Teacher sits at small table with 5 young students

UVA-Built Data System Linking Virginia’s Early Childhood Care and Education Resources Will Expand Statewide this Fall

UVA researchers and Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) partners will scale the novel data system to better understand and improve access to quality early childcare across the Commonwealth.

Audrey Breen

Each day, Virginia’s young children are cared for in a variety of settings that range from public schools and child care centers to in-home child care and faith-based preschools. Serving children from birth through age five, these settings provide a diverse landscape of services to children and families. 

However, until now, there were fragmented records of how many programs were operating in Virginia or how many children they could serve—information critical for understanding and improving access to quality early childcare. Beginning this fall, a new data system called LinkB5 will begin to fill in the gaps by collecting information across all publicly funded settings serving children ages birth to five.

Work on the data system began in 2018, when the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and Virginia Early Childhood Foundation (VECF) reached out to the University of Virginia to partner on the competitive federal grant—Preschool Development Grant Birth-to-Five. The UVA School of Education and Human Development’s extensive experience gathering early literacy data across thousands of Virginia classrooms well positioned it to develop a system capturing classroom-level information, a solution for getting a comprehensive picture of what is happening in these early childcare settings.  

The initial ideas for a novel data system were sketched out on the back of a scrap of paper by former UVA faculty member Anita McGinty and Carolyn Gosse, senior research scientist at the UVA Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL), as they sat in the back of a local coffee shop. 

“We were trying to figure out how to expand the state’s longtime investment in elementary education technology into the complicated, diverse public-private birth-to-five system,” said Gosse. 

Then, in 2020, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law to unify early childhood and require a statewide measurement and improvement system, known as VQB5, for all early childhood programs that take public funds. And the idea for the novel data system became even more important. The VDOE charged Gosse and colleague Jessica Whittaker, research associate professor, with leading a team at the School of Education, to fully build out this system uniting the people and places that serve Virginia’s youngest learners. 

The back-of-the-paper idea turned into the LinkB5 data system and beginning this fall, in response to Virginia state law, will collect information across the publicly funded places and educators serving children ages birth to five. 

“With LinkB5, we can begin to answer important questions about early childcare and education in Virginia,” said Whittaker. “Including, how many children are currently being served and where? What types of adult-child interactions are happening in their classrooms and how are these experiences promoting children’s learning and development? And how can we better support early childhood educators?”

Since 2019, Gosse and her colleagues have been working closely with leaders in the field to deepen understanding of the rationale for LinkB5 and build capacity for entering information. Virginia, through VECF, recently launched Ready Regions, regional entities that help strengthen early childhood efforts and coordinate activities including VQB5 at the local level. The partners expect that this fall the system will capture classroom-level data from educators in 12,000 classrooms located across 3,600 settings, including Head Start, public schools, family childcare settings, and public-private mixed delivery classrooms. 

“Ready Regions is bringing unprecedented levels of coordination, accountability and support to early care and education programs in every community in the Commonwealth,” said Kathy Glazer, president, Virginia Early Childhood Foundation. “Through partnership with UVA and VDOE, the robust data collection and reporting supported by Ready Regions will provide important insights to inform improved policies and guide effective investments for Virginia’s children and families.”

Measuring and Improving Quality

LinkB5 is essential to VQB5, the new statewide effort to measure and improve the quality of early childhood classrooms. The LinkB5 system will house classroom-level data about children’s experiences that can help inform practice and policy aimed at improving the quality of those experiences. Ultimately, the information will become visible to the public, helping families find and enroll in the best childcare setting for their needs.

Specifically, LinkB5 will securely house observational assessments of teacher-child interactions using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, a nationally recognized tool developed by researchers at Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning to measure the quality of teaching and learning in classrooms. LinkB5 will also track the type of curriculum used in these classrooms. Together with the workforce information, these metrics will help policymakers, researchers, and families better understand how to enable classroom conditions that best support young children learn and develop.

“LinkB5 enables Virginia to better understand how our public investments are helping prepare all children for kindergarten,” noted Jenna Conway, Deputy Superintendent of Early Childhood Care and Education at the VDOE “LinkB5 captures the measures that matter across our public-private early childhood system, shares them with leaders, educators and families and then connects these foundational early experiences to later academic and life outcomes.” 

In addition to gaining a better understanding of the quality and availability of birth-to-five offerings available to children across the state, LinkB5 will also provide a comprehensive way to track the early childhood education workforce.

Supporting and Retaining Educators 

Though there continues to be increasing investments made in early childhood education both at the state and federal levels, the pandemic put enormous pressures on an already fractured early childcare and education workforce. 

“Nationwide, early educators have been leaving the field at high rates,” said Daphna Bassok, professor at the School of Education and associate director of the EdPolicyWorks research center. “We know we need to do more in Virginia to support our early educators, but we have had no way to track this information at scale. For instance, Virginia had no way to track teacher compensation in early childhood settings, or teacher turnover. And to be able to tie this information to quality. LinkB5 provides us with a really unique opportunity to do this at the classroom level, so we can better target policies to support childcare teachers and track progress over time.”

The LinkB5 system is being used not only to better understand Virginia’s early childhood education workforce and their needs, but to facilitate innovative state programs aimed at improving the quality of early care and education and reducing turnover. According to Bassok, educator retention is a vital ingredient in stabilizing the workforce and providing high-quality experiences to young children. Virginia’s RecognizeB5 program (pdf) pays stipends to child care teachers for remaining at their site for designated periods of time. Considering that nearly half of child care assistant teachers turn over every year, these incentives, which go up to $3000 per educator, are essential. According to research conducted by Bassok, the program cut teacher turnover in half.

“Without a system like LinkB5, eligible teachers could easily fall through the cracks and lose out on this meaningful funding,” Bassok said. 

The LinkB5 system will help ensure all eligible teachers are able to participate in the program.

“They say you can’t solve a problem you can’t see, and LinkB5 is shining a light on those places where better opportunities can lead to better experiences for Virginia’s families and children,” Whittaker said.

Virginia Policy Partnership Collaborative

This work is part of the ongoing efforts aimed at connecting UVA researchers and students with education policymakers to address pressing education problems in the Commonwealth through careful research.

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