Continuous improvement is about helping programs function as effectively as they can. Evidence-based leaders are continuously engaged in a process of collecting, analyzing, and sharing information so they can improve practice. Working with data is both important and exciting. Data tell the story of the program’s impact, including on the lives of children and families. In examining these data, evidence-based leaders look for patterns, connections, and associations to identify and learn from best practices. They also are prepared to reorganize or “unpack” data to develop a clearer story for every child.
School readiness goals describe the intended purposes and expected results from quality teaching and learning. This includes meaningful and responsive relationships, experiences, and interactions. Once established, the program’s school readiness goals will not change substantially from year to year. However, goals for individual children and families will likely change based on needs and progress revealed by ongoing data collection.
ASSESSING & AGGREGATION
With goals and a plan of action in place, the next challenge is to identify ways to measure children’s progress toward meeting goals. Child-level assessment data is collected for individual children by programs using one or more valid and reliable assessment systems. Tools for determining a child’s status and progress include, but are not limited to, direct assessment, structured observations, checklists, staff or parent report measures, and portfolio records or work samples. This is outlined in 45 CFR 1302.102 of the Head Start Program Performance Standards.
Every Head Start and Early Head Start program is required to develop a plan of action to meet desired outcomes of school readiness, family engagement, professional development), curriculum, assessment, and teaching practice. A key part of this plan is to make sure teachers, home visitors, and family child care providers intentionally support children’s progress. For this to happen, systems and services must come together as early as possible.