This is a guest post by Charles McGrew, PhD, a former DQC staffer and executive director of the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics. He is also a partner at Postsecondary Consultants, where he helps a number of states with P–20W and public policy issues, and frequent speaker on the use of data and data systems. He can be reached at Charles@postsecondaryconsultants.com, or follow him at @politicsofdata or www.politicsofdata.com.
Kentucky has a statewide vision about the importance of data in all parts of the P–20W cycle to inform policies and practice. The state just codified an executive order with legislation that creates a central office to collect and report education and workforce data. The Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics (KCEWS) works with partner agencies and stakeholders to provide meaningful, easy-to-understand and -utilize information. Kentucky’s Early Childhood Profiles is a good example of a successful partnership.
Collecting data and pushing numbers into a report is easy. The hard part is making sure it is accurate, comparable and meaningful. If you want to improve policies and programs you have to bring the right information in front of the right people in a way they can understand and use. You have to work closely with stakeholders.
KCEWS has been an active partner with the Kentucky Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, discussing the types of data needed to better inform the state’s policies in these areas. Early on the decision was made that a state-level report would have limited value—local early childhood groups needed information that was specific to their population. They wanted to see information together instead of referencing several different reports or tables, and they wanted it in a portable format they could take with them or distribute at meetings. It had to be clear and easy to understand.
Some of the information people wanted already existed in other reports or could be pulled easily from the census. Other data, such as information about the students in publicly funded preschools, was part of the state’s longitudinal data system, but it had not been used before. Stakeholders saw kindergarten readiness as critical but the data didn’t exist. Fortunately the Commonwealth was moving in that direction with a standard kindergarten screener. In fall 2012 the screener became available for schools to use as part of a pilot. More than 100 of Kentucky’s school districts participated. It becomes required for all students entering public kindergarten in fall 2013. Using a common assessment will provide timely information back to teachers about the areas where students may need extra support. It also provides information that communities and state programs need to know to help ensure that future students are better prepared. Though it was a pilot, it was widely used and we decided the communities where it was administered would benefit from the results, so it was also included.
In the end, after a number of drafts and stakeholder feedback, we produced a profile for each of Kentucky’s 120 counties as well as a state-level report that has been very well received. It includes data from our Kentucky Longitudinal Data System, but it also includes data from a variety of other sources. If we waited until the LDS had child-level data for all these areas, we would never have a report. By working closely with the early childhood community, doing our homework, leveraging data that already exists, and using new data sources, we were able to develop a responsive report that is actually being used in the field. It’s making a difference.
So far the responses have been very positive. We credit this to the close collaboration with the early childhood community. Without a clear understanding of how the data would be used and the types of issues the community councils were working with, it would have been impossible to meet their needs. People are already beginning to identify new types of data they would like us to include in the next version, and we are anxious to make it even better than the first.