Reports and Plans

Early Learning Data Linkage Report


Background and History

The Early Learning Data Linkage Report describes the foundational work undertaken to support long-term infrastructure improvements to Minnesota’s ability to measure outcomes for children into adulthood. Funding from an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant provided resources for the first steps of this infrastructure improvement, which includes a longitudinal data system. Sound planning for such a system is critical.

States across the country are focusing efforts in early childhood education, health, and social service programs ensuring that all children are prepared for school and life. Data and information about those programs are needed to improve policies and practices to ensure a solid foundation that makes sure every young learner has the tools to excel. In Minnesota. These services are segmented across multiple state agencies, federal programs, school programs, and community education programs. While not all programs currently collect child-level data, a great wealth of information is part of to each respective agency’s data systems.

A previous Early Childhood Advisory Council (ECAC) took the first step to identify the data sets across the Minnesota Departments of Education, Health, and Human Services that could provide information to a longitudinal data system. This work included three goals: 1) to inventory and review existing state and national early childhood databases; 2) to develop a detailed plan to link data housed in the Minnesota Departments of Education; Employment and Economic Development; and Health and Human Services, incorporating appropriate data-sharing agreements and safeguards; and, 3) to develop a detailed report with potential solutions for how data could be linked across systems and how to report on the accountability.

Current Accomplishments

The report describes the achievement of the key planning outcomes mandated by the grant. Specifically, departments collaboratively established a plan that recommends a governance structure, identified the potential data elements from specific state systems to be included in the longitudinal dataset, and identified the analytic tool set that supports analysis within state departments and external users. Each department also articulated the unique data sharing and privacy protections that govern the relevant release and use of their data.

The proposed Early Childhood Longitudinal Data System (ECLDS) will contain child-level data from early childhood, facilitating linkage with the State Longitudinal Education Data System (SLEDS), which spans K-12 systems through higher education and links to earnings, enabling educators and policymakers to answer a range of program and policy questions over the human life span. The authority to establish this governance process comes from the Office of Early Learning, in consultation with the Early Learning Council and the Children’s Cabinet, and promulgates an interagency governing body comprised of agency heads and community stakeholders. It also includes a research and data committee comprised of program and research experts. Together, these bodies will assure transparency and the meaningful contribution of all member agencies towards achieving analyses that answer critical policy and practice questions for young children. Specifically, the governing body will take responsibility for guiding and approving the inclusion of specific data from systems as well as establishing research priorities. The expertise of the research and data group will assure that the right questions are being explored and that the correct data is being used to answer those questions, in collaboration with the governing body.

Next Steps

The grant was awarded in June 2010. Since that time, the Dayton Administration took office and established the Office of Early Learning, the Early Learning Council (ELC), and Minnesota was awarded a Race to the Top (RTT)-Early Learning Challenge grant. The RTT grant provides direction and resources to develop governance and build the early childhood longitudinal data system that is planned in this report. Simultaneously, Minnesota’s P-20 Longitudinal Data System (SLEDS) aligns information on children in K-12, institutions of higher education, and the workforce. This accelerates Minnesota’s efforts to better understand the long-term outcomes of early childhood activities and fortifies ongoing activities towards establishing formal agreements between the state agencies and the establishment of the governing as well as research and data bodies.

To obtain a copy of the full report contact Debbie Hewitt, Minnesota Department of Education.

The Early Learning Council is an advisory body appointed by Governor Dayton. The council receives staff support and technical assistance through the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). Documents written for or by the council do not necessarily represent MDE’s policies.