Uses of Data on Child Outcomes and Program Processes in Early Childhood Accountability Systems: Assumptions, Challenges, and Consequences

  • September 25, 2006
  • By John M. Love

Establishing state early childhood accountability systems requires careful consideration of who will be using the results of the assessments and how the results are likely to be used. Many benefits can accrue to well-conceived accountability systems, and in considering the issues of uses and users of the data, this paper assumes that (1) the key users will be at the state level, (2) accountability systems will be standards based, and that (3) there are multiple uses and users. 

A number of difficult challenges confront those who would establish a successful accountability system. This paper focuses on challenges associated with attributing measured outcomes to characteristics of the programs, implementing a large system with limited resources, and anticipating the potential negative unintended consequences; it also notes other challenges.

The decisions states make about their system will dramatically affect their ability to achieve their goals; three of the key decisions are highlighted: (1) level of data collected (program and/or child), (2) nature of the outcome (status or change over time), and (3) sampling (everyone or a sample). 

Several actions are described that can safeguard the integrity of the accountability system. 

After providing some concrete examples of what a state accountability system might look like under different scenarios of users and their main uses, the paper concludes by drawing all these considerations together into five sets of actions that can lead to an effective accountability system.

The result will be a system that meets the needs of stakeholders and has the greatest potential for creating programs in which all children will be entering school on trajectories for success.