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Preparing Children to Thrive: Supporting Early Learning Systems and Stakeholders in Oregon

By Fiona Helsel and Vicki Nishioka | November 28, 2017

Fiona Helsel
Fiona Helsel is the director of REL Northwest and is responsible for overall project leadership and direction. Specializing in early childhood education, she conceptualizes and oversees work in this priority area for the Northwest region.

Just as a house needs a solid foundation, children’s early learning experiences lay the groundwork for their future success in school and in life. With this in mind, Oregon has made it a state priority to build a coordinated, connected, and outcomes-focused early learning system.

In 2013, the Oregon State Legislature formed the Early Learning Division (ELD) within the state education agency to bring its early learning programs under one roof. As a first step, state leaders identified the need for an integrated, cross-sector early learning data system that could inform policy decisions, strengthen program and workforce quality, and enhance the targeted support provided to programs and individual children.

Creating such a system proved more challenging than anticipated. State early learning leaders had to reconcile a plethora of unlinked databases that had been developed by different early childhood agencies and programs. Once these databases were integrated, the state leaders had to assess the quality of the available data, which required a common set of standards and definitions for how the data would be rated. This was a herculean task, and state leaders sought help from a variety of experts and technical assistance providers, including REL Northwest.

Vicki Nishioka
Vicki Nishioka is a senior research advisor at Education Northwest with extensive experience in evaluation and technical assistance focusing on bullying and harassment, early childhood education, and special education.

Partnering to Support Program and Policy Decisionmaking

In partnership with the ELD, REL Northwest formed the Oregon Early Learning Collaborative (OELC) to help the state’s early learning leaders address their data-related challenges and move their agenda forward. This partnership continues in 2017/18, and the OELC remains focused on building the capacity of its stakeholders to make data-driven decisions as they plan the development and oversight of the state’s early learning system.

Ultimately, our shared goal is to create conditions that will ensure all students have access to a high-quality early learning experience that will help them reach their full potential. Through collaborative conversations, REL Northwest and OELC stakeholders have jointly identified two initial tasks to support this important work.

First, we have begun to develop an inventory of available data. The inventory will help ELD identify strengths and gaps in the existing data and how they can be used to answer policy and program questions related to preparing children for success in school. The findings will inform immediate efforts to educate early learning stakeholders about what data are available and how to use those data in their everyday decision-making.

Second, REL Northwest researchers will conduct a study of how the transition from half- to full-day kindergarten has influenced children’s later outcomes and led to changes in teaching practices.

For more information about early learning, check out these resources: