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Early Learning Assessment Game Changer

Assessments of kindergarten readiness are fraught with opinions about what should be assessed, how old children should be when assessed, and what the assessments should be used for. The conversation often turns contentious, and has kept many states from coming to a consensus on what is best for them.  However, an innovative new tool is helping communities rise above these challenges, create collective approaches to support, and prepare their children for school success.

This new instrument has emerged over the past few years and is fundamentally changing the conversation. The Early Development Instrument (EDI) is being used to assess children on a variety of domains; however, the catch is that the results are reported at a population level, not the individual child level (as is the case with most assessments). The EDI emerged from the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster University and has grown to include a Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) mapping component through relationships between the UCLA Center for Healthier Children and The United Way Worldwide. The assessment is done so that a community can determine the well-being of its children as a whole instead of pinpointing deficits of individual children. Not only does this take the stigma off of children in a community having “deficits” or “being at risk of failure,” but it also has huge implications for collective impact efforts around kindergarten readiness. Communities are seen as having needs for collectively supported activities rather than individual children in need of services.

Policy makers are flooded with statistics daily, but rarely do stats drive someone to action. The EDI gives community leaders unprecedented insight by using early childhood assessment data with GIS mapping, leading to consensus on the degree and geographic concentration of the problem.  Using GIS, the researchers working with the local communities administering the EDI can color code the vulnerability rates and show community leaders, school administrators, policymakers, and even concerned parents the magnitude of their community’s ranking on the core early learning areas. This is then used in combination with Kretzman and McKnight’s asset mapping strategies to show what resources are currently in place to address the community’s specific needs, and where resources are lacking. 

The unique feature of this tool as it relates to Early Learning and collective impact is that it serves as a catalyst for any community implementing collective impact work in the area of kindergarten readiness to create a common agenda, shared measurement system, and mutually reinforcing activities. If everyone in the community can see gaps in core development areas by geographic area, then efforts can be much more targeted. 

One initiative using the EDI in its Collective Impact efforts is the Transforming Early Childhood Community Systems (TECCS) Initiative. The TECCS initiative, a partnership between United Way Worldwide and the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities, is funded by the W.K. Kellogg foundation and is currently in more than 24 communities in 12 states across the country, representing more than 100 school districts. A recent statewide expansion of TECCS in Texas is being supported by the Texas Early Learning Council, the Texas Health and Human Services Department and local communities (six led by local United Ways). The TECCS communities in Texas (11 in total) are intently focused on fundamentally changing how children are served, by using the EDI data and maps to engage stakeholders in investing in early childhood supports and ensuring their readiness for kindergarten. By assessing the needs of the children and in turn mapping them against the current community assets, these communities will be able to better identify gaps and target funds for services and organizations focusing on filling those gaps. This instrument offers communities an exciting opportunity to create a collaborative environment that supports early childhood development in positive ways.

For your reference, below is a 3-minute video introduction to the EDI.