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Implementing the Connecticut Documentation and Observation for Teaching System (CT DOTS)

June 26, 2019
by Michelle Levy, Ph.D., Education Consultant, Connecticut Office of Early Childhood

The Connecticut Documentation & Observation for Teaching System (CT DOTS) is a framework to guide early care and education providers in monitoring children’s progress on the skills, abilities and behaviors in the Connecticut Early Learning and Development Standards (CT ELDS). This new assessment was developed by the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC) in collaboration with multiple stakeholders and experts for use in early care and education programs in Connecticut.

CT DOTS provides guidance about multiple ways to collect information about children’s learning and development.

  • Naturalistic Observations occur when children are engaging in everyday routines and activities.
  • Planned Experiences provide developmentally appropriate opportunities to observe specific behaviors or skills.
  • Family Input is valuable information about how children behave and use skills at home and in the community.

CT DOTS is designed to guide early care and education providers in implementing a formative assessment process in which information gathered about specific skills can be used to adjust curriculum and instructional practices in real time. Providers are encouraged to collect evidence from multiple contexts and sources to gain a good understanding of a child’s development over time. CT DOTS includes both narrative and chart formats for documenting individual children’s progress, as well as a form for summarizing classroom or group data. These data can inform individual goal setting, classroom and program level planning, and form the basis for communication with families and other professionals. Because families play a key role in the data collection process, strategies to support children’s learning and development can be coordinated across home and school on an ongoing basis.

A field test of CT DOTS during the 2017-2018 school year focused on implementation in center- and school-based programs. Sixty-six programs participated in the field test. Because the birth to age three age portion of CT DOTS was being expanded to include additional developmental age bands, the field test focused on programs serving preschool-aged children (although these programs had the option to include the infant and toddler classrooms). Participating programs represented a range of geographic location, setting type, funding sources, and program structure.

Teachers and administrators involved in the field test were asked to complete surveys regarding their experience and their use of CT DOTS. A total of 29 responses were gathered from the 66 participating programs. The majority of survey respondents (76%) reported using CT DOTS to summarize information about children’s learning and development and as a formative tool to guide planning and curriculum (72%). A slightly lower percentage of respondents (62%), reported using CT DOTS to share information with families. A smaller percentage of programs reported using CT DOTS to develop standards-based Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) (10%) and to communicate with other professionals (28%).

Participants were also asked to rate the degree to which they agreed with a number of statements regarding the utility of CT DOTS for its intended purposes. The majority of participants responded favorably to each statement, but responses to some statements were particularly favorable. For example, a large majority agreed or somewhat agreed that the CT DOTS is a useful tool for monitoring children's progress on the skills, abilities, and behaviors in the CT ELDS. A large majority of respondents also agreed or somewhat agreed that CT DOTS provides guidance that helps teachers to intentionally plan how they will observe children's skills and behaviors. This pattern of responses indicates that the tool is aligned with the purposes for which it was designed.

Responses to some statement were slightly less favorable. While a majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that implementing CT DOTS would be manageable and that CT DOTS provided useful guidance around communicating with families, these statements saw a higher frequency of unfavorable responses than other statements. These results may indicate that it is important to provide support to programs and providers as they implement CT DOTS, with a particular focus on the family input portion of the tool.

Information gathered during field test training sessions and focus groups, as well through the survey, informed the final User’s Manual, summary form, and the training design. The OEC also launched a spring 2019 pilot of Family Input Booklets, a tool designed to support gathering of information from families in a user-friendly format. Information from this pilot will be used to refine the Family Input Booklets. The OEC plans to share these resources in conjunction with training focused more broadly on family engagement in the assessment process.

CT DOTS was officially made available for use by early care and education providers in fall of 2018, and trainings conducted by OEC-approved CT DOTS trainers have been offered throughout the year. The OEC is continuing work to develop new trainings, create new resources, and expand the use of CT DOTS to new sectors, including Birth to Three programs. The OEC is also continuing to gather information about the validity of CT DOTS, including recent studies on the age anchors within CT DOTS and a baseline exploration of the reliability of summary data. Along with participant feedback from OEC-approved trainings, these data will inform next steps in supporting the use of CT DOTS to promote high-quality early care and education for all Connecticut children.

Submitted by Joanna Meyer on June 26, 2019