in various quality-improvement initiatives. They also allow states to observe the relationships among various site and staff characteristics and child outcomes.

Fundamental 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 the relationships among the ECE workforce, program site characteristics, the quality of services and child outcomes.

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

Demographics, education and professional development data are important to improve the understanding of how ECE workforce characteristics affect ECE services and child outcomes. These data include race/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. For example, do the neediest children have access to the most qualified members of the ECE workforce? In addition, information about ECE workforce demographics, education and professional development allows states to understand the relationships among various workforce and program site characteristics and child outcomes. Finally, tracking this information over time also helps policymakers make more strategic decisions about allocating professional development resources and better understand the impact of investments in education and training programs.

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. For example, do the neediest children have access to the most qualified members of the ECE workforce? In addition, information about ECE workforce demographics, education and professional development allows states to understand the relationships among various workforce and program site characteristics and child outcomes. Finally, tracking this information over time also helps policymakers make more strategic decisions about allocating professional development resources and better understand the impact of investments in education and training programs.

Fundamental 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 and clear rules on data entry and reporting.

State data collection and record retention policies, statements and laws are followed.

Staff interacting with data systems are fully trained, and appropriate stakeholders have access to limited information — from teachers accessing individual student information to state policymakers analyzing aggregate trends based on longitudinal information. This includes reviewing third-party requests for information and providing data to external researchers as part of the state’s research agenda.

There is a well-developed system to monitor the quality of data submitted, including data spotchecks and site visits to audit the validity of the data.

Members of the governance body should include program administrators and legislative and executive-level advisers who understand the meaning behind the data and how they will be used, rather than solely information technology or data managers. Moreover, aligning this body with the other ECE governance structure(s) like the state’s early childhood advisory council and/or P–20 council will more effectively and strategically fulfill these governance functions.

Fundamental 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 the 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; the 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. Finally, states must also ensure these policies and statements are available publicly and communicated to all stakeholders so states are transparent about the data they are collecting, why and how they are protecting privacy.