Monday, January 30, 2017

Quality Matters in Washington Early Learning: Early Start Act Progress

It has now been more than a year since I came to the Department of Early Learning as its new director, and I am gratified by the successes we’ve had in that time. We met the deadline to enroll all existing subsidy providers into Early Achievers head-on. Nearly all providers required to sign up did so - serving more than 37,000 children under 5, or 98 percent of those served in subsidy in FY 2016. This is an inspirational embrace by the provider community of our quest for quality.

In this past year, we also: 
  • rolled out 12-month eligibility, providing increased stability and peace of mind for children and families; 
  • released a report on culturally responsive professional development to serve as a statewide resource by providing expectations for professional development creation, delivery, and evaluation; and 
  • embarked on a robust community input process to align our family home and center child care regulations. 
Governor Inslee signs the Early Start Act, 2015.
We’ve also taken on the Early Start Act’s charge to make the early learning system more diverse and racially equitable. I’ve dedicated staff and resources to the implementation of a racial equity initiative across the agency, and we’ve worked with partners to innovate new ways of supporting our diverse providers and children.

At DEL, we are the stewards of the public trust and the investment made through the Early Start Act. With that in mind, last year we set out an aspirational goal for the agency and the system to get 90 percent of kids ready for kindergarten by the year 2020, with race and family income no longer predictors of success. 
In the intervening months we have made great progress towards that goal, and have developed clear and coherent next steps to move us further down that path. The two most significant levers in supporting child outcomes that the ESA funded, the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) and Early Achievers, have begun to yield results.
ECEAP is in 36 of 39 counties in Washington, serving more than 11,300 children each year. In the 2014-15 school year, more than 59 percent of ECEAP four year olds were assessed as ready for kindergarten in the spring – by fall of their kindergarten year that number dropped to 37 percent. While that’s still better than their other low-income peers (we estimate 28 percent are ready) we still need to solve this drop-off problem.

There are two solutions that we believe will nearly eliminate that 18-point drop-off:
  • Provide summer ECEAP programming, and 
  • Address problems with the way dual-language learners are being assessed in kindergarten
Beyond that, we know that we are serving families for whom a 3.5 hour per day program doesn’t fit with their schedule. Many kids who are eligible are not participating, so to reach not only the spirit of preschool entitlement, but the intent as well, we need to provide programming that fits the needs of families by providing full-day and extended-day program options. Read more about DEL's tactics to improve school readiness here: Full Report.

I now have a more nuanced understanding of the strategies needed to leverage the Early Start Act to get kids to kindergarten readiness, and we’re beginning to more clearly see the effect sizes of different investments. 
One reality that has become overwhelmingly clear to me is that while the Early Start Act’s funded services are critical, they are not sufficient. Many of the children DEL serves have complicated needs and face severe challenges. We need more efficient and tighter sequencing of our birth-to-three services and coordination with other agencies that provide for the welfare of children. Only then will we be able to help every child reach their full potential.
In the next year, I look forward to growing our programs and the sophistication of our analysis of them. We are one year closer to achieving our 90% goal and implementing the intent of the Early Start Act, and I remain proud to helm this effort.

Ross Hunter,

Director, Department of Early Learning

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Day in the Life of an Early Learning Center Director

In 2015, DEL featured a set of blog posts that provided an in-depth description of what a family home child care licensor and a center child care licensor encounters on an average day at work.

Today, we will focus on an average day of work for the early learning professionals who run child care programs in centers and in family homes, providing high quality early learning to Washington children. The following post was written after spending a day shadowing Lois Martin, director of the Community Day Center for Children in Seattle’s Central Area. 

About Community Day

Founded by Lula Martin in 1963, Community Day Center for Children (CDCC) is in Seattle’s Central Area neighborhood. They serve 37 children, 13 percent of whom receive Working Connections Child Care subsidy. The CDCC lives up to its philosophy to provide a culturally diverse atmosphere where children learn through social interaction. The staff is comprised of African American and East African educators and the children come from a variety of racial, cultural, ethnic, and economic backgrounds.

Lois Martin wears many hats throughout the day. From her office she has eyes and ears on the activity in each classroom. She communicates regularly with staff over walkie-talkies.  She announces updates to classroom coverage when two teachers are out for the day, advises teachers about shortened outdoor play time schedules because of cold weather, and reminds teachers to look out for flu symptoms after two children go home ill.

Quality Matters

CDCC is participating in Early Achievers, but has not yet been rated. This is evident in her constant attention to child/ teacher ratios and the ability of staff to meet the individual needs of each child even on short-staffed days. Martin shared that she and her teachers were using Early Achievers tools several years before enrolling in the quality improvement program because of the center’s affiliation with the City of Seattle Comprehensive Child Care Program. 
When asked about how Early Achievers influences her day-to-day work, Martin notes that her first priority is the health and safety of the children and her staff. 
Martin shared the importance of utilizing these types of tools to analyze how the center classrooms encourage quality early learning experiences for the children. For example, they recently went through each classroom, as a group, to talk through several environment rating scale checklists and how teachers are using the different materials.

Supporting her teaching staff in their ongoing professional development is another important part of Martin’s role as director. Most of the CDCC educators are in school with three pursuing a Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate, two pursuing Associate of Arts (AA) degrees and one pursuing a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. Martin helps her staff find conferences and training to aid in their professional development and provides them opportunities to apply their learning as leaders at the center. She wishes there was more time to dedicate to training as a group.

Lois Martin, director of CDCC,
 comforts a sick child sleeping in her lap. 

Community Minded

Martin is also actively involved in the community surrounding the center. Today, in addition to her errands and coordinating adaptive schedule changes in classrooms, she has a phone conversation with a community member about plans for the dedication of new outdoor space on the Garfield Campus and their hope that it will become a community living room that serves as a safe space for all. She recalls the ways the neighborhood has changed over the 24 years she has been directing the center. While most of the children live within an 8-block radius of the center, many center teachers are no longer able to afford to live in the neighborhood. 

The ability to retain and continue to provide high quality care to families who receive Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) subsidies was the major impetus in the center becoming a part of the Early Achievers program.  It is important to Martin that CDCC maintain a socio-economic mix of families at the center, so she is willing to take the extra steps to make this possible. For example, today she makes a call to the DSHS provider line to confirm the center received a past-due co-payment.  Then Martin calls the parent to assure her the balance is cleared up and a called was placed to the WCCC call center.  
“If you really enjoy it, it becomes a part of your life and everything you do… That is how you obtain quality, we must pay attention to it every day,” Martin said.
As the day comes to an end, parents stop in to chat with Martin. She shares highlights from the day and they laugh about communal stories. She pulls out the walkie-talkie and cheerily praises her staff for their good work taking care of each other and the children on a short-staffed day, and reminds them to stop by the office to pick up treats left by a family in appreciation for the center’s dedicated staff.

Know of a special place where Washington children grow and learn? Send ideas to

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

DEL Releases Plan to Improve Services for Infants, Toddlers

The 2016 Legislature passed (SB) 5879 which required the Department of Early Learning (DEL) to develop and submit a plan to the Washington Legislature on comprehensive and coordinated services for all children eligible for the early support for infants and toddlers (ESIT) program in accordance with part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). If implemented, this plan would create efficiency that will direct more resources to infants and toddlers with special needs and their families.

This plan:
  • Improves financial oversight and transparency within early intervention programs,
  • Simplifies administrative processes and provides greater technical support to early intervention providers, and
  • Ensures the State is maximizing resources for infants and toddlers by significantly increasing usage of both Medicaid and private insurance funding.
DEL received significant feedback from stakeholders during the development of the plan and made substantial changes to the final version in response.

We recognize that some of the administrative costs described in this report are being used by school districts for necessary special education services for preschool (age 3-4) and school age children. Immediate change would be disruptive and we recommend that changes to the program only become effective upon passage of the state’s plan to fund public education (in response to McCleary v. State of Washington Supreme Court Case Number 84362-7) and no earlier than July 1, 2018.

In addition, there is currently a proposal from a Governor-appointed commission to revise how Washington serves children and families. The proposal suggests restructuring existing services to create the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families. If this proposal is implemented by the Legislature, then this early intervention plan should be implemented in a coordinated way on July 1, 2018. DEL is committed to maintaining an effective system that serves all Washington children and families in need of these essential services and working with our partners to do so.

For the last ten months, DEL staff members have engaged more than 1,000 stakeholders across 46 separate events as well as responded to more than 50 pieces of written feedback in order to meet their legislative charge (see appendix A in the report linked below). DEL leadership and ESIT staff have been gathering stakeholder feedback through surveys and facilitated discussions with local lead agency (LLA) staff,
school district contacts, the State Interagency Coordinating Council (SICC), stakeholders from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), as well as receiving support from national technical assistance providers and Part C leadership in other states.

To read the entire plan, click here: 2016 ESIT Plan.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Comprehensive Pre-K Program Shows Positive Child Outcomes

Children enrolled in ECEAP (state-funded preschool) are assessed three times during the school year to track their social-emotional, physical, language, and cognitive development and their early literacy and math skills. English language acquisition is tracked for children who speak a different language at home.

Photo taken at Tacoma Day (ECEAP site) 
in Tacoma, Washington.

How Washington measures kindergarten readiness

In Washington State, we rely on the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS) for kindergarten readiness data.

WaKIDS is a process for:
  • Welcoming students and their families to kindergarten.
  • Assessing students’ strengths.
  • Discussing the characteristics of children’s development and learning what will enable them to be successful in school.
In the 2015‒16 school year, WaKIDS reached approximately 59,000 kindergartners and determined their skill set development in the six areas highlighted below.

While we can see that few children start their Pre-K year in ECEAP with kindergarten entry skills, at the end of one year of ECEAP, the percentage of ECEAP children with kindergarten entry skills exceeds the rate for all WaKIDS children and for low-income WaKIDS children. For the 124 children with two years of ECEAP, the results are remarkably higher.

Our state’s most at-risk children made progress in all six areas of development.

The following percentages of ECEAP children moved from “below age level” to “at or above age level” during their time in the state-funded program.
  • Social-emotional development – 41% 
    • Meaning the child can regulate his or her own emotions, establish and sustain positive relationships, participate cooperatively and constructively in group situations.
  • Physical development – 35% 
    • Children are measured on traveling, balancing, motor manipulative skills (e.g. reach with your hands) and fine-motor strength and coordination.
  • Language development – 35% 
    • The child listens to and understands increasingly complex information, uses language to express thoughts and needs and uses appropriate conversational and communication skills.
  • Cognitive development – 39%
    • Children demonstrate positive approaches to learning and use classification skills and understand the use of symbols or images to represent something not present.
  • Literacy development - 43%
    • The child shows phonetical awareness, knowledge of the alphabet and print, and comprehends and responds to books and other texts. This category also measures the child’s ability to explore writing.
  • Mathematics - 53%
    • Children use number concepts and operations, explore spatial relationships and shapes, compare and measure and demonstrate knowledge of patterns.
Beyond the six areas of skill and development, ECEAP offers an integrated pre-K experience, including support with health care and family engagement.

Healthy children are learning children

ECEAP staff work closely with families to establish medical and dental coverage and care.and mental health consultation (if needed).
  • At the time of enrollment only 56 percent of ECEAP children were up to date on their annual well-child medical exams. By the end of the year, 91 percent were on schedule.
  • When they enrolled in fall 2015, only 39 percent of ECEAP children were up to date with dental screenings. For children who attended ECEAP all school year, 94 percent had dental screenings and necessary follow-up treatment. Dental cavities are the single most common disease of childhood.
ECEAP parent voice:
“One of my girls is a darling special needs kiddo and with that comes some big frustrations for me. One area that was difficult for years was brushing her teeth. When she started ECEAP, the teachers were focused on health and nutrition and made time every day to practice brushing teeth with all the kids. It did not take long before she was tolerating a brush in her mouth and now she actually enjoys having them brushed.”

Family first

Family engagement is an essential component of ECEAP comprehensive services. It includes individualized family support services: working with families to increase their economic security as well as providing referrals and community resources, opportunities to volunteer in the classroom, parent education, and parent leadership development activities.

One ECEAP site had a “Daddy and Me” event for the families. The Family Support Specialist recaps:
“I got home about a half hour ago from an amazing night. There were so many dads and papas who came with their kiddos. One teacher volunteered for the whole event. I asked boys to introduce me to their dads and gave them the words to say. Every dad who was introduced just beamed. Quite possibly the most heartwarming thing was that an elderly man came with the boy he’s been bringing to school every day. He brought the boy’s dad who is blind, and none of us were aware of this. They are friends from their church. The elderly man gently guided the dad in, helped the little boy with activities while dad was by his side, and brought the dad his dinner. ECEAP is truly a community program!”
In the 2015-16 school year, ECEAP implemented two new initiatives geared toward family support. Please look for more information about Families Moving Forward or check out the Family Support Pilot blogpost here: ECEAP Family Support Pilot.

To read the entire report, go here: 2015-16 ECEAP Outcomes Report. For more information about ECEAP, visit

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Meet Colton: Early Intervention Success

The following is a guest blog post authored by a Pierce County mom:

Colton was the kid everyone looked at in public. At 24 months, he still couldn't speak. Colton would yell, scream, hit, kick, and bite his message across. He hated the smell of strong foods – they made him gag or vomit. He hated anything on his hands and would scream until we wiped them, but he hated the wet wipes as well and would scream even more. Good luck getting anything off his face without a wrestling match! His face was off limits: no wiping, no touching, not even a kiss goodnight.

Colton was constantly on the move. Jumping here and there, crashing into things. We had him evaluated for Autism Spectrum Disorder, but that was ruled out. 

We knew he had a speech delay and a sensory processing disorder. I was an exhausted mom. I was a frustrated mom. It's hard to admit, but I was also a mom who was embarrassed by his behavior. 

One of the biggest blessings of Children's Therapy Center Early Intervention program was having someone explain why our son was acting like this and giving us the encouragement and knowledge to support him. 

Picture Exchange Communication example.
I was surprised when his first therapist was a special education teacher, considering he had been referred for speech. But Stephanie was exactly what Colton needed. He couldn't practice speech until we helped him regulate himself. She taught us how to parent him with love and logic. She taught him sign language (“more,” “all done,” “help,” and “please”) so that he could request his needs. She gave us PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) so that meals, snacks, and activities were no longer a guessing game ending in fights and tears. She saw his body and knew a SPIO® would help him gain control. She was right! He was like a different kid with it on. Stephanie saw that music helped him learn and calm himself, and she utilized it. She led a play group where he flourished and was motivated by his peers. Within 6 months, Colton went from speaking four to 60 words. He began tolerating wiping. 
The first person my son ever blew a kiss to was Stephanie. I think that's a bold expression of the amazing staff that CTC employs. 
The amazing, Colton!
Colton’s speech therapist, Alyssa, had participated in his playgroup and I think this familiarity made a huge difference. Her enthusiasm really drew Colton in. Alyssa was great at taking Stephanie's observations and utilizing games and songs to get him to enunciate. She showed us how to break words apart, target sounds, and practice repetition in positive ways. 

Colton also received occupational therapy with Marge. Marge really took the time to understand Colton. She observed his reactions and the environmental input and explained all of this to me in a way I could understand. She helped us see how his lack of speech was causing his aggressive behavior. Marge helped us make daily struggles (teeth brushing, hair washing, eating, bedtime) into tolerable and fun routines. She also noticed his weak muscles (hypotonia) and how they negatively impacted the simplest tasks. She taught us how to help him gain strength utilizing household items and games.
I was extremely nervous knowing that Colton would be leaving Early Intervention. All of his therapists and teachers were unconditionally supportive. They worked with me to review notes, prep for the evaluations, and calm any fears I had. With their help, we were able to get Colton the support he needs for the future via developmental preschool. 

Colton doesn't need to yell, scream, hit, kick, or bite to get his messages across anymore. He can use one of the 120 words he now has in his vocabulary. Colton can play with clay or paint with his sisters and wipe his hands calmly. Colton is still on the move but he is not crashing into things. He has much better control over his body and his emotions. 

Every night now, I can tuck him in and give him a kiss – something that would never have been possible without Early Intervention and his teacher and therapists at CTC. 

For more information about Early Support for Infants and Toddlers in Washington State, go to