While progress is defined as forward movement toward achieving goals, objectives, and expected outcomes, it is not necessarily a steady, consistent climb. Because your program must rely on program data to demonstrate to what extent positive change has occurred, you also need to know where you started. This starting point, also referred to as "baseline data," is necessary for comparative purposes. Baseline data makes it possible to track and report progress in each yearly continuation application and throughout the five-year project period.
Tips for Tracking Progress
Baseline data is the starting point at which information is gathered. It is used for comparative purposes to track and report progress in the annual continuation application and over the five year project period.
Identify which data will enable you to assess how you are doing. To be able to report on progress, programs need to first define what changes to measure, along with the data sources to be used for measuring that change. Begin with existing program data that you know to be reliable and relevant.
Integrate methods for tracking and analyzing progress into the program’s ongoing monitoring and continuous improvement system. You already collect data throughout the year through your ongoing monitoring efforts. As you analyze that data, consider the following questions:
- Are we doing what we said we would do?
- How well are we doing it?
- Do we need to adjust our action plan?
Consider contacting knowledgeable evaluators—nonprofit resource centers and universities—to help select the right data tools and methods for tracking progress toward identified objectives and expected outcomes. Analyzing data can be simple or complex. As you build your program’s analytic capacity, consider the value of asking the right questions. Michael Marquardt, author of Leading with Questions, writes about "great questions." He suggests that great questions are selfless and support the work of the group by:
- Creating deep reflection
- Testing assumptions and encouraging individuals to explore their thoughts
- Enabling the group to better view the situation
- Opening doors to the mind
- Leading to breakthrough thinking
Using data for continuous improvement plays a significant role in the five-year project period. However, avoid being "data rich and information poor." Always consider available data during strategic planning. For example, three methods of tracking progress for a measurable objective may be too many. If the findings from two measures are redundant, consider discontinuing one of them.
Examples of Data Sources for Tracking Purposes
- Child files
- Standardized and structured child assessments
- Informal teacher observations, child portfolios, etc.
- Daily health checks
- Individual attendance records
- Well-child data
- Kindergarten entry assessments from receiving schools
- Parent feedback
- Developmentally standardized screenings
- Parent surveys
- Family partnership process
- Family assessments
- PFCE Markers of Progress
- Depression screeners
- Parenting intervention tools
- Tools for family strength-based assessments
- Annual self-assessment
- Community assessment
- Aggregated child-level assessment data
- Aggregated family progress data
- Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS), if appropriate
- Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®)
- Health Services Advisory Committee (HSAC)
- Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS)
- Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS)
How do your objectives measure program success?
Go beyond measures that simply count the number of things offered in a program or your effort. Consider the effect of your actions and explore ways to measure the impact of your efforts. Although counting is important—especially when it captures the number of parents who showed up for an event, for example, or the number of evening classes offered—going beyond counting is even more important. For example, can you show how your efforts supported parents in earning their GED or pursuing vocational training? Now, you start getting at the actual effect of your work.
Indicators of a Culture of Continuous Improvement
While people have long appreciated the merits of incrementally improving processes, the phrase “continuous improvement” was formalized in the 1980s. No matter the industry or business, a system of continuous improvement is necessary to make the most of your efforts and services. Consider these indicators as you cultivate your culture of continuous improvement.
- Curiosity: Ask "how" and "why" questions. Are staff actively asking questions and thinking critically?
- Reflection: Review program policies and seek regular feedback. Is time and space provided to look at data for meaning and insight?
- Tolerance for vulnerability: Recognize and discuss when things aren’t working well. Are staff comfortable making course corrections?
- Value feedback: Use data to assess if strategies are making a difference. Do we have a listening culture?
- Systems thinking: Take a 10,000-foot view to gain a broader, more comprehensive perspective. Does staff appreciate where their Head Start program fits within the larger community and the lives of the children they serve?
Resource Type: Article
National Centers: Program Management and Fiscal Operations
Audience: Directors and Managers
Last Updated: August 4, 2023