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Supporting Data-driven Improvements in Early Education

University of Oklahoma, Early Childhood Education Institute

Date Submitted: 09/08/2021

Contact Information:

Sherri L. Castle

Research Faculty and Assistant Director of Research

(918) 660-3187

University of Oklahoma, Early Childhood Education Institute

4502 E 41st St., Tulsa, OK 74135

Rating Category: Additional Research Needed

Focus Area: Social Emotional Learning

Focus Population: Children, Teachers, Caregivers

Goals and Outcomes:

This proposal provides a framework to support continuous improvement for early education programs that utilizes classroom and child data to identify existing strengths and appropriate areas for coaching and development. The ultimate outcome of this work is to provide every young child in Oklahoma with a high quality early education experience, regardless of income, race, home language, or location. Data collection and feedback will be designed to cultivate classroom practices that support children’s overall well-being in social-emotional, physical, and cognitive domains.

Brief Summary of target population and issues/challenges:

Despite strong evidence for the necessity of support during the early years, national studies indicate that early education settings experienced by young children prior to school entry are typically mediocre in quality. Prior data collected in the state of Oklahoma reveal similar dismal patterns. This proposal aims to cultivate improved quality in early education by providing data driven coaching to teachers and center/school leaders based on 1) structured observation of classrooms and 2) assessment of the development of young children while enrolled in the program. We propose a rotation in which all DHS-licensed child care programs are engaged in data collection and coaching at least every 3 years. Data will be used to provide feedback at the classroom and program level and also aggregated by program type, region, and other features of interest to determine areas of widespread opportunity to improve EC quality across the state via professional development and/or policy implementation. The Early Childhood Education Institute (ECEI) at OU-Tulsa has a long history of providing data-based feedback to high quality EC programs in their efforts to improve practice and ensure positive outcomes for all children. Researchers at the ECEI bring expertise in numerous observation tools and child assessments that will allow many options for developing a strategy in partnership with OKDHS or other stakeholders to focus on the most crucial aspects of early care and education, including options to focus on particular developmental domains or on needs specific to infants and toddlers; dual language learners; or Black, Indigenous, and children of color.

Rated by another Clearinghouse: No

Conducted Research:

Ample evidence now exists that high quality early childhood education has positive effects for children, particularly those who live in poverty, and that teacher-child interactions are the active ingredient underlying these impacts (Phillips et al., 2017; Yoshikawa et al., 2013). However, few programs and classrooms are able to provide quality above a threshold that is needed to support optimal outcomes for children (Weiland et al., 2013). To date, researchers have struggled to identify consistent precursors of high quality EC experiences, with equivocal findings for teacher training level or experience, and structural classroom features such as teacher-child ratio. However, growing evidence suggests that classroom practices are amenable to intervention via coaching and data-based feedback approaches. Limited time precludes a full review of the literature, but two examples provide key insight into the utility of a research-based and data-driven approach to improving EC practice.

"Improving teacher-child interactions: A randomized controlled trial of Making the Most of Classroom Interactions and My Teaching Partner professional development modules" (Early, Maxwell, Ponder, & Pan, 2017)

"Data-driven improvement in prekindergarten classrooms: Report from a partnership in an urban district" (Farran, Meador, Christopher, Nesbitt, & Bilbrey, 2017)

Additional support and information can be provided upon request.

Relevant Published Articles with brief summary:

Although researcher-practitioner partnerships are quite common in early education, they are not often explicitly documented in the scholarly literature. One good example of how such a model can work is described in a paper by Dale Farran and colleagues published in 2017. Additional examples from the non-peer reviewed literature (e.g., conference submissions; partnership presentations) are available upon request.

Data-Driven Improvement in Prekindergarten Classrooms: Report from a Partnership in an Urban District

Promote equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging:

Much evidence has shown that children from underserved populations and communities tend to fare worse than white, middle-class children on markers of kindergarten readiness and later school success. What is less frequently discussed is the inequities in experiences children have in early childhood programs, and how those disparate experiences may be unintentionally contributing to ongoing gaps in child outcomes. Evidence indicates that children of color are more likely to experience poor quality early education. For example, children of color are more likely to be suspended from EC environments than their white peers. Additionally, children who are dual language learners and enter programs with limited English proficiency are less likely to be drawn into high levels of engagement in classroom activities to engage in conversation with teachers and peers. These findings highlight key mechanisms within classrooms that can be best addressed and improved through supportive and data-driven coaching. Like all humans, EC teachers carry with them a set of perspectives, habits, and biases that shape their behaviors and interactions. Data collected strategically and presented without judgement or shame can serve to highlight these problematic practices and provide tangible targets for improvement that will promote equity, inclusion, and belonging in EC programs in Oklahoma.


We recommend determining a reasonable frequency at which all DHS-licensed programs could be engaged in data collection and coaching. To determine the scope of data collection, we recommend consultation between our team and OKDHS and OKSDE to determine shared priorities and the best way to provide data driven supports for improvement.

Evaluation Plan:

Because this proposal focuses on data driven improvements, much of the evaluation data will be collected as part of the intervention itself. Evaluation of this approach could include formative evaluation work such as focus groups and surveys with participating programs, teachers, and leaders to gather feedback on strengths and needed improvements to the data collection and coaching process, focus, and implementation. Evaluation could also consider features of teachers' and program leaders' education, training, and experience to highlight characteristics that are associated with higher quality practices and to improve training and other professional development resources available to Oklahoma EC providers. Finally, longer-term evaluation could include longitudinal examination of classroom quality and child development to explore the extent to which data-driven coaching is supporting improved classroom practice and child outcomes.

Supports: N/A

Standards/Guidelines, Models, outcomes, programs: N/A

Training materials and manuals:

No training or manuals would be needed for the EC providers or program leaders. Resources for ECEI staff would depend on the specific observation and child assessment measures selected in consultation with OKDHS leadership.

Implementation cost:

This will vary depending on the scope of data collection desired as well as the number of programs participating. More details about cost can be provided upon request with some guidance on potential scope.

Additional Information:

The ECEI team conducts over 200 classroom observations and more than 2,000 child assessments per year. Many of these data are used to create dashboards and individualized feedback forms that highlight strengths and areas of needed growth, allowing teachers and program leaders a more subjective view of their classroom and program than otherwise possible. We have extensive experience in co-creating research questions and data collection plans with our agency partners and ensuring that data collected are aligned with agency priorities and can be used to provide actionable results at the classroom, school, and overall program level. This expertise has been primarily benefitting the Tulsa area for the last 15 years and can be expanded to provide statewide support for improving the quality of care for Oklahoma's youngest citizens.

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