Like words on a page, data tell stories about how young children and families are doing in North Carolina and what’s working to help them thrive. Access to early childhood data ensures policy makers, researchers, funders, and communities have the information they need to make equitable decisions and strong investments that support every child’s success.
Three data resources, led by state agencies and highlighted below, were the focus of a recent meeting of the NC Early Childhood Data Advisory Council. They share valuable stories about supports for child well-being and grade-level reading in North Carolina that can be used to help guide state and local decisions and system improvements.
New Integrated Early Childhood Data Dashboards
New interactive data dashboards showing how children across the state, birth to age five, receive services supporting child and family well-being were recently launched by the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). The dashboards use data from the NC Early Childhood Integrated Data System (NC ECIDS) managed by the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE).
“These dashboards help tell the story of North Carolina’s youngest children and will guide leaders across the state in making equitable investments to support our children and families,” says Susan Gale Perry, NCDHHS Chief Deputy Secretary for Opportunity and Well-Being, in a press release. “With this accessible, integrated data, we can celebrate the successes and address the gaps in programs for young children, working toward our goal of improving results for families and communities.”
The dashboards present data on how many children use services like NC Pre-K, child care, food benefits, family assistance, protective services, and early intervention. Reports are available by age group, county, gender, race/ethnicity, and year.
An example dashboard pictured below shows over 16,000 children receiving Exceptional Children’s (EC) Services in 2020-21, disaggregated by race/ethnicity and county. In addition, it includes how many children receiving EC services are also receiving other services.
The new dashboards, funded in part by the Preschool Development Grant, significantly improve previous paper reports. They are designed to help state and local leaders and other stakeholders understand needs and improve programs in ways that support equity. For example, they can be used to better understand which counties and children are having the most trouble accessing services, and focusing funding and outreach there.
Data for three additional services—the NC Early Hearing Detection and Intervention program, select home visiting programs and Head Start—will be integrated into future dashboards.
Early Care and Education Stabilization and COVID-19
A new brief prepared by DCDEE, in partnership with researchers at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, took a deeper look at North Carolina’s rapid response to Early Care and Education (ECE) system threats posed by COVID-19. Some of these threats included mandatory closures, parents being unable to work, children not attending child care, and centers struggling to keep their businesses open, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic.
The state responded by providing multiple layered supports with federal and state funding to help keep centers open, such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), flexibility with licensing requirements, childcare staff bonus payments, and stabilization grants to families and providers.
The brief, which is expected to be released to the public soon, shares the story of DCDEE’s actions over time and data on systems outcomes. Highlights include:
- Evidence of stabilization: Fewer ECE programs closed than were expected
- Stabilization was more evident in Family Child Care Homes than in Centers, in part due to their size
- Overall enrollment declined, but ECE capacity was preserved through state and federal stabilization
The data shows several strengths in DCDEE’s response and potential opportunities for growth, including sustaining staff salary increases and mental health supports for providers. These results are particularly important for decision makers as federal and state funded child care stabilization grants are expected to end soon, and several challenges within the ECE system still remain for families and providers.
Pandemic Impacts on Student Learning and Recovery
The NC Department of Public of Instruction (NCDPI)’s Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration (OLR) released various reports and white papers in March, April, and May of 2022 presenting data on the impact of COVID-19 on student learning.
OLR measured “learning loss” as the difference between students actual and expected scores during the 2020-21 school year. Key findings from their research include:
- Losses were largest in Math and smaller in earlier grades
- Approximating these losses to units of time, the average student may need interventions equivalent to ~1/2 a school year in English/Language Arts and over a year in Math to catch up. Time needed for recovery varies widely between students.
- In elementary grades, Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native students had the largest learning loss in rural, suburb or town, and city areas. Data is also available by free and reduced-price lunch status, multi-lingual learners, and students with learning disability.
OLR focuses its research and data on understanding the pandemic to support informed decisions and policy. These findings will help NCDPI better target resources and prioritize funding for students who were most affected and for areas of the state most in need. Family and community leaders can also use the data to advocate for the same in their local school districts.
New state data released by NCDPI on September 1st reports on student performance for 2021-22, the third school year impacted by the pandemic. Results show overall student performance is improving, but still below pre-pandemic levels. These results are not unexpected given the extent of the pandemic’s impact and time needed for recovery. Additional state data showing growth in reading scores for K-2 students over the 2021-22 school year offer some promising results.
National data adds to the story being told. Recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data for U.S. fourth graders show the largest decline in reading scores since 1990 and first ever drop in math scores between 2020 to 2022. North Carolina data are yet to be released.