Yes, it is important to go to your office or cubicle and perform the day-to-day routines of collecting data, reporting federal and state data, and running ad-hoc data requests.
But, data managers’ roles are changing from primarily focusing on data collection and reporting to building relationships to collect and use high-quality data as evidence to improve early childhood outcomes and ultimately ensure school readiness.
Reporting just compliance data is not enough.
In order to ensure school readiness, that is, making sure that our children are ready for school and schools are ready for children, the collected data need to be used beyond reporting for compliance. The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has acknowledged that reporting compliance data is not enough, and in fact, as compliance has gotten better, outcomes have not improved.
The State of Maine’s Part C early intervention is a great example of going beyond reporting data to analyzing data to make informed decisions. Maine Part C, in collaboration with a few of their local programs, teamed up to develop an analysis plan to increase the numbers of infants and toddlers receiving services in a timely manner.
Through their analysis results, Roy Fowler, the Part C Coordinator, said they were able to “develop new guidance to providers in the field, plan relevant professional development opportunities, promote the understanding and use of data by regional staff to address issues at that level, work with early intervention program managers to identify systemic issues and identify and analyze data to determine appropriate actions, and use data visualizations to support stakeholder understanding of the strengths and areas of needs of Maine’s Part C program.”
Michael Yudin, the former Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), said that despite the focus on compliance, states are not seeing improved results for children and youth with disabilities.
Yudin wrote for the US Department of Education blog, “We must do everything we can to support states, school districts, and educators to improve results for students with disabilities. We must have higher expectations for our children, and hold ourselves as a nation accountable for their success.”
National efforts have been underway to move into the direction of data analysis and data use. The State Systemic Improvement Plan (SSIP), Early Childhood Integrated Data Systems (ECIDS), and State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) are ushering in a movement toward using high-quality data to support data-informed decision making for program and policy improvement.
Get the resource: Develop an ECIDS for your state with the ECIDS Toolbox.
Collaboration is key.
The importance of a data manager’s role should not be underestimated when it comes to garnering support for data use. The data manager can help build rapport across departments, agencies, offices, and data governance boards to gain backing for answering program and policy questions. The data manager can be involved in many ways:
- Participate in and lead discussions at SSIP meetings to make sure the evaluation is on track.
- Participate in and lead discussions at Interagency Coordinating Council (ICC) meetings about early childhood data and program and policy questions that need to be answered.
- Organize relevant offices and lead efforts to build an ECIDS.
- Participate in and lead discussions to integrate early childhood data into the SLDS.
- Routinely keep the data governance board up-to-date on the early childhood data activities that are taking place and/or are in the pipeline.
In addition to the activities above, a data manager should visit the local programs they support. By visiting the local programs, the data manager can share the local data and have a face-to-face discussion about data quality, how to resolve data quality issues, and how to use the data.
Site visits encourage participation from the locals and help local staff understand the importance of submitting high-quality data and then using the data for program decisions. Site visits are a critical component of a data manager’s work because it builds relationships, influences behavior change at the local level, and promotes data culture.
Improving outcomes depends on data.
The benefits of going above and beyond federal and state reporting requirements are immense. Data use can provide evidence to support program and policy decisions and ultimately will help program staff to maximize the provision of services, so children can live their lives to their fullest potential
For more information on how Maine Part C Early Intervention analyzed and used their federal reporting data to make key changes to ensure infants and toddlers are receiving services in a timely manner, we encourage you to reach out to Roy Fowler, Maine Part C Coordinator, with questions. And if you have questions or comments on early education data-informed decision making, please reach out to us any time.