CEED team leads revision of Minnesota’s Early Childhood Indicators of Progress

Minnesota’s Early Childhood Indicators of Progress (ECIPs) lay out a shared set of expectations for Minnesota’s young children at different ages. The ECIPs describe things children should know and be able to do before kindergarten. This document, which was designed to inform practice in the early childhood field, was originally drafted in 2007 and last revised in 2016. Last year, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) tasked CEED with a new revision of the ECIPs. Emily Beckstrom and Ashley Bonsen, both project specialists, and Anna Landes Benz, curriculum specialist, teamed up to lead the project.

A toddler climbs out of a sandbox
Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

Every state has its own early learning guidelines for preschoolers, and most have early learning guidelines for infants and toddlers, too. Program directors and educators may refer to these guidelines when developing instructional activities for the children in their care. Specialists like speech-language pathologists may refer to them when coming up with plans for the children they work with. In Minnesota, the ECIPs consist of eight domains, each representing a major area of child development:

  • Approaches to Learning
  • The Arts
  • Language, Literacy, and Communication
  • Mathematics
  • Physical and Movement Development
  • Scientific Thinking
  • Social and Emotional Development
  • Social Systems

The number of domains, the skills and knowledge categorized under each domain, and the names for the domains vary from state to state. 

“The domain that we in Minnesota call ‘The Arts’ is a good example of how early learning standards vary. Minnesota’s ECIPs link creativity and curiosity to making art, like theater or music. But not all states have ‘The Arts’ as a standalone domain,” says Beckstrom. “The dispositions and skills that our document associates with art might show up in a different domain, such as Approaches to Learning.”

Determining the revision process

Beckstrom, Bonsen, and Landes Benz designed Minnesota’s ECIPs revision process almost from scratch. For guidance, Landes Benz, CEED Director Ann Bailey, and CEED Professional Development Coordinator Deborah Ottman, met virtually with the team that led the revision of Ohio’s Early Learning and Development Standards. CEED staff used elements of what had worked well in Ohio, such as a public comment survey. They issued an open call for applications to work groups that would tackle each individual domain. Their work group application process, too, drew inspiration from the one that was used in Ohio–and it was very successful.

“We got almost two hundred applications in 10 days,” says Bonsen. “People are extremely passionate about children and early childhood education, and that’s what oozed out of all the applications.”

Some work group participants were invited to apply. Others nominated themselves or others. The work groups were made up of geographically and racially diverse experts from a wide range of fields. There were teachers and staff from public schools and Head Start; center and family child care providers; and parents. College faculty; experts on special education, the hard-of-hearing population, and other needs and abilities; and occupational and speech-language therapists also joined. Most participants had five years’ experience or more in their field. Some work group members had been part of the 2017 revision of the ECIPs.

“It was helpful to have those [returning] participants, especially those who were working in the same domain and saying, ‘We had hoped this would happen. It didn’t. Let’s work on it again’,” says Landes Benz.

Before the work groups convened, CEED staff worked with Rebecca Nathan (Aviellah Curriculum and Consulting), who provided critically important grounding in best practice around diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) for facilitators and work group members. Nathan helped guide the content, conversation starters, and framework that the work groups used to keep a strong equity lens at the heart of the revision project. Nathan often reminded the facilitators that keeping DEIA front-and-center during work group meetings was only a first step. Like all DEIA work, ensuring that the ECIPs serve young children from all of Minnesota’s communities is an ongoing process.  

The work groups came together for three virtual working meetings facilitated by CEED personnel (Bailey, Beckstrom, and Bonsen). Each group followed the same revision process. They began by agreeing upon a diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) approach. Next they evaluated existing content and language in each domain and looked at the latest research. Frederique Corcoran, a doctoral student at CEHD, created research summaries for each domain, organizing the latest information about child development and the impact of recent societal changes. Finally, the work groups drafted proposed changes and developed consensus around the new drafts. Participants brought their knowledge and experience to the process, as well as strong opinions that sometimes gave rise to healthy debate.

“Some groups were very much on the same page from the beginning,” says Landes Benz. “For others, the complexity of the domain created more room for passion.”

One challenge was to show how much room for individual variation there truly is in child development. The ECIPs categorize skills into an age-range continuum, describing what children can do aged zero to one, one to two, two to three, and so on.

“A particular skill might be observable by age two, but then again, it might not,” Bonsen explains. “How do we capture that variability?”

Another challenge was categorizing skills and abilities into the eight domains.

“For example, writing letters or numbers shows up in fine motor development. It should also show up under literacy, art, and math,” Bonsen continues. “How do we demonstrate that when you’re working on a coloring activity, it’s not just coloring? By the way, all these domains of development are linked! If the ECIPs show this, we can help those new to the field understand that there is a lot of fuel for learning in play. Play is not just free time.”

Many of the work groups found that the existing ECIPs did not necessarily reflect the different cultures and environments in which Minnesotan children grow and learn.

“For example, the previous version of the Physical and Movement Development domain might have talked about a child using a spoon to feed themself. But that is not an East African cultural reference. Our work groups needed to come up with observable skills that were free from the trappings of Western culture,” says Bonsen.

“So the challenge was to not be too rigid about the exemplars, but extrapolate to what’s actually intended,” Landes Benz adds. “If the kids don’t specifically string beads on a string, what would be comparable to that?”

“We try to remind ourselves that if we don’t check the bias that’s in this tool right now, kids are going to receive that,” says Beckstrom. “So the work groups worked diligently to be really honest about the bias that we did see in the ECIPs and to address it in new language choices.”

The team credits Corcoran’s research with helping the work groups describe development within domains in a robust and inclusive way.

The legacy of the pandemic

Each of the work groups confronted two themes that flowed from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as broader changes in society. The first was technology.

“Technology has a dominating role in almost every domain related to relationship development, attention, and persistence,” Beckstrom says. 

“Children access technology at younger and younger ages,” Bonsen adds. “Some one-year-olds know how to skip ads on YouTube. Whether we like it or not, digital literacy is something children need to be members of society.”

The second theme was trauma and resilience. The revised ECIPs are informed by the role of trauma, particularly as it impacts skills in the Approaches to Learning domain. These include executive function skills. MDE specifically requested that CEED take a close look at how executive function is represented in the ECIPs. MDE wanted the document to clarify the role of executive function in early learning and development. The team brought on CEED’s resident expert on executive function, Research Associate Alyssa Meuwissen, PhD, to assist with this effort.

Before sending the draft ECIPs to MDE for review, the CEED team engaged content experts to take a final look at them. The feedback they received was encouraging, and it matched up with Corcoran’s research findings and what they heard from work group members.

“They are all agreeing,” says Landes Benz. “It’s good to feel that validation, in all these different information streams, that we’re on the right track instead of there being a conflict or gap.”

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