NORMAN — Oklahoma is often held up as the national poster child for offering early childhood education to many students.
But according to state officials and educators, the system has a serious weakness: Data about each student’s academic profile is not shared between early childhood education program providers and school districts, or between providers.
That prevents kindergarten teachers from being able to immediately target students’ learning needs when they arrive, officials say. It also prevents providers from doing the same when a child transfers from one program to another or is enrolled in more than one program.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education plans to roll out a pilot program in eight school districts this spring that is meant to help districts and early childhood education programs share student data with each other.
The pilot program will start in the Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Union, Putnam City, Norman, Durant, El Reno and Prague school districts. It should expand statewide by the 2015-2016 school year.
John Kraman, the department’s executive director of student information, said academic data is tracked by individual early childhood education programs but not shared with districts or other programs, meaning struggling students run the risk of falling through the cracks as they transition to elementary school. That is evident in the thousands of students who are at risk of failing third grade this year because they cannot read at grade level.
About 42,755 students ages 3 and 4 are in the state’s public early childhood education programs. The programs include transitional kindergarten, often offered by school districts; Head Start, which gets federal and state funding; pre-K education, which can be public or private but is often run separately; special education; and subsidized child care.
“I don’t think anyone alone is going to get all the kids across the finish line, especially with students who are currently struggling,” Kraman said, referring to both the third-grade reading requirement and high school graduation rates.
Work on the pilot program comes as Oklahoma third graders prepare for their first year of high-stakes testing under the Reading Sufficiency Act. Students who are not reading at grade level by the end of the year can be kept from advancing to fourth grade.
Under the RSA, K-3 teachers are supposed to provide specialized lessons to struggling students to help them read at grade level so they can pass the reading test and advance.
The lack of data being shared in Oklahoma and other states was spotlighted in a recent national report.
The study, released Wednesday by the Early Childhood Data Collaborative, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., shows most states store student data across organizations and agencies that don’t share information with each other.
Oklahoma is among 49 states and the District of Columbia that don’t share all of their early childhood education data between programs. Oklahoma shares no data at all among programs or between programs and school districts. Pennsylvania is the only state that links all of its data between education programs.
Implementing the pilot program to share data will not be easy, Kraman said. Part of the challenge is expanding the pilot program to the entire state while ensuring student privacy is maintained. He said the data-sharing system will be secure.
Oklahoma has thousands of early childhood education programs working to prepare students for elementary school. There are 516 school districts and 25 public charter schools.
“We’re going to start small and work through the issues,” Kraman said.
Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism organization that produces investigative journalism on public-policy issues facing the state.
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