Measuring child well-being in the middle of a pandemic

Several school districts in L.A. County have adopted the Early Development Instrument (EDI) as a tool to measure early childhood well-being and readiness for kindergarten. But as schools have shifted their focus to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the county’s planned EDI collection efforts are at risk of being seriously disrupted, and some are in danger of being eliminated. With growing concerns over what the future will look like for young children, having data, like the EDI, may prove to be more valuable than ever.

The EDI provides community stakeholders (teachers, school administrators, city staff, early care and learning providers and parents) with a better understanding of how children are developing within the context of their communities. This population measure is collected every three years by kindergarten teachers three to six months into the school year. However, some districts, like Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD), collect the EDI on a yearly basis. Both school districts and municipalities have used EDI results to make strategic and better-informed decisions about allocating and prioritizing resources and services for young children.

In Southern California, all Orange County school districts and nine school districts in L.A. County have collected EDI data, with Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) being the newest school district to join the effort. The pandemic, however, has put a temporary pause on the EDI as school districts switch to distance learning and grapple with how to ensure students’ basic needs are being met. LBUSD was supposed to start collecting EDI data this spring, and L.A. Unified’s EDI articulation meetings have been postponed to later in the school year. Many school districts and their community partners are in a waiting pattern since many do not yet know what the 2020-21 school year will look like. Some are also wondering what collection will look like if classrooms go virtual.   

For others, the situation is more dire. With declining city and school revenues and unanticipated costs due to the pandemic, some communities are being forced to make difficult budget cuts. This is the case with Santa Monica’s Cradle to Career Network, which has a goal of increasing kindergarten readiness. In partnership with Connections for Children and the SMMUSD, the City of Santa Monica provides the district with the resources to collect EDI data to measure children’s readiness for school. The results are shared in the city’s annual Youth and Well-being Report Card and are used for planning purposes. Heavily dependent on tourism dollars, Santa Monica’s revenue has fallen significantly during the pandemic, and while they are a data driven city, city council has made the recommendation (see page 53) to no longer fund EDI collection efforts since it is not an activity that directly serves residents. As of now, no decision has been made, but advocates argue that the city will miss out on critical data on the anticipated “COVID-19 slide” and the effects of the pandemic on young children’s future school success.

According to 2019 data, 51.7 percent of children in Los Angeles and Orange Counties participating in the EDI are ready for kindergarten. We can probably expect that percentage to change in response to the current public health crisis. Data, like the EDI, are particularly critical in times like these when preschools and child care centers are closing and children are being left without enriching learning opportunities or where added family stressors are affecting children's physical and emotional health. Communities with access to EDI data can make better informed decisions on how to address the needs of children and families.

Without a consistent measure of child well-being across the county, we can only make assumptions on what will be the short- and long-term implications of the pandemic on children’s readiness for school. The L.A. Compact believes in data-driven policy and systems change and recognizes the important role that children’s readiness for school plays in lifelong success. While the current health crisis has caused many of us to shift our priorities, we remain committed to exploring with our county and community partners on how the EDI can continue to be an integral part of a robust early childhood development data system for the region. Now more than ever, we need access to quality and timely data for the recovery and strengthening of the systems that serve young children and their families. 

For more information on the EDI, please contact L.A. Compact Sr. Manager, Ariana Oliva, at aoliva@unitela.com.

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