Like many states, Maryland has struggled with how to improve outcomes for children in early learning settings from the state level. What can the state do to ensure children, especially children with disabilities, are being supported in the critical early learning years while being so far removed from children’s day-to-day early learning experiences? Maryland looked to data to answer critical questions about the success of early intervention services in the state, but first it had to figure out the state’s role in making data work for everyone involved in supporting early learners.
Start with the Questions
Maryland started with three compelling questions:
- What difference do early intervention services (EIS) make for children from birth to 3 years of age?
- What are the effects of EIS on future student performance?
- What interventions work better than others?
In order to answer these questions, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) needed data—and some help. MSDE partnered with Johns Hopkins University School of Education’s Center for Technology in Education (CTE) to combine the policy expertise of the state and the research skills of a respected postsecondary institution with the shared goal of supporting children with disabilities.
But as they began the work of answering their initial questions, they found that they were stymied by silos of data. MSDE had electronic data systems, but these systems did not talk to each other. And it was difficult to accurately find information about children in these data silos without a unique student identification system. With the support of a federal grant, MSDE and CTE created a longitudinal data system and a unique student identification system. Making sure that young children, especially those receiving early intervention services, are on track to succeed required a data system that can follow children’s progress over time.
Prioritize Using Data at the State and Local Levels
Creating the data infrastructure was the first step. To encourage use of the data, CTE created a tool to generate charts, reports, and analyses to make sense of the data and also provided training around the state on how to use the tool. The state noticed that, in the few weeks after each training, use of the tool would spike and then drop off.
MSDE realized that it was training individual users, not teams of people at the local level who could work together to analyze data and take action based on what they learned. MSDE adopted a model for data-informed decisionmaking called TAP-IT (Team, Analyze, Plan, Implement, Track) that emphasizes the importance of a shared commitment to data use. TAP-IT also focuses on setting goals about what questions need to be answered before analyzing multiple sources of data to plan and implement a course of action.
While TAP-IT might seem like any other alphabet-soup data inquiry model, Maryland has found success with this model because of the role of the state in making data use possible at the local level. Specifically, MSDE:
- Sets and communicates the vision and expectation across the state to use data to inform policy and practice change that helps children.
- Models the TAP-IT process daily, using data to inform decisionmaking that affects children and families. This shows what is expected in schools, classrooms, and programs.
- Aligns the use of data to inform policy and practice from the state to local lead agencies to learning settings (like child care and preschool).
- Provides support to local agencies and programs, including providing training and discretionary funds to implement the TAP-IT model.
Make Data Work for Students
In Maryland, the use of the TAP-IT model helps everyone who supports children—from local providers to districts to the state education agency—have a shared understanding of where they are in meeting learning goals for children and what steps need to be taken to improve outcomes for all children, especially those needing extra support.
By using data to answer their critical questions, the state learned that children with disabilities who received earlier, more rigorous services were more ready for school than children with disabilities not in early intervention. By third grade, 68 percent of early intervention students exited special education.
The most difficult question to answer is “Why?” Which interventions lead to success for children? While this question is hard to answer, it’s important to answer. Working as a team with local programs and educators, the state will be using data to find and replicate successful interventions, which will have a direct impact on policy, practice, and, most importantly, positive outcomes for our youngest learners.
Also published on Medium.