Data Opinion

From Age 3 to Grade 3: How Atlanta Promotes School Readiness and Achievement

By Urban Education Contributor — March 05, 2018 4 min read
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This week we are hearing from Atlanta 323: Partnership for School Readiness & Achievement from Age 3 to Grade 3, a partnership within The Urban Child Study Center at Georgia State University (@gsucehd). This post is by Nicole Patton Terry, Director of The Urban Child Study Center and Associate Professor at Georgia State University.

Today’s post is written from the researcher perspective. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share the practitioner’s perspective on this topic.

This year, Georgia’s Pre-K Program celebrates its 25th birthday. Like in many other states, children in Georgia who participate in high-quality early childhood education programs like Georgia’s universal pre-K are more likely to be ready for school and more likely to meet grade level expectations in the early school years. But research tells us that these results are rarely achieved and sustained over time by what happens in classrooms alone. Rather, positive outcomes are more likely to emerge when schools, families, and communities work together to provide supports, experiences, and environments that promote children’s learning and healthy development.

Toward that end, Atlanta has embarked on an exciting endeavor: the creation of a preschool to third grade (P3) early childhood system. P3 systems are characterized by coordination and alignment of multiple programs and services for early childhood (from birth to age 5) and early elementary grades (kindergarten to 3rd grade). P3 systems can be particularly important for vulnerable children and families, who often experience barriers to accessing high quality programs and services but require them most to thrive. Therefore, P3 systems can help ensure that programs and policies meet all children’s needs.

Importantly, P3 systems include programs that are internal as well as external to the school system. For example, many children attend formal preschool and pre-K programs in early education centers or informal care within family-friend-and-neighbor programs before entering school; communities offer programs at community centers, libraries, museums, and parks to engage families and other stakeholders; universities offer certification and degree programs to train professional educators and conduct research to inform evidence-based practices in schools, and so on. In short, it takes a village to create and sustain an effective P3 system.

With the many players involved in Atlanta’s emerging P3 system, various challenges can arise. To address some of these challenges, partners came together to create Atlanta 323: Partnership for School Readiness & Achievement from Age 3 to Grade 3, housed within Georgia State University’s Urban Child Study Center.

Partnership Work

Our partnership team includes the school district, center-based early care and education providers, the university, advocacy groups, community organizations, and state education agencies. In its early stages, Atlanta 323 is focusing on one critical component of Atlanta’s P3 system: the data.

Successful P3 systems require data to inform coordinated decision-making. However, gathering, analyzing, and using data is no small feat. Each partner in the system may gather and house information on their children, families, and programs. However, that data may be in separate systems and may not align well with data gathered by other partners. Moreover, all data isn’t well-suited to answer all questions that partners may have about the P3 system or the participants in it. Organizing, storing, updating, and analyzing data continuously can also be difficult, requiring expertise and meticulous monitoring that may not exist within all partner organizations. Perhaps most importantly, having data is not the same as using it. Data can be overwhelming and messy. Finding the time and space to use it for improvement and innovation is challenging.

Therefore, Atlanta 323 is seeking to develop the research infrastructure that will allow the school district, early learning partners, and its stakeholders to utilize data to inform decisions around the Atlanta P3 system. One key component of this work will be to build an integrated longitudinal database linking school readiness and achievement data from preschool through 3rd grade. Although we are just at the beginning, we believe that Atlanta 323’s success will be due in large part to one key factor: cross-sector relationships between the various partners involved in the partnership.

Outcomes For Policy And Practice

Though managing the partnership activities of a group as large and varied as the Atlanta 323 partnership is challenging, two facts remain. First, each partner is directly and deeply involved in programming, policies, and practices that support children from preschool through 3rd grade in Atlanta. Second, each partner is committed to Atlanta’s children and families. Importantly, Atlanta is home to many vulnerable children and families, whose engagement in the P3 system isn’t always seamless—we are committed to developing a P3 system and agenda that promotes quality, equity, and access.

Therefore, in our view, each partner must have a seat at the table, from the beginning. Together, we will develop the data infrastructure and research agenda required to support Atlanta’s P3 system. Through relevant research and robust partnerships, we will ensure that all of Atlanta’s children have a seamless high-quality pathway to school success.

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The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.