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Many Missing Pieces

The Difficult Task of Linking Early Childhood Data and School-Based Data System
Published:   October 1, 2010

A new issue brief from New America's Early Education Initiative sheds light on what's missing as states build data systems to analyze children's progress over time. "Many Missing Pieces: The Difficult Task of Linking Early Childhood Data and School-Based Data Systems," urges states to take steps to gather and integrate information from early childhood programs, including Head Start, childcare, and a fuller range of social services.

In the past five years, the federal government has invested roughly $515 million to help states build and expand longitudinal data systems to collect data across the full span of a child's educational experience. The latest round of funding, $250 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), was allocated to 20 states in May 2010 and required states to make linkages between data on early childhood programs and the traditional K-12 system.

Even with these investments, many states are still a long way from collecting early childhood data (birth to age 8) that can inform teachers and parents about needed changes in instruction, improve learning opportunities in each year of a child's educational journey,and guide policy decisions related to early childhood programs.

"There are no examples, to our knowledge, of any states that have incorporated data from the diverse array of early childhood programs into their K-12 longitudinal data systems," write the authors of the report, Laura Bornfreund, policy analyst, and Maggie Severns, program associate for the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation.

A growing number of states now have the ability to collect and use information on individual children attending state funded pre-kindergarten programs. But state's education departments are less likely to be capturing data on children who attend Head Start, the federal government's pre-k program for children in poverty. Also missing are data on children attending childcare programs that benefit from public subsidies - not to mention other non-profit and for-profit childcare centers and preschools.

Early childhood data are essential to multiple stakeholders: Teachers need longitudinal data on students in their classroom from their previous years of school to help them target their instruction and identify students who need additional help as early as possible. Researchers need data on how students have progressed over time to analyze the effectiveness of programs. State and local policymakers need data to determine where future investments should be made. State officials need data to evaluate how well teacher preparation programs equip teachers of young children with the knowledge and skills they need to be effective.

The report makes 14 recommendations to federal and state policymakers. For example, it suggests that states:

*Expand agreements to share data responsibly with other state agencies so that data systems include information from a fuller range of education and social service programs;

*Provide timely information to pre-k-12 teachers and principals on individual students and their academic backgrounds so that instruction can be tailored to their needs;

*Develop guidelines and professional development programs on the responsible use of and security of data to ensure privacy of student information; and

*Collect student-level information, where permitted, on children enrolled in federally funded programs such as Head Start, Early Head Start, Even Start, Title I, IDEA, and those funded by Child Care Development Block grants;

The report was made possible through generous grants from the Foundation for Child Development, the W. Clement and Jessie V. Stone Foundation, and the A.L. Mailman Family Foundation.

For the full report go to: http://earlyed.newamerica.net/publications/policy/many_missing_pieces.

For media inquiries, please contact Kate Brown at 202-596-3365 or brown@newamerica.net.

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