Minutes of the Technical Assistance Workshop, May 3-5, 2000. Session 1: From Concept to Indicator (May 3, 2000)


The aim of Chapin Hall's Allen Harden was to present a broad overview of indicators and to take a middle ground between the use of indicators and the development of results-based strategies. He began by offering definitions of indicators and of child well-being. Regarding child well-being, he said that everyone has a general idea about child well-being, but that the topic is complex, multidimensional, culturally dependent, and subjective. In sum, he called child well-being the union of objective conditions and subjective values. Harden moved on to indicators. He identified a number of roles that have been sketched for indicators, including those listed below.

  • Describing conditions of children
  • Monitoring change
  • Setting goals
  • Structuring program accountability and assisting in evaluation

He noted that some of these roles can involve tasks for which indicators are not well-suited, such as identifying causality, and made particular reference to the difficulty of being sure that an indicator is measuring what you think it should measure. As an example, Harden said that a variety of policy-related and other factors come into play in measuring school readiness and noted that, among the factors that help drive interest in measuring school readiness is the fact that we can measure it. That is, school entry provides the first opportunity to touch data on an entire cohort of children. After running over these ideas, Harden used the example of school readiness to illustrate the intersection of factors and concerns regarding measurement. He noted three orientations toward school readiness:

  • Children need to be ready for school so that they can participate;
  • School readiness is an outcome measure of social investment in childcare and other early childhood supports; and,
  • School readiness is itself an early childhood outcome.

These approaches provide similar information about children, but the motivations for seeking this information, and the uses to which those who desire the information expect to put it, can be different. Those motivations and anticipated uses can become a source of conflict among stakeholders, even if those stakeholders have broad goals for children's well-being held in common. Assessment of individual children serves as one example of how uses of data can be the subject of dispute. Harden carefully sketched some of the factors that contribute to school readiness and some of the underlying disagreements about them or the prejudices that audiences bring to them. He moved from there to measures and possible sources of data to support those measures and the difficulties in accessing some data sources.

In the course of his presentation, Harden employed a number of overheads. Three of these follow. One presents a conceptual model of data relations. The second details those relationships as they relate to school readiness. The third looks at ways of observing children.

Slide 1:

A conceptual model of data relationshipes

Slide 2:

One School readness Example

Slide 3:

How can we Observe Children, with Relative Ease?