Why Another Set of Early Learning Indicators?

This blog post is the second in a series focusing on a study of early learning success markers (indicators) for ages 0-8, supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The full report, Markers that Matter: Developing Success Indicators in Early Learning and Education will be released later this summer. In May, FSG hosted a webinar where we shared some highlights of our work to research, synthesize and vet a set of early learning indicators. In this blog series,  we answer several questions posed by webinar participants.  You can see the webinar presentation, including the indicators and emerging themes, in the slides posted here (click on "Webinar Presentation").

Our research focused on identifying early childhood outcomes as the product of an ecosystem within which young children grow and develop (including parents and relatives, care and education providers, health professionals, social service agencies, among many others) and environments (including families, education and care settings, and communities) with which children interact every day. We sought to identify indicators that reflected these different parts of the early childhood system, and emphasized the importance of racial equity for supporting children from all backgrounds. 

Webinar participants asked about what we hope will become of this new set of indicators? And, if the intent is for them to become widely adopted, what steps are needed to make that happen?

Through our research we learned that there are scores and scores of indicator sets developed or in development. Thus, the question of “Why one more set?” is a good question.  We believe that the 48 indicators (as well as emerging themes, where more research to develop indicators is needed) highlighted in our report can do three things:

 

  • Provide a starting point for a data-informed dialogue: We learned that the early learning field is diffuse and fragmented, and thus hope these indicators will provide a common starting place for facilitating conversations between and among organizations and serve children 0-8. The indicators can serve as a baseline, common language, and foundation, for determining what is important to measure, for whom, by whom, in what ways, and how the data can be used to enhance the lives of young children.
  • Promote an equitable approach: Our research surfaced the need for greater attention and research on how indicators can be conceptualized and written to be culturally relevant and appropriate, and to reflect issues of racial equity. Our hope is that our work creates more energy and commitment to helping the field understand how to ensure that early learning indicators are inclusive of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. 
  • Pave the way for shared measurement: Finally, we hope that the 48 indicators and emerging themes will provide direction and motivation for developing shared measurement systems among organizations that support early learning (ages 0-8). Such systems can help align services and educational activities, can inform programmatic decisions, and can foster peer learning from the data – all which have the potential of improving children’s well-being, while also increasing the efficiencies of organizations that serve young children.

For those interested in moving to the next steps of using the indicators, we can envision the following:

  1. In local communities, convene members of various organizations to begin a series of conversations about what indicators are currently being used to measure early learning for children ages 0-8, and to explore the extent to which there is any alignment between and across organizations. Discuss how the 48 indicators and emerging themes that resulted from FSG’s synthesis are reflected in the indicators currently used and if there is a need to begin rethinking which indicators will be most relevant and useful for your local context. The extent to which indicators are inclusive of the racial and cultural diversity that exists in the local community should be part of this conversation.
  2. Funders may wish to consider what outcomes and indicators they’ve been asking early learning grantees to report on, and the extent to which the 48 indicators and emerging themes are reflected in these requirements. Moving forward, funders might share the list of indicators and emerging themes with their grantees in an effort to provide guidance around which indicators are most important to measure.  This effort could provide a more focused and informative set of findings that would be useful to funders who wish to track their multiple investments in early learning (ages 0-8).

We readily acknowledge that the 48 indicators are not an exhaustive list – that it is likely communities and states may wish to add particular indicators that are relevant to their specific contexts. Yet, by sparking this conversation, we hope to see these indicators be used to improve the services, systems, and policies that impact the lives of young children in communities nationwide/worldwide.

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