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Implementation & Accountability

Improve Early Grade-level Reading

Implementation & Accountability Core Indicators


There are a number of proven ways to promote the healthy development of young children. This gives policymakers some latitude in choosing among program approaches to address specific objectives. The key is to select strategies that have documented effectiveness, assure that they are implemented well, and recognize the critical importance of a strong commitment to continuous program improvement.

Four key lessons learned from past efforts to implement early childhood policies are:

  • Match supports and services to the needs and strengths of the children and families to be served. Be clear about the goals, purpose and target audience. Support clear program standards, with sufficient resources to achieve them.
  • Pay careful attention to the quality of implementation when effective model programs are taken to scale. Provide sufficient investment to ensure expected results and support implementation over time to ensure effective implementation and monitoring processes.
  • Support ongoing evaluation and continuous program improvement.
  • Establish clear lines of authority and shared responsibilities for results.

Questions to Ask

  • Service delivery. Where, how, and by whom will services be delivered? Is there sufficient capacity in the intended target communities to deliver them?
  • Governance. Who is involved (state and local)? What entity will administer the program or funding stream, and how will funding decisions be made? (grants, formula, etc.)        
  • Standards. What are the required standards for practices, programs, and practitioners? Is funding sufficient to achieve them in a reasonable timeframe?
  • Communications. Is there a communications infrastructure in place between the administering agency and the funding recipients to support implementation, best practices, and accountability? How will information and results be shared with stakeholders, including families, practitioners, and the public?
  • Research and Development. Are there sufficient resources to evaluate implementation and outcomes? What are the key questions that evaluation efforts should try to address?
  • Monitoring. By what measures will the state monitor quality, ensure fiscal accountability, and track performance based on standards? Are current data systems and analytic capacity sufficient to measure and report outcomes?


Measuring results through the fourth-grade reading and math scores (as measured by the NAEP) provides policymakers with two key indicators for tracking the impact of policies along the birth through early elementary school-age continuum. There is no one indicator of success. Healthy child development has many dimensions, including nurturing parenting, educational stimulation, and access to quality health care. Policymakers can begin to measure progress by examining third grade reading and math.

Using These Measures, Policymakers Can:

  • Set broad outcomes (e.g. the percentage of children who read at grade level by the end of third grade) and track progress annually.
  • Get commitment on indicators. Establish a set of specific measurable indicators that you want to improve in order to achieve measurable progress on the broad outcome goal.
  • Use data. Using census data, national data sets, and state administrative data is key to tracking trends over time in the outcomes and indicators. Include trends at the local level and in high risk subgroups (i.e. by race/ethnicity, income, special needs, gender, etc.) as well as the state as a whole.
  • Publicly report on trends over time for key outcomes and indicators.

Setting indicators

To assess the many influences on early academic success, policymakers may want  to examine a range of indicators in addition to academic performance. The National Educational Goals Panel determined that measuring school readiness required three components: readiness in the child, readiness in the school, and readiness in communities and families. To be most useful as a tool to inform policy decisions, each indicator selected should meet the following criteria: 

  • Is something you care about enough to measure and track. Reflects an important child, family, or community outcome. Reflects access to service systems or programs that are “widely accepted” as important to child outcomes. (For example, health insurance coverage, early prenatal care, high quality child care).
  • Has policy relevance. Can be influenced by program or policy changes. Helps to better understand the impact of investments or policy choices. Is something policymakers want to know.
  • Enables states to assess gaps, with special attention to populations at high risk. Measures the conditions of children, by race/ethnicity and family income. Uses accessible data that is timely and available on an annual basis. Tracks data for the state as a whole and for local communities (county, city, town, school or, neighborhood).
  • Uses measures that are developmentally-appropriate. Addresses special considerations by age group: birth to age 3, preschool and kindergarten to third grade. Addresses the special needs of children with disabilities.
  • Uses measures that are relevant across all racial, cultural and language groups. 

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2007). A Science-Based Framework for Early Childhood Policy:Using Evidence to Improve Outcomes in Learning, Behavior, and Health for Vulnerable Children. http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu.

Child Trends School Readiness Resources

Getting Ready http://www.aecf.org/upload/publicationfiles/ch3622h583.pdf.


Virginia Performs tracks progress toward indicators across all major public investments, including education. Education measures include School Readiness, Third Grade and Fourth Grade reading.


How do we oversee the implementation of a results-based plan? The National School Readiness Indicators Initiative brought together 17 states to identify common measures for success and developed a set of core indicators.


Information on monitoring implementation by Fiscal Policy Studies Institute.


A checklist of questions to ask in order to improve accountability and monitoring.


Implementation During Economic Downturns. New Mexico phased-in enhanced funding for full-day kindergarten over five years, first targeting districts with the highest rates of low-income students, students whose first language is not English, and high-mobility families.