Critical Questions for Addressing Racial Equity in Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education

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DaSy’s Critical Questions

This DaSy tool describes questions a high-quality state data system should be able to answer.


This resource supports states in examining issues of equity in the provision of early intervention (EI) and early childhood special education (ECSE) services. The Critical Questions for Addressing Racial Equity are policy and programmatic questions that can help states identify disparities in their service delivery system. Many of the questions are relevant at the local level as well. The answers to these questions are intended to spark discussion within the state and support the long-term goal of equitable access, services and supports, along with positive outcomes for all young children and their families, especially those who have been historically underserved.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds us that to “build a healthier America for all, we must confront the systems and policies that have resulted in the generational injustice.” As the CDC notes, “Racism is a system—consisting of structures, policies, practices, and norms—that assigns value and determines opportunity based on the way people look or the color of their skin. Systemic racism results in conditions that unfairly advantage some and disadvantage others throughout society.”

The Center for IDEA Early Childhood Data Systems (DaSy) is committed to assisting states in the collection and use of data to advance racial equity by addressing inequitable practices and policies at the systems level. Moving systems toward equity requires a data driven proactive, strategic approach that accounts for structural differences in opportunities, burdens, and needs in order to advance targeted solutions that fulfill the promise of true equality for all.

Use of the Questions

To address the need to examine equity within EI and ECSE programs, DaSy developed the Critical Questions for Addressing Racial Equity as a companion document to the original set of DaSy Critical Questions. These questions that examine (or address) racial equity can be used separately or in conjunction with the original critical questions. Like the original questions, the Critical Questions for Addressing Racial Equity present important questions that a state agency using a high-quality data system should be able to answer. Also, like the original questions, the racial equity questions can serve various functions, including supporting the state agency in effectively administering a program, meeting accountability requirements for EI and ECSE, and improving results for children and families by examining program features. Finally, the questions can be used to identify additional data elements the state needs to collect so its data system can address the full range of considerations for equitable service delivery.

The Critical Questions for Addressing Racial Equity are grouped into three sections that align with the recommended data elements in Quality Indicator SD3 in the DaSy Data System Framework. These sections are:

  1. Child and Family Questions
  2. Practitioner Questions
  3. Early Intervention Service (EIS) Program and Lead Education Agency (LEA) Questions

Each row in a section provides three pieces of information: the general focus of a question, the question or questions, and one or more possible metrics to use to answer the question as well as additional information. Some of the metrics are relatively straightforward, and others are more complex. DaSy can support states in understanding, calculating, and interpreting any of the metrics.

Bread and Butter Icon
Aspirational Climbing Icon

In the Critical Questions for Addressing Racial Equity, the bread-and-butter icon indicates essential questions, and the mountain climber icon indicates aspirational questions. Essential questions are those that a comprehensive, well-functioning state data system should provide the data to answer. Aspirational questions are more complex and require more information or more linkages to other data systems than would be expected even with a high-quality system. For both the essential and aspirational questions, there is no expectation that the data to answer them have to be in one system. The only expectation is that the state can access the data and link to data if necessary to answer the questions—wherever the data may reside.

Given the comprehensiveness of the questions, it is unlikely that any state has the resources to address all questions at the same time. To help prioritize the questions DaSy recommends that States:

  1. Review all the questions.
  2. Prioritize the questions based on the state context and resources.
  3. Begin the process of systematically examining equity with a set of the highest priority questions.
  4. Determine the availability of the data to answer the highest priority questions.
  5. Analyze the data for the questions for which data are available.
  6. Make plans to add new data elements to answer those questions for which the necessary data are not available.
  7. After answering the highest priority questions, turn to the questions with the next highest priority and repeat this process.

Data Interpretation

Interpreting the data that answer a critical question will rarely be straightforward. The population of young children served by IDEA comprise children with many different disabilities and extensive variation in the types and levels of support needed—which is why the law requires individualized service planning and delivery.

To find meaning within their data, states need to support a participatory process that captures lived experiences and uses data to understand the root causes of disparities within communities. Interpretation of results is a human endeavor that requires different perspectives. Data must be reported in context and the language used to describe data should not be deficit driven. The focus of data interpretation and reporting needs to be on changing systems, not blaming families or their children for any disparities identified. Analyzing and interpreting data to address these critical questions is, of course, only the first step toward achieving equitable systems. States must also identify and implement solutions to issues uncovered and then continue to use data to monitor the effectiveness of these solutions.

This relationship between data and equity extends beyond asking critical questions and disaggregating data. States need to establish a data culture that maintains the human factor as the focal point of data collection and use. Some important considerations in using data for equity are recognizing that data are not inherently neutral, everyone brings their own bias to data, and that data can and have been used to harm groups and communities. Including community partners in data collection and use is imperative when examining equitable services for children and families. Collecting and using qualitative data is a valuable method of including community partner opinions and stories to add context to qualitative data. DaSy offers multiple resources to show the value of and how to effectively use qualitative data in the Data Visualization Toolkit.

The Critical Questions for Addressing Racial Equity and technical assistance to support their use is one way in which DaSy can support states in creating and implementing a continuous process of using data to advance equity. We encourage states to expand their understanding of the complexity of the relationship between data and equity. DaSy has compiled a set of resources on using data to advance racial equity to support states in this effort. Using Data to Advance Racial Equity – Special Collection is a collection of resources to help state Part C and Part B 619 staff in using data to identify and address racial disparities. DaSy staff can assist states as they determine the best resources to guide their efforts.


An essential activity for advancing equity is asking and answering critical questions about access, services and supports, and outcomes being achieved. This document presents a comprehensive list of questions states should address to fully examine equity for the young children and their families served under IDEA. States are not likely to be able to answer all these questions at the same time but are encouraged to prioritize and set processes in place to answer most within a reasonable time frame. Some of these questions require data elements some states are not currently collecting and therefore will require the states to add new data elements.

Published October 2023.