Preschool teacher playing with students.

Outcomes and Metrics for EC Systems

Measuring the effectiveness of community efforts

What We Work For

We are working with partners to define and measure how children and families are better off when we work to build well-functioning local early childhood systems, including how the early childhood system operates to influence those outcomes.

How We Do It

We work with community leaders and national experts to better understand how communities define and measure child and family outcomes, and are working toward a common language about those results. We’ve also been working with community leaders to describe and measure how a well-functioning early childhood system contributes to improving those outcomes.

In partnership with representatives of local early childhood systems, we’ve been working to define the outcomes they are working to improve for young children and their families and the best ways to measure those outcomes. Some of our efforts include:

  • Conducting a scan of how various funders and local leaders define and measure child and family well-being.
  • Developing a list of indicators that can be measured at the population level that show whether young children and their families are thriving in a community, including which groups are doing well and which groups need more support.
  • Working with local early childhood system leaders to articulate how an early childhood system contributes to better outcomes for children and families—and developing a set of system performance measures to help system leaders and stakeholders improve their work.

CSSP has worked with members of our Early Childhood Learning and Innovation Network for Communities (EC-LINC) and with national partners to improve our ability to measure the effectiveness of local early childhood systems.

This work has been carried out through various projects, including several Learning Labs with EC-LINC members, a Research to Action project organized by EC-LINC members, and a national scan of outcomes and indicators currently in use.

This work has been supported by the Bezos Family Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Goldman Family Foundation, and an anonymous donor.

With these community partners, CSSP has developed several resources to guide quality improvement in early childhood systems. The Early Learning Community Progress Rating Tool looks at the big picture of how a community is supporting young children’s early learning by ensuring they and their families have the supports they need; the Early Childhood System Performance Assessment Toolkit helps stakeholders to focus on the functions of their early childhood system and identify areas for growth and improvement; and the Early Relational Health Community Mapping Tool looks specifically at how the early childhood system and its component sectors are promoting ERH. A community may use one tool and then another, feeding into a community action plan that addresses multiple aspects of what is being done, and how well, in early childhood systems.

CSSP worked with leaders from our EC-LINC network to define how a local early childhood system contributes to improved outcomes for children and families. In other words, we asked why we believe that children and families are better off in a community that has a well-functioning local early childhood system, as compared to a community that has programs and services that are not connected through a system.

We identified four contribution areas: Reach, Coordination, Commitment, and Equity—and defined system performance measures related to each of them. See the full Early Childhood System Performance Assessment Toolkit to find guidelines and tools you can use to assess the performance of your early childhood system, a short paper about what we learned through this process, and a summary of the system performance measures.

Many people and organizations are working to improve child and family well-being across the country, yet there is not a clear consensus in the field about how to define and measure those outcomes.

In partnership with the National Institute for Child Health Quality (NICHQ), CSSP conducted a national scan of the outcomes and indicators being used to measure effectiveness of early childhood work. See our compendium here: Metrics of Early Childhood Systems: A National Scan.

CSSP also worked with local leaders from our EC-LINC network to identify a set of indicators related to maternal and child health, early childhood learning, and family and community environments. See a full report on the work to identify and track those outcomes across seven communities, a summary of what we learned from that work, and a listing of the indicators.

Our partners at the National Collaborative for Infants and Toddlers (NCIT) have identified a set of evidence-based metrics, drawn from research, to track the health and development of children prenatal to age three with data that is comparable and reliable across states, communities, and diverse families. See their Data Guidebook for details on the NCIT Prenatal to Three Outcomes Framework and recommendations for using the right outcomes and indicators to measure the success of policies and programs in your state or community.

Early Childhood Data in Action: Stories from the Field. In these three case studies, CSSP and the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality (NICHQ) profile communities using their early childhood data in clear and important ways to tailor more effective interventions and yield better results. Taken together, they illuminate the remarkable range of benefits communities have begun to realize from careful and sustained efforts to collect, refine, analyze, and above all, use their data.

Our Experts

Steven D. Cohen portrait.

Steven D. Cohen

Senior Fellow
Cailin O'Connor portrait.

Cailin O’Connor

Senior Associate
She, Her, Hers