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Making It Count:
Developing a Plan for Collecting Data

Action StepsMaking it Count is a series of articles designed to help you develop ways to measure outcomes in your program or family child care home. If you would like to receive earlier issues of Making it Count, please contact Erika Argersinger at (617) 695-0700 x271, or by email at eargersinger@associatedearlycareandeducation.org.

If you have been following along with the Making it Count series, by now your outcome measurement working group has built the foundation for collecting information on the children in your program in order to determine whether or not you are meeting your desired outcomes. At this point in the process, your working group should have chosen the outcomes to measure, identified the indicators for your outcomes, and developed a data collection instrument to record data on each indicator.

Once you have chosen a data collection instrument that fulfills the needs of your measurement system, the next project for your working group is to develop a step-by-step plan for collecting data, training the individuals who will be collecting the data, and providing technical assistance to data collectors.

Determining when you will collect data (monthly, quarterly, etc.) depends on three factors: your specified outcomes, the type of data collection instrument you are using, and the resources of your program. If your outcome states that children will "increase" their knowledge or ability as a result of a particular activity, you will need to collect information on the child before and after the activity in order to make a comparison. If you have chosen to use a child assessment form as your data collection tool, you may be required to follow a certain schedule as specified by licensing requirements or other internal or external factors. Finally, it is important to consider what is a reasonable schedule in terms of the amount of time it takes teachers or providers to complete observations and record data.

Whether the information you gather is valuable depends on the care and skills of the people collecting the data. To assure that procedures are followed carefully and information is recorded accurately, data collectors must be well trained in using the instrument.

Training should include explanations of the purpose of the instrument and how it will be used. It may be helpful to present the outcomes and indicators specified by the working group to those who will be collecting the data. It is also important to schedule a "piloting" period to give them an opportunity to practice using the tool.

Once you have trained the data collectors and started using the data collection instrument in your classrooms or programs, it is essential that you follow up with them periodically to make sure that they are using it correctly. You may want to provide on going technical assistance for data collectors to answer questions, or to schedule follow-up trainings to address problems or concerns.

Finally, whenever you collect information on the children or families in your program, you must be sure to protect their confidentiality. Develop a procedure for keeping data collection instruments and other confidential materials safe to ensure that people who are not authorized to work with your data do not have access to it.

In the next issue of Making it Count, we'll discuss what to do with all of the data you are collecting - that is, data analysis and reporting.

Action Steps

123 Get a copy of the United Way of America's handbook, Measuring Program Outcomes: A Practical Approach. To order a copy, call (800) 772-0008 and request item number 0989.

123 Get a copy of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay's handbook, Outcome Measurement in Child Care Programs: A Workbook for Practitioners. To order a copy, call (617) 624-8000.

123 Start thinking about a reasonable schedule for the timing of data collection. Things to consider include your outcomes, the type of instrument you are using, and staff resources.

123 Plan trainings for data collectors to ensure that everyone understands the instrument and is recording information in the same way. It may be helpful to share the work of the outcome measurement working group to help explain why you are collecting data.

Sources:
Measuring Program Outcomes: A Practical Approach, United Way of America, 1996; Outcome Measurement in Child Care Programs: A Workbook for Practitioners, United Way of Massachusetts Bay, 2000.

See also—A Training Plan for Data Collectors (www.factsinaction.org/mcount/mcapr012.htm)

Facts in Action, April 2001

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