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Perspective | Improving access to data and measures that matter for kids

North Carolina has a strong history of collecting and using data to understand needs, demonstrate progress, and guide decisions that improve early childhood systems. State leaders have made data a priority, including strengthening efforts to make data more accessible and developing measures important for young children.    

The NC Early Childhood Data Advisory Council (ECDAC) has been continuing its work to improve the quality and scope of early childhood data in the state. The ECDAC meets quarterly and includes data leaders spanning various sectors and systems supporting young children and their families.

For a look at what’s happening to improve early childhood data access and development in North Carolina, read some highlights shared at ECDAC meetings in December 2021 and March 2022.

New data dashboards from DCDEE 

Earlier this year, the NC Department of Health and Human Services’ (NCDHHS’) Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) released three new public data dashboards focused on: 1) NC early care and learning, 2) NC Pre-K, and 3) subsidized child care assistance. DCDEE has collected and shared data in various ways over the years. Now, using the dashboards, they are able to release data in a more interactive and user-friendly way. The dashboards are visual, searchable, and help to show trends, such as recent decreases in enrollment, staffing, and overall number of early care and learning sites, reported on by EducationNC. Future versions of the dashboard will provide child-level data. 

Improvements to NC ECIDS

The NC Early Childhood Integrated Data System (ECIDS), managed by DCDEE, is the primary source for integrated early childhood data for selected education, health, and social services. For example, if you wanted to know what percent of NC children are involved in the Infant Toddler Program and Food and Nutrition Services, or other combinations of programs, you’d use ECIDS.

DCDEE is currently in the second year of modernizing the system with funding provided by the Preschool Development Grant. Three new programs are being integrated (i.e., Early Hearing Detection & Intervention, Head Start, and Home-Visiting), along with other technical improvements. Once final agreements are signed, the updated NC ECIDS and its new data reports will be publicly released.

Data sharing across NCDHHS

Since 2019, the NCDHHS Data Office has been working hard to improve data flow and strengthen data governance in North Carolina. In 2021, with input from hundreds of stakeholders, the Data Office created a new Data Sharing Guidebook for use by DHHS staff with partners. The guidebook outlines the process for accessing and using NCDHHS data, including how to request data, how data should be stored and transferred, and ethical and legal considerations of access and use. The Guidebook is working to harmonize processes and define terms across the Department. This work allows NCDHHS to better serve NC residents, mitigate risks, and support its staff. It is a model for other state agencies across the country.

Making progress with school readiness measure

The NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI)’s Office of Early Learning has been working with the Center for Education Measurement and Evaluation at UNC-Charlotte and a panel of diverse stakeholders in a standards setting process for the NC Early Learning Inventory (ELI); the state’s new kindergarten entry assessment based on fourteen Teaching Strategies GOLD dimensions. Over the past year, the panel has been developing a process for identifying and measuring skills for typically developing students in the first 60 days of kindergarten and determining what would be required to be on track to meet kindergarten standards by the end of the school year.

The State Board of Education requires the panel to review the NC ELI data and provide recommendations for how it is interpreted and reported. Once their recommendations are approved by the Board, aggregate data will be shared publicly via School Report Cards on the NCDPI website, hopefully starting this fall for the 2021-22 school year.

Moving forward with the early childhood data development strategy

For the past two years, the ECDAC has been working to develop measures prioritized in the Early Childhood Data Development Strategy. To date, they have discussed and developed plans for measures of adult health insurance, preschool suspension and expulsion, children receiving child care subsidies, and families paying 10% or less of their income on child care disaggregated by race/ethnicity and other areas. For the upcoming year, the ECDAC will focus on social-emotional health screening data for young children.

The ECDAC is a collaborative effort between the NC Early Childhood Foundation and NCDHHS. It includes members from NCDHHS Divisions, NCDPI, the NC Department of Information Technology, and data researchers and practitioners from outside state government.

Mary Mathew

Mary Mathew is the Collaboration and Policy Leader at the NC Early Childhood Foundation. She co-leads various efforts aimed at improving child and family wellbeing and early childhood systems in North Carolina such as the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative, EarlyWell Initiative, NC Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, and NC Early Childhood Data Advisory Council.