Using linked data to improve early care and education programs

BlogEarly ChildhoodSep 29 2016

Early care and education (ECE) program leaders can better understand and serve the children and families in their program when they combine their own data with data from other organizations. This can be tough for programs to do, though, and many programs lack resources or knowledge that would support this aspect of their continuous improvement.

That’s why we took part in a project called Building Capacity to Use Linked Data, funded by the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, in partnership with the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Together, we developed several short, easy-to-read resources to help program leaders link their data with other agencies’, and use that linked data to support quality improvement.

The first resource, Strength in Numbers: Supporting Quality Improvement in Early Care and Education Programs through Linking Administrative Data, is a research brief that may be used by both ECE program leaders and community or state partners interested in linking data with ECE programs. It highlights opportunities in linking data and offers ideas for overcoming related challenges.

We know hearing from colleagues is an important way to learn, so we also developed case studies highlighting real ECE programs that have linked their data with data from other organizations—and that use these linked data to learn more about serving children and families.

  1. CAP Tulsa. This program linked multiple types of data within their own program to support teachers and adapt services for children. They also linked their data with public schools to understand their children’s transition to kindergarten and support teacher effectiveness.
  2. Utah’s Learning Center for Families. This program linked health and early intervention data within their program and with external programs, to better serve their children.
  3. Telamon North Carolina. This agency partnered with another community agency to link their Head Start data with those of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, leading to improved enrollment in and coordination between services.
  4. Rochester Childfirst Network. This program partnered with The Children’s Institute of the University of Rochester to use linked data to support classroom instruction and teacher professional development.
  5. AVANCE-Houston. This Early Head Start/Head Start program partnered with the Houston Independent School District to follow AVANCE children through the early elementary grades. Their intent was to better understand children’s literacy and math skills and how they compared to the skills of other children from low-income families.

We also developed five “Data Direction” guides that describe data issues program staff may encounter if they are interested in linking, or are attempting to link, their data with other agencies. The Data Directions offer action steps programs can use to address these common issues.

Four of the Data Directions focus on broad issues related to linking data, and the fifth one describes a specific example of linking data and highlights issues that might arise during that process.

  1. Data Governance. Data Direction #1 offers ideas about setting up a structure to develop guidelines for using and linking data, including who to invite to join a data governance group, roles and responsibilities for different members, and developing data-use policies.
  2. Discussing Data with Families. Data Direction #2 provides suggestions for ECE program staff for discussing data with families.
  3. Engaging Research Partners. Data Direction #3 includes ideas about locating a research partner to help them link and use data, steps to take before reaching out to a possible partner, and considerations for selecting an appropriate partner.
  4. Developing a Data Sharing Partnership. Data Direction #4 offers suggestions for initiating conversations with other organizations about sharing data.
  5. Linking ECE Data with Public School Data. Some ECE program leaders are interested in learning how their children fare after they leave the program and enter K-12 schools. Data Direction #5 offers ideas for talking with schools about data-linking projects and possible steps in linking ECE program data with public school data.

The next resource, a Planning Guide for Linking Data to Support Program Improvement in Early Care and Education Programs, is designed to help ECE program leaders reflect on their own capacity to link data and identify next steps to accomplish data-linking goals. Using this guide, program leaders will learn six practices that support linking and using data, including how to: (1) identify priority questions to answer with linked data, (2) take inventory of current data and identify additional data needs, (3) engage data-savvy staff, (4) use technology that supports data linking, (5) implement data management standards, and (6) establish organizational practices to support data linking and use.

The final document is a compilation of Resources to Support the Use and Linking of Data in Early Care and Education Programs. It includes brief descriptions and hyperlinks to existing resources that program leaders may find useful in understanding a range of issues related to linking data, and using linked data.

We hope this collection of resources will be helpful to ECE program leaders, program staff, and the technical assistance providers who work with them. We’re firm believers in strength in numbers. Quality, linked data can help programs better understand the children and families they serve, the quality of the services they provide, and possible areas for improvement.

This blog is adapted from the Overview of Resources Developed by the Building Capacity to Use Linked Data Project by Kelly Maxwell and Dale Epstein.