Why we are

Charlotte Brantley, President and CEO of Clayton Early Learning in Denver, says the organization has "data in our DNA. We are grounded in continuous improvement."

To reach the highest outcomes possible for more than 300 children enrolled in Clayton's Early Head Start and Head Start programs, Brantley and her colleagues have become "very serious" about using data to improve their direct services for children, professional development for teachers and caregivers of children ages birth to 5, and research and advocacy for their own program and those elsewhere in the region.

Clayton seeks teachers and caregivers who can work within this dynamic. During job interviews, candidates are asked, "How do you know when you're successful as a teacher?" Clayton looks for teachers and caregivers who also have the disposition to be researchers.

Clayton promotes data-based decision-making both internally and in other programs through the Clayton Early Learning Institute, which provides professional development to early childhood educators, conducts research and evaluation studies, and connects research to practice. As Vice President Nancie Linville explains, Clayton is committed to using data "in hands-on ways," and the Institute "takes what we're learning and conducts outreach across the state." The institute works to achieve what Linville calls "a more community-based approach to increase the rigor and the science of effective teaching in early childhood."

In an organization committed to action research, data abound. From the time a family enters the program—including women enrolling during pregnancy, or sometimes with children as young as six weeks —Clayton is collecting and mining its information for everything it can use to improve child and family outcomes. Clayton accesses demographic data (including ethnicity and primary language) and health data including immunization and screening records. It conducts depression screening for all new parents and gradually builds databases for attendance records and home visits. Over time, it introduces an impressive number of assessments of classroom quality, social and emotional development, protective factors, and acquisition of pre-kindergarten skills including language and numeracy. It conducts and analyzes data for its annual self-assessment, as required by the Office of Head Start. In addition, Clayton care providers and coaches collect a wealth of anecdotal observations of children and teacher-student interactions. Much of this information moves with each child through Early Head Start, Head Start, and on to kindergarten.

How to make sense of this mountain of data? Brantley says, "Teachers have to tell us what they want to know. It becomes a synergistic relationship." One device to encourage this relationship is the "data dialogue," an informal meeting during which individual and aggregate data are shared. At a recent data dialogue, for example, participants discussed reasons why one assessment showed a marked discrepancy among 3-year-olds in their ability to match numerals and quantities. (One possibility: Some children don't understand the concept of a "total" sum.) At the monthly Strategic Planning for Instruction and Learning meeting, staff link data to program strategies.

Clayton's annual evaluation report also keeps staff sharply focused on how their children are doing—across classrooms and over time. The Early Learning Institute produces the report, which presents aggregated data from assessments, including comparisons of performance from fall to spring. Clayton publishes the report in December or January, and from these documents, the organization writes its goals for the following school year.

Senior Director Charmaine Lewis pores over the annual reports and follows up with teachers. "When children don't improve, we need to explore why not. We have to look at the instruction. Did the teaching teams change? What happened in your coaching sessions?"

Brantley believes the times call for such objective appraisal. "There is a lot of discussion around teacher accountability and effectiveness. So we have to ask ourselves, what does it really mean to be accountable for a young child's development? And if we can't show that our children and their families are better prepared, then why are we here?"

Last Reviewed: June 2014

Last Updated: August 28, 2014