Recommendation One

Improve accountability and opportunities for data-driven decision-making through a comprehensive early childhood data system.

Virginia began the development of an integrated early childhood longitudinal data system through a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded in 2008. Through preliminary analytics and reports based on available local data, Project Child HANDS demonstrated the potential value of an integrated data system and has demonstrated proof of concept for the use of de-identified data to provide timely information to support program and policy improvement.

Since the HHS grant, Virginia has moved forward on other information technology initiatives that have the potential to facilitate data system development and ensure that Virginia’s leaders can benefit from the information provided by an integrated early childhood longitudinal data system. The first major change was Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) successfully establishing the Virginia Case Management System (VaCMS). This system provides a central data resource for early childhood program participation and payment data that was not available when the HHS grant was awarded. As well, through a $17.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the Virginia Department of Education, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, Virginia Community College System, and the Virginia Employment Commission has established the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS). VLDS provides a comprehensive suite of tools that can be made available to other state agencies to integrate data across agencies and data sets in ways that are consistent with state and federal privacy laws – all without creating a data warehouse. The tools offer state agencies an opportunity to participate in an integrated data system that, when appropriate agency permissions are established, automatically retrieves critical data, removes all personal information from the data, and provides linkable data sets to authorized users for analysis and reporting.

Each of these new data systems meets its respective objective and is providing timely information as planned. Missing is a way to connect the rich data that VDSS and other agencies (e.g., Virginia Department of Health) already collect about child and family program participation to their longer-term outcomes in school and life. Connecting data in ways that respect, protect, and eliminate identifying information facilitates leaderships’ use of outcomes-based information to continuously and cost-effectively improve the programs and services. Integrating existing data can help Virginia’s leaders understand how existing programs impact children’s long-term educational outcomes; how investments in professional development and quality improvement benefit children and families; and where there are cracks in the system. With this information, program administrators learn about important areas to improve or sustain program quality; early learning providers know where they need to focus instructional improvement efforts; and parents will have a greater understanding of the impact of their choices on children’s long-term success.

The combination of a central reporting system (VaCMS) and the recently completed automated data linking tools (VLDS) provide Virginia’s early childhood agencies with an opportunity to leverage the work already completed through the HHS grant to fast-track the completion of Virginia’s early childhood integrated data system. Recognizing the asset that an integrated early childhood longitudinal data system can be to the Commonwealth, the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation has begun to serve as a neutral facilitator to provide agency leaders with information about the existing system and collect information about system enhancements that may be needed to enable these agencies to securely share data with VDOE. In addition, VECF is exploring the opportunity to connect the work previously conducted under the HHS grant and Project Child HANDS with the VLDS and to leverage those tools for early childhood research and analysis.

Using such a system, the ability to research, analyze, and strategically utilize collected data can bring us closer to providing answers to significant questions (such as the following) and guide investment and intervention in a more targeted, efficient way.

A comprehensive longitudinal early childhood data system would begin to answer some of the outstanding questions from our lack of knowledge about reach of programs and resources, and would help better connect the dots between risk, reach, and results.

PDF version of official printed report.

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