IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

What Do NCES Data Tell Us About America’s Kindergartners?

Happy Get Ready for Kindergarten Month! 

For more than 20 years, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has been collecting information about kindergartners’ knowledge and skills as part of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies (ECLS) program.

The first ECLS, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998–99 (ECLS-K), focused on children in kindergarten in the 1998–99 school year. At the time the ECLS-K began, no large national study focused on education had followed a cohort of children from kindergarten entry through the elementary school years. Some of today’s commonly known information about young children, such as the information about kindergartners’ early social and academic skills shown in the infographics below, comes out of the ECLS-K. For example, we all know that children arrive at kindergarten with varied knowledge and skills; the ECLS-K was the first study to show at a national level that this was the case and to provide the statistics to highlight the differences in children’s knowledge and skills by various background factors.



The second ECLS kindergarten cohort study, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), is the ECLS-K’s sister study. This study followed the students who were in kindergarten during the 2010–11 school year. The ECLS-K:2011, which began more than a decade after the inception of the ECLS-K, allows for comparisons of children in two nationally representative kindergarten classes experiencing different policy, educational, and demographic environments. For example, significant changes that occurred between the start of the ECLS-K and the start of the ECLS-K:2011 include the passage of No Child Left Behind legislation, a rise in school choice, and an increase in English language learners. 

From the parents of children in the ECLS-K:2011, we learned how much U.S. kindergartners like school, as shown in the following infographic.



The ECLS program studies also provide information on children’s home learning environments and experiences outside of school that may contribute to learning. For example, we learned from the ECLS-K:2011 what types of activities kindergartners were doing with their parents at least once a month (see the infographic below).


Infographic titled How do kindergarteners like school?


What’s next for ECLS data collections on kindergartners? NCES is excited to be getting ready to launch our next ECLS kindergarten cohort study, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2023–24 (ECLS-K:2024)

Before the ECLS-K:2024 national data collections can occur, the ECLS will conduct a field test—a trial run of the study to test the study instruments and procedures—in the fall of 2022.

If you, your child, or your school are selected for the ECLS-K:2024 field test or national study, please participate! While participation is voluntary, it is important so that the study can provide information that can be used at the local, state, and national levels to guide practice and policies that increase every child’s chance of doing well in school. The ECLS-K:2024 will be particularly meaningful, as it will provide important information about the experiences of children whose early lives were shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch this video to learn more about participation in the ECLS-K:2024. For more information on the ECLS studies and the data available on our nation’s kindergartners, see the ECLS homepage, review our online training modules, or email the ECLS study team.

 

By Jill Carlivati McCarroll, NCES

Timing is Everything: Understanding the IPEDS Data Collection and Release Cycle

For more than 3 decades, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) has collected data from all postsecondary institutions participating in Title IV federal student aid programs, including universities, community colleges, and vocational and technical schools.

Since 2000, the 12 IPEDS survey components occurring in a given collection year have been organized into three seasonal collection periods: Fall, Winter, and Spring.

The timing of when data are collected (the “collection year”) is most important for the professionals who report their data to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). However, IPEDS data users are generally more interested in the year that is actually reflected in the data (the “data year”). As an example, a data user may ask, “What was happening with students, staff, and institutions in 2018–19?"


Text box that says: The collection year refers to the time period the IPEDS survey data are collected. The data year refers to the time period reflected in the IPEDS survey data.


For data users, knowing the difference between the collection year and the data year is important for working with and understanding IPEDS data. Often, the collection year comes after the data year, as institutions need time to collect the required data and check to make sure they are reporting the data accurately. This lag between the time period reflected by the data and when the data are reported is typically one academic term or year, depending on the survey component. For example, fall 2021 enrollment data are not reported to NCES until spring 2022, and the data would not be publicly released until fall 2022.

After the data are collected by NCES, there is an additional time period before they are released publicly in which the data undergo various quality and validity checks. About 9 months after each seasonal collection period ends (i.e., Fall, Winter, Spring), there is a Provisional Data Release and IPEDS data products (e.g., web tools, data files) are updated with the newly released seasonal data. During this provisional release, institutions may revise their data if they believe it was inaccurately reported. A Revised/Final Data Release then happens the following year and includes any revisions that were made to the provisional data.

Sound confusing? The data collection and release cycle can be a technical and complex process, and it varies slightly for each of the 12 IPEDS survey components. Luckily, NCES has created a comprehensive resource page that provides information about the IPEDS data collection and release cycles for each survey component as well as key details for data users and data reporters, such as how to account for summer enrollment in the different IPEDS survey components.

Table 1 provides a summary of the IPEDS 2021–22 data collection and release schedule information that can be found on the resource page. Information on the data year and other details about each survey component can also be found on the resource page.


Table 1. IPEDS 2021–22 Data Collection and Release Schedule

Table showing the IPEDS 2021–22 data collection and release schedule


Here are a few examples of how to distinguish the data year from the collection year in different IPEDS data products.

Example 1: IPEDS Trend Generator

Suppose that a data user is interested in how national graduation rates have changed over time. One tool they might use is the IPEDS Trend Generator. The Trend Generator is a ready-made web tool that allows users to view trends over time on the most frequently asked subject areas in postsecondary education. The Graduation Rate chart below displays data year (shown in green) in the headline and on the x-axis. The “Modify Years” option also allows users to filter by data year. Information about the collection year (shown in gold) can be found in the source notes below the chart.


Image of IPEDS Trend Generator webpage


Example 2: IPEDS Complete Data Files

Imagine that a data user was interested enough in 6-year Graduation Rates that they wanted to run more complex analyses in a statistical program. IPEDS Complete Data Files include all variables for all reporting institutions by survey component and can be downloaded by these users to create their own analytic datasets.

Data users should keep in mind that IPEDS Complete Data Files are organized and released by collection year (shown in gold) rather than data year. Because of this, even though files might share the same collection year, the data years reflected within the files will vary across survey components.


Image of IPEDS Complete Data Files webpage


The examples listed above are just a few of many scenarios in which this distinction between collection year and data year is important for analysis and understanding. Knowing about the IPEDS reporting cycle can be extremely useful when it comes to figuring out how to work with IPEDS data. For more examples and additional details on the IPEDS data collection and release cycles for each survey component, please visit the Timing of IPEDS Data Collection, Coverage, and Release Cycle resource page.

Be sure to follow NCES on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube, follow IPEDS on Twitter, and subscribe to the NCES News Flash to stay up-to-date on all IPEDS data releases.

 

By Katie Hyland and Roman Ruiz, American Institutes for Research

NCES Celebrates LGBTQ+ Pride Month

June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and NCES is proud to share some of the work we have undertaken to collect data on the characteristics and well-being of sexual and gender minority (SGM) populations. Inclusion of questions about sexual orientation (SO) and gender identity (GI) on federal surveys allows for better understanding of SGM populations relative to the general population. These data meet critical needs to understand trends within larger population groups, and insights can lead to potential resources and interventions needed to better serve the community. Giving respondents the opportunity to describe themselves and bring their “whole self” to a questionnaire helps them to be seen and heard by researchers and policymakers.

Sometimes, we get asked why questions like this appear on an education survey. They can be sensitive questions for some people, after all. We ask these questions to be able to understand equity and outcomes related to education for these demographic characteristics, just as we do for other demographic information like race, ethnicity, household income, and what part of the country a student lives in. And just as for other demographic and background information, it is possible to have minority subgroups that might have different experiences than other subgroups. By sexual minorities, we mean people who report their sexual orientation to be something other than straight or heterosexual, and by gender minorities, we mean people whose sex as recorded at birth is different from their gender.

Over the past 10 years, NCES has researched how to best ask respondents about their sexual orientation and gender identity, how respondents react to these questions, and the quality of data that NCES has collected in questionnaires and datasets that include sexual identity and gender data.

At NCES, several studies include background questions for adults about their sexual orientation and gender identity. These are the High School Longitudinal Study: 2009 (HSLS:09) Second Follow-up in 2016, the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B) 08/18 and 16/21 collections, the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) in 2020, and the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS) 2020/22. The collection of these data allows NCES to describe the experiences of gender and sexual minority individuals. For example:

  • In 2020, students who identified as genderqueer, gender nonconforming, or a different identity had difficulty finding safe and stable housing at three times the rate (9 percent) of students who identified as male or female (3 percent each).1
  • In 2018, about 10 years after completing a 2007–08 bachelor’s degree, graduates who were gender minorities2 described their financial situations. Graduates who were gender minorities were less likely to own a home (31 percent) or hold a retirement account (74 percent) than graduates who were not gender minorities (63 percent and 87 percent, respectively) (figure 1).3
  • For 2008 bachelor’s degree graduates with a full-time job in 2018, straight people reported higher average salaries than either lesbian/gay or bisexual people.    
  • In the 2017–18 school year, 18 percent of public schools had a recognized student group that promoted the acceptance of students’ sexual orientation and gender identity, such as a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). This was an increase from the 2015–16 school year, in which 12 percent of schools reported having a GSA.4

Figure 1. Percentage of 2007–08 bachelor’s degree recipients who owned a home, had a retirement account, reported negative net worth, and did not meet essential expenses in the past 12 months, by gender minority status in 2018

Bar chart showing the percentage of 2007–08 bachelor’s degree recipients who owned a home, had a retirement account, reported negative net worth, and did not meet essential expenses in the past 12 months, by gender minority status in 2018

NOTE: “Retirement account” includes both employer-based retirement accounts such as 401(k), 403(b), and pensions, and non-employer-based retirement accounts such as individual retirement accounts. Respondents are considered to have negative net worth if they would still be in debt after selling all their major possessions, turning all their investments and other assets into cash, and paying off as many debts as they could. “Did not meet essential expenses” refers to being unable to meet essential living expenses such as mortgage or rent payments, utility bills, or important medical care. “Past 12 months” refers to any of the 12 months preceding the interview. Gender minority indicates whether the respondent’s gender identity differed from the sex assigned at birth. Gender identity categories include male; female; transgender, male-to-female; transgender, female-to-male; genderqueer or gender nonconforming; a different gender identity; and more than one gender identity.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2008/18 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B:08/18).


NCES is committed to collecting data about equity in education and describing the experiences of SGM students, graduates, and educators.

To learn more about the research conducted at NCES and across the federal statistical system on the measurement of SOGI, please visit https://nces.ed.gov/FCSM/SOGI.asp.

 

By Maura Spiegelman and Elise Christopher, NCES


[1] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2019–20 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:20, preliminary data).

[2] On the NCES surveys mentioned above, gender identity categories include male; female; transgender, male-to-female; transgender, female-to-male; genderqueer or gender nonconforming; a different gender identity; and more than one gender identity.

[3] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2008/18 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B:08/18).

[4] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 and 2017–18 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS).

You’ve Been Asked to Participate in a Study

Dear reader,

You’ve been asked to participate in a study.

. . . I know what you’re thinking. Oh, great. Another request for my time. I am already so busy.

Hmm, if I participate, what is my information going to be used for? Well, the letter says that collecting data from me will help researchers study education, and it says something else about how the information I provide would “inform education policy . . .”

But what does that mean?

If you’re a parent, student, teacher, school administrator, or district leader, you may have gotten a request like this from me or a colleague at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). NCES is one of 13 federal agencies that conducts survey and assessment research in order to help federal, state, and local policymakers better understand public needs and challenges. It is the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) statistical agency and fulfills a congressional mandate to collect, collate, analyze, and report statistics on the condition of American education. The law also directs NCES to do the same about education across the globe.

But how does my participation in a study actually support the role Congress has given NCES?

Good question. When NCES conducts a study, participants are asked to provide information about themselves, their students or child/children, teachers, households, classrooms, schools, colleges, or other education providers. What exactly you will be asked about is based on many considerations, including previous research or policy needs. For example, maybe a current policy might be based on results from an earlier study, and we need to see if the results are still relevant. Maybe the topic has not been studied before and data are needed to determine policy options. In some cases, Congress has charged NCES with collecting data for them to better understand education in general.

Data collected from participants like you are combined so that research can be conducted at the group level. Individual information is not the focus of the research. Instead, NCES is interested in the experiences of groups of people or groups of institutions—like schools—based on the collected data. To protect respondents, personally identifiable information like your name (and other information that could identify you personally) is removed before data are analyzed and is never provided to others. This means that people who participate in NCES studies are grouped in different ways, such as by age or type of school attended, and their information is studied to identify patterns of experiences that people in these different groups may have had.

Let’s take a look at specific examples that show how data from NCES studies provide valuable information for policy decisions.

When policymakers are considering how data can inform policy—either in general or for a specific law under consideration—data from NCES studies play an important role. For example, policymakers concerned that students in their state/district/city often struggle to pay for college may be interested in this question:

“What can education data tell me about how to make college more affordable?”

Or policymakers further along in the law development process might have more specific ideas about how to help low-income students access college. They may have come across research linking programs such as dual enrollment—when high school students take college courses—to college access for underrepresented college students. An example of this research is provided in the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) dual-enrollment report produced by ED’s Institute for Education Sciences (IES), which shows that dual-enrollment programs are effective at increasing students’ access to and enrollment in college and attainment of degrees. This was found to be the case especially for students typically underrepresented in higher education.   

Then, these policymakers might need more specific questions answered about these programs, such as:

What is the benefit of high school students from low-income households also taking college courses?”

Thanks to people who participate in NCES studies, we have the data to address such policy questions. Rigorous research using data from large datasets, compiled from many participants, can be used to identify differences in outcomes between groups. In the case of dual-enrollment programs, college outcomes for dual-enrollment participants from low-income households can be compared with those of dual-enrollment participants from higher-income households, and possible causes of those differences can be investigated.

The results of these investigations may then inform enactment of laws or creation of programs to support students. In the case of dual enrollment, grant programs might be set up at the state level for districts and schools to increase students’ local access to dual-enrollment credit earning.

This was very close to what happened in 2012, when I was asked by analysts in ED’s Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development to produce statistical tables with data on students’ access to career and technical education (CTE) programs. Research, as reviewed in the WWC dual-enrollment report, was already demonstrating the benefits of dual enrollment for high school students. Around 2012, ED was considering a policy that would fund the expansion of dual enrollment specifically for CTE. The reason I was asked to provide tables on the topic was my understanding of two important NCES studies, the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002) and the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09). Data provided by participants in those studies were ideal for studying the question. The tables were used to evaluate policy options. Based on the results, ED, through the President, made a budget request to Congress to support dual-enrollment policies. Ultimately, dual-enrollment programs were included in the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V).  

The infographic below shows that this scenario—in which NCES data provided by participants like you were used to provide information about policy—has happened on different scales for different policies many times over the past few decades. The examples included are just some of those from the NCES high school longitudinal studies. NCES data have been used countless times in its 154-year history to improve education for American students. Check out the full infographic (PDF) with other examples.


Excerpt of full infographic showing findings and actions for NCES studies on Equity, Dropout Prevention, and College and Career Readiness


However, it’s not always the case that a direct line can be drawn between data from NCES studies and any one policy. Research often informs policy indirectly by educating policymakers and the public they serve on critical topics. Sometimes, as in the dual-enrollment and CTE programs research question I investigated, it can take time before policy gets enacted or a new program rolls out. This does not lessen the importance of the research, nor the vital importance of the data participants provide that underpin it.

The examples in the infographic represent experiences of actual individuals who took the time to tell NCES about themselves by participating in a study.  

If you are asked to participate in an NCES study, please consider doing so. People like you, schools like yours, and households in your town do matter—and by participating, you are helping to inform decisions and improve education across the country.

 

By Elise Christopher, NCES

Working Toward a Successful National Data Collection: The ECLS Field Test

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducts some of the most complex education surveys in the world, and we work hard to make these surveys as effective and efficient as possible. One way we make sure our surveys are successful is by conducting multiple tests before we fully launch a national data collection.

Even prior to a field test, NCES develops survey materials and procedures using much smaller-scale cognitive laboratory testing and focus-group processes. These initial development procedures help ensure that materials are clear and procedures are understood before we conduct field testing with larger and more representative groups of respondents. Then, we launch the field tests to test data-collection operations and survey processes and procedures. Field tests are small-scale surveys that include a range of respondents and are designed to test the survey questionnaires and survey administration procedures in a real-world situation prior to the launch of a major study. The field test results allow us to make any necessary adjustments before starting the national data collection. Field tests also allow us to test specific survey items and ensure that they are valid and reliable. Without a field test, we could risk spending the public’s time and money on large data-collection efforts that do not produce the intended information.

NCES is about to begin the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2022–23 (ECLS-K:2023) with a field test early this year. The ECLS-K:2023 will focus on children’s early school experiences, beginning with preschool and continuing through fifth grade. From the spring of 2022 through the spring of 2028, we will collect national study data from children and their parents, teachers, and school administrators to answer questions about children’s early learning and development, transition into kindergarten and beyond, and experiences in the elementary grades. 

Although the ECLS-K:2023 will be similar in many ways to prior ECLS kindergarten studies, we are adding a round of data collection prior to the children’s kindergarten year—the national spring 2022 preschool round. For this preschool survey, we’ll send an invitation to participate to a sample of residential addresses within selected areas of the United States. Potential participants will first be asked to fill out a brief screener questionnaire. If they report that an ECLS-eligible child is in the household, they will be asked additional important questions about early childhood topics, such as their child’s literacy, language, math, and social skills; activities done with the child in the home (e.g., singing songs, playing games, reading); and characteristics of any early care and education (i.e., child care) arrangements for the child.   

Because the ECLS-K:2023 preschool data need to be comprehensive and reliable so that they can inform public discussions and policies related to early elementary education, it’s crucial that we test our procedures and questions for this new preschool round by conducting a field test in early 2020.  

If you receive a letter about participating in the 2020 ECLS field test, you’re being selected to represent thousands of households like yours and provide NCES with the data we need to make decisions about how to best conduct the ECLS-K:2023. The participation of all the selected households who receive our mailings, even those without children, is essential for a successful field test and, ultimately, a successful ECLS-K:2023.

If you are selected for the ECLS field test and have any questions about participating, please visit the participant information page

For more information on the ECLS-K:2023 or its 2020 field test, please email the ECLS study team.

For information about other ECLS program studies, please visit https://nces.ed.gov/ecls/.

 

By Jill Carlivati McCarroll