5 Key Takeaways from New York’s RECAP Early Education Team

For decades, Rochester has consistently ranked among the highest performing pre-K systems in the nation. What is the city’s secret? The Rochester Early Childhood Assessment Partnership (RECAP) has been successfully measuring community outcomes for children from 3 to age 5 for the last 20 years. Translating data real-time into usable information for parents, providers, and policymakers has enabled RECAP to drive a continuous improvement process in education that has enhanced the performance of Rochester’s youngest students, teachers, and systems. The Raising of Fort Worth concluded its 2017 national tour of early education best practices on October 12, 2017 with a panel discussion with the RECAP team. The breakfast event aimed to glean lessons learned from this highly effective collective impact model, as well as actions that have been pivotal in each stage of RECAP’s work.

Specifically, the Raising of Fort Worth community was eager explore:

  1. How community-wide assessment partnerships support the early learning community, and
  2. How data and outcomes can be shared in real-time and integrated across systems to inform decisions impacting children.

Moderated by Jay McCall, Program Manager of Education at The Rainwater Charitable Foundation, the October 12th RECAP panel consisted of:

One-pagers distributed at the event provided background information on Rochester demographics, as well as the panel members’ respective work histories and accomplishments. These briefs are available at the following links:

5 Key Takeaways

While the RECAP panelists shared many insights from their multi-decade history of working together in early childhood, five key factors proved instrumental to the group’s shared success.

1. Trust Is Paramount

RECAP began with a few key decision-makers in a room seeking to address a problem the funding community had brought to the forefront: The Rochester community collectively had been supporting early childhood for years, without an effective way to measure impact. Dirk Hightower, Executive Director of The Children’s Institute and one of the original founders of the RECAP assessment, emphasized that establishing trust in the leaders across the various sectors of the coalition was paramount. Twice a month, the RECAP work group meets to review goals, interpret new data, share feedback, and plan next steps. Each member of the team brings distinctive skills or experience that furthers the group’s mission. Inherent trust in each of the individuals on the team as experts in their respective fields enables efficient decision-making and continuous progress against stated goals.

2. Data Must Be “Low-Stakes” and in “Real-Time”

When RECAP announced the idea of a community-wide assessment to improve student performance, it was initially met with an expected level of skepticism. Many teachers, providers, and even parents worried they would be “graded” based upon their child’s performance. The RECAP team shared that it was essential to build a “low-stakes” environment that centered on continuous improvement, rather than a static grade or rating. By providing information in real-time with suggestions for how to build on momentum (rather than as a punishment/reflective exercise of what “what went wrong”), providers and parents immediately began to see the value of this work. Real-time data feeds an effective continuous improvement process because it allows partners to course-correct before major trends or patterns are ingrained in their programs or approach.

3. Data Must Be Usable

The three key audiences that RECAP has targeted in its work include parents, providers, and policymakers. RECAP not only revised the formatting of its reports based on feedback from these separate communities (e.g., teachers said they could not understand their reports easily, even though they “looked pretty and had a great design”), and so RECAP customized the information for each audience. This means RECAP’s reports include different relevant data based on each of these audience’s careabouts and concerns, with tailored insights to support the reader’s specific work with children. Reports for teachers and providers include snapshots of child performance (including strengths and areas of improvement to aid individualized instruction) as well as resources for teaching best practices, professional development opportunities and/or coaching support. Reports tailored to the three specific community audiences (parents, providers and policymakers) are used as a learning tool if they can be easily interpreted and applied to current and future practices.

4. Consistency Is Key

When measuring community-wide outcomes, consistency in performance expectations, as well as the types and frequency of assessments, is critical to ensuring actionable results. The RECAP team shared a time when, for two years in a row, student outcomes were trending downward. Because they had consistency of their data set and all partners bought in to the same evaluation system, they were able to confidently identify this as a solidified trend and not a fluke – and begin taking steps to evaluate curriculum and teaching practices to reverse course. Rochester ISD is proud to announce that over 75% of its pre-K classrooms are community-based, and the quality is the same across district and community-based programs. Equal expectations applied to all partners and programs help to ensure shared goals and propel positive community-wide results.

5. It Takes the Whole Community

RECAP was very intentional at the outset about engaging parents, providers, and policymakers. The RECAP team collected information and met in-person with these groups in order to get their buy-in and assess their individual needs and use of the data. Around the table today are public school district representatives, community-based organizations, policymakers, funders, parents, and local government officials – because they see the value of this work from a community and city-wide level and can pull different levers to impact the work. Building a shared value proposition around assessment means creating a “low-stakes” environment that places high value on improvement and iteration rather than ratings and rankings. All partners play a role in this work to ensure data and results are communicated effectively and the continuous improvement process is a driving force behind the community’s overall success. Sustainable impact requires community-wide buy-in and engagement – including from public school districts, community-based organizations, businesses and other sector partners.

Rochester’s 20 years of measuring student outcomes has resulted in significant gains in student achievement and positive parent feedback. Following are a few highlights from RECAP’s 2015-16 annual report:

  • RECAP universal pre-K (UPK) attendees showed high rates of academic growth – as much as two years’ gains (1.7 year growth on average).
  • RECAP teachers had a high level of classroom quality with an overall mean of 5.4 (5.2 is baseline, through CLASS).
  • Survey of 1,000 parents showed exceptionally high satisfaction rates with their child’s classroom and teachers (96% of parents graded these “A” or “B”).

RECAP’s commitment to its partners and its community’s continued success is an inspiration to our work here locally in Fort Worth. We look forward to the opportunity to stay in touch with the RECAP early education team as we continue forward on our journey toward improving local student achievement and child and family success.

To learn more about how Fort Worth is working together to promote early learning outcomes, please visit:

BlogSara RedingtonComment