A Date with Data
Status Quo? No! Delaware Finds Creative Approaches to Improved Pre-School Environments Data
May 25, 2023
In Delaware, they're doing it different, at least when it comes to Indicator 6. In our second date in the First State, our own Amy Bitterman sits down with Cindy Brown, 619 Coordinator, and Bob Sabolcik, Part B Data Manager with the Delaware Department of Education, to talk about changing trajectories on pre-school environments data, asking districts that are doing well to share their strategies with others, and just generally saying no to the status quo. Res ipsa loquitur, no?
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### Episode Transcript ###

00:00:01.52  >> You're listening to "A Date with Data" with your host, Amy Bitterman.

00:00:07.34  >> Hey, it's Amy, and I'm so excited to be hosting "A Date with Data." I'll be chatting with state and district special education staff who, just like you, are dealing with IDEA data every day.

00:00:19.50  >> "A Date with Data" is brought to you by the IDEA Data Center.

00:00:24.51  >> Welcome to our new episode of "A Date with Data." Today, we are talking to Cindy Brown, who is the 619 Coordinator, and Bob Sabolcik, who is the Part B Data Manager. Both are with the Delaware Department of Education, and they're going to be discussing their Preschool Least Restrictive Environment, or Indicator 6, journey. Can each of you just say a little bit about yourselves and your role, and, Cindy, do you want to kick us off?

00:00:54.44  >> Yes, thank you, Amy and IDC, for having us.

00:00:57.66  >> Thank you.

00:00:58.18  >> I am about ... Thank you. I'm about to finish my 7th year here at the Delaware Department of Education. Prior to that, I was in Maine for many years as the 619 and Part C Coordinator. And I really am very passionate about this work and about making sure that we're expanding inclusive opportunities for our preschoolers here in Delaware and really appreciate the opportunity to work with our Part B Data Manager on this.

00:01:27.98  >> Thank you. Bob?

00:01:30.73  >> I am Bob Sabolcik. I have been with the Technology and Data Office of the Department of Education for a year and a half now. Before that, I was in the special education classroom for 23 years in the secondary setting, so I bring kind of an interesting perspective that most data managers don't have from the special ed background, and it's been a good blend so far.

00:01:56.16  >> Yeah, absolutely. I love asking that question because I always learn completely new things about state folks and their experience and background, so thank you for sharing.

00:02:08.84  >> Absolutely.

00:02:10.55  >> So to get us started, can you just tell us the story of your Indicator 6 data? What are some of the data quality changes, maybe, that you've encountered, and also, what are some of the successes and things that you think you're really doing well and are excited about?

00:02:28.32  >> Yeah, I can jump in, and then I'll kick it over to Bob. Yeah, as I said, I'm very passionate about this and had the opportunity to work with another TA center on the Expanding Inclusive Opportunities Initiative. And so when I reviewed in Delaware and looked at our data, we were very far away from meeting our targets at that time. And as I got to know our LEAs ... I meet monthly with all of our local 619 coordinators, and hearing from them the various challenges that they've been experiencing, it really heightened my enthusiasm about really trying to change the trajectory on the path we were on here. And one of the first things we turned to was starting to really look at the data and dig into it a bit and kind of walk through people, what the definitions were and ... for the different settings. And found out that a lot of the districts were not interpreting those placement codes correctly, so a lot of children were being not coded correctly. And then coupled with, at that time, kindergartners were still included in the count, so I did have the opportunity to work with both NASDSE and OSEP to kind of put forth the effort to change how the count is done and taking those kindergartners out of the Part ... this Indicator 6 count. And we knew that that would make a huge difference, right?

00:04:19.61  >> Yeah.

00:04:19.82  >> By and large, at least in Delaware, kindergarten children were in inclusive settings or in those A settings, and so that really peeled back a layer of the onion and let us see that we had even more challenges. So getting people to understand how to code the data has been a major emphasis. And again, we really invest time in looking at the data and talking about it on a very regular basis. And, Bob, I don't know if you want to add to that in terms of any other data quality challenges that you've seen since you've come on.

00:05:00.06  >> Well, I think Cindy hit the nail on the head about the idea is, if the information isn't entered correctly, the settings isn't entered correctly, we're not really going to get true accurate reporting. And really is ... There is a level of complexity to how a case manager is going to figure out like, "Well, what setting I should pick of all these settings based on what the district or the school has available?" So it can be complicated and especially when you look at our data collection tool. It is based on a PowerSchool special ed screen where they enter their data, and it's not necessarily explicit enough where it gives that second check of the case manager, are they really kind of doing it right? And I think that is one of the major challenges from the data standpoint that we're seeing.

00:05:54.97  >> Yeah, I agree, Bob. That's good point.

00:05:59.15  >> And to kind of ... It sounds like you've put in place these monthly meetings, which is great, with the local 619 coordinators. And what are some other things that you've done to kind of help address that issue of the coding piece?

00:06:17.96  >> Well, when the first B6 calculator came out, we immediately turned to use that because that really did break down and drill down the data and really looking at the districts. And we gave all of the districts a copy of everybody's data. A colleague of mine used to say, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant," and so really looking at ... And again, we're a very small state, right? Three counties. Everybody knows everybody or knows somebody that knows somebody, right? But really looking at that and then trying to encourage districts to talk to one another. Some districts seem to be doing fairly well with Indicator 6A and having those inclusive classrooms. Others really, really were struggling, so encouraging districts to talk to one another and strategize. We've also spent a lot of time on the preschool finance tool kit and looking at, what are some ways that you can expand those settings? We don't have universally-funded preschool here in Delaware. Our ... We do have 4-year-old slots funded, but it's a very, very small amount.

00:07:40.31  >> Mm-hmm.

00:07:41.39  >> So trying to look at those integrated opportunities has been challenging. Most of our districts resort to using their classrooms that are located on their district campuses, so also looking at expanding the use of the itinerant model and also trying to partner with community programs, especially Head Start, and private childcare centers as placements or as options for children services. The itinerant model has expanded enormously since I've been here. We now have it spread throughout the state. We have a community of practice, and we've seen some districts who now are in double digits with itinerant teachers and not just special ed teachers, but also sending out the related services itinerantly. So that model really has expanded, and we're trying to refine that further to really look at using other evidence-based practices, like coaching and collaborative classroom consultation, as a way to deliver services to the children and the other adults who are caring for them during the day.

00:08:55.91  >> Great, so all is ways ... All of those sound like ways to kind of increase inclusion so that there's more students with disabilities in those kind of more general ed settings. Those are good strategies.

00:09:07.36  >> And we have created an inclusion guide that has been published on our website. We've given out hard copies to not only our districts, but our community-based programs to really emphasize access, participation for all children.

00:09:26.80  >> How have you been creating a culture of data use in Delaware around Indicator 6 with the districts and other stakeholders?

00:09:38.68  >> That's a great question. We talk about creating a culture of data use and compliance. And so at our monthly 619 meetings, or early child special ed meetings, we've reframed it, we now have switched to taking the last half hour. That's actually a professional learning experience, so they do get recertification credits for that. It's a full day meeting once a month, but we've taken that last half hour of the agenda now and given it back to them to say that, now, this is your time to go work on your data, to either make sure you've got everything entered, accurate, timely, correct or to review data or to do whatever you need to do around making sure that you're having that conversation with your own internal team around the importance and value of, as Bob said earlier, collecting it correctly, getting it entered in a timely way and then using it on the back end.

00:10:41.81  >> Yeah, that's really an interesting way to approach it because you're kind of blocking out time for them in their calendars because that's all we need more of, is time to do all these things.

00:10:50.75  >> Exactly. It's already designated time to them, and so we're just saying, "We're going to stop our formal meeting a little earlier and give you this block of time, but we expect you to use it to really work on your data issues."

00:11:04.49  >> Mm-hmm. Great. And we pretty recently hosted ... IDC did, a Hands-On Learning Academy, or HOLA. We've done a few of those, kind of focused on different tools or resources that we're developing and bringing in a small number of states to really test them out and use them, plugging in their own data and kind of work in smaller groups to learn really how the tool works and how they can use it back in their own states and with their own districts. And I know that you all participated in one that we did on the Preschool Environments Tool Kit and Calculator, so can you just talk about what that experience was like. What did you take away from it? Anything you learned that you're going to apply now?

00:11:55.34  >> I'm going to give a brief answer and then let Bob talk about this one. Just in brief, it was great. It was a huge success. It was probably one of the most worthwhile things that I've gone to in a very long time.

00:12:09.33  >> Great.

00:12:09.84  >> So, Bob, I'll turn it over to you.

00:12:12.35  >> Yeah, from the two aspects of that, being at the meeting and being around the other managers and data coordinators, is a really valuable experience, I think, because you get so much more out of it from being ... from having in person and really talking to others in different states and how they interact with their LEAs and interact with their data. And also, I was able to really learn a lot. Even though I have 20 years more experience in special education, it's in a secondary level.

00:12:45.24  >> Mm-hmm.

00:12:46.12  >> I really needed to learn a lot about what's going on at the pre-K level, and it's a different placement sets for that. So that was a great learning environment that I was able to learn from Cindy and from the other folks there. And the tool kit is great because it's a nice standard tool kit that everybody can use, and it's not something that I had to create, which is nice. And it really works well. You just plop in your data. You have pivot tables. You have all the different tools that I could create on my own, but I don't have to, and then other people can use it relatively easy. It is a fairly complicated tool, but it's not ... It's set up in a way that you don't have to have a high degree of technical knowledge around pivot tables and data to be able to use it to get out meaningful information.

00:13:44.07  >> Yeah, I think that's a great point, Bob, and I think we appreciate ... It was six states total that were there, and everyone brought their data manager, which was great, because sometimes we do have these 619 experiences, right, but it's usually a state coordinator. It's not always the data manager, or we're not always there together. So having it in that smaller forum that was ... And it was 2 full days that were really concentrated. The discussions that happened were fantastic. There was time allowed for deeper dives and more meaningful interactions, and Bob was a superstar. He had his computer out the whole time, and he was working on data. And everybody got really into it, and so if folks get an opportunity to go to one of these, I would say, "Absolutely, jump at it."

00:14:39.82  >> Yeah, definitely.

00:14:40.43  >> It was really valuable. Yeah.

00:14:43.74  >> Great. Well, glad to hear you got so much out of it, and it was a success. So we definitely ... Yeah, we'll be doing more of those.

00:14:52.74  >> Definitely.

00:14:53.04  >> What do you ... Yeah.

00:14:54.44  >> I was just going to say kudos to ... it was Carol, Carol Seay, [Indistinct] and Tony Ruggiero, and they just did a fabulous job of organizing it with the content and, again, allowing time for meaningful interaction amongst the different state folk and allowing us to explore and ask questions of each other. And it was just invaluable.

00:15:21.84  >> Wonderful. So what do you have coming up? What are your plans for continuing to push and make improvements in the quality of your Indicator 6 data?

00:15:34.10  >> We have big plans. So one of the biggies coming right up is that, for the first time in Delaware ... And I don't know about a lot of other states that are doing it from what I hear. We will be including Indicator B6 in the local determination, and so if the LEA is not meeting the targets, they will have to do a continuous improvement plan. And really, it's the first time we're really holding them accountable for looking at strategies and innovations to how to move the needle on their data. And with this last creation of the new SPP, we had robust and many stakeholder meetings that were facilitated by IDC, and we did option to go with the discrete ages. So now we have targets for 3s, 4s and 5, and that also was very telling, and with this new APR, that one of our biggest challenges is finding those placements for 3-year-olds that are inclusive. And so now that we're going to put this out next month of the local determinations, in turn, they'll be able to see where their pain points might be or more painful points might be and can allow them to zero in and really think about if it is 3-year-olds that are challenging, to zero in on that. And the other thing is, we will be ... Once we get this child count submitted, we'll be putting out the Preschool Calculator tool, giving all the districts their individual data. And one of the big improvements to the tool now is it's one sheet, so you can see your data, your actual numbers and the percentages in one place, that used to be two separate reports. So seeing that, I think, is going to be more impactful to the districts as they look at that, look at their local determination and plan for how they can really start to move the needle.

00:17:50.00  >> Wow. Well, it definitely sounds you have some good plans in place and excited to hear how things go with including Indicator 6 in your local determinations for the first time and, yeah, really putting some teeth in it and see if that can help, like you said, move the needle. Great. Is there anything else either of you want to share that you didn't already mention regarding Indicator 6 and data quality?

00:18:18.95  >> One other thing that came out of the meeting, while Cindy and I were talking and reviewing the documents provided by IDC and our own data collection tool, the IAP, is that we're looking at improving the IAP because whenever I was looking at the decision tree for preschool education environments, I thought it was a great flow chart where you go yes or no.

00:18:42.54  >> Mm-hmm.

00:18:42.75  >> And I thought that would be a great way to modify the IAP so when ... instead of just looking at a list of the placements, that the case manager would kind of be guided through the decision tree, and then they would get to the placement, just to give them that next layer of, "are you really putting the student in the right placement?"

00:19:06.75  >> Hmm. That's a great idea.

00:19:08.56  >> Yeah, that's an excellent point, Bob. We are talking about revising our ... We do have a preschool version of the IAP here, and we are looking at revising that preschool IAP and really changing up how the LRE piece is displayed and talked about. Yeah.

00:19:26.76  >> Hmm. Yeah, I don't know if I've heard that really before, so that's another really great innovation and way to kind of use tools and things that are already exist, like that decision tree, and kind of in a different way than maybe we would've thought of before, but to really help guide everyone to the most accurate placement code.

00:19:50.83  >> Right now, we're in a feasibility stage because we're a little bit at the mercy of PowerSchool IAP and what they can technically do on their end for us, but we are in the middle of an FRP, so we'll have to see whoever wins the contract for our student information system to see if that's something that we can talk to them about.

00:20:12.18  >> Hmm. Great.

00:20:13.76  >> I think our mantra too, at this point, is status quo is not an option. We really ... And, Amy, we talk about this on a national level, right?

00:20:29.04  >> Yeah.

00:20:29.77  >> We haven't moved the needle on preschool LRE in 40 years. OSEP is aware of that, and so we really have to be thinking about innovations, creativity, public/private partnerships. I refer, frequently and often, to the "Dear Colleague" letter of 2017, reminding people about that ...

00:20:58.21  >> Mm-hmm.

00:20:59.20  >> ... and that we really do have to ... We can't just sit back and admire the problem anymore.

00:21:05.76  >> Yeah.

00:21:06.09  >> We really do need to take some affirmative action to change things up.

00:21:12.91  >> Yeah, and it sounds like you all are really doing that, so kudos to you.

00:21:17.45  >> We're trying. We're trying.

00:21:19.32  >> You are. All right. Well, thank you both so much. Really appreciate you being on and telling us about your experiences at HOLA and just what you've been doing to really try to improve your Indicator 6 data, so thank you.

00:21:35.51  >> Thank you, Amy.

00:21:36.83  >> You're welcome.

00:21:38.96  >> To access podcast resources, submit questions related to today's episode or if you have ideas for future topics, we'd love to hear from you. The links are in the episode content, or connect with us via the Podcast page on the IDC website at ideadata.org.