Hundreds of Stakeholders Collaborate on Action Plan to Improve Third-Grade Reading Outcomes

Hundreds of North Carolina leaders have worked across sectors, geography, and the political aisle to co-create a blueprint for North Carolina to improve a key developmental milestone for young children—reading on grade-level by the end of third grade. The NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Action framework, released today, outlines expectations for the state’s child and family serving systems and actions to support children’s social-emotional health, ensure high quality birth-through-age-eight early learning environments, and create the conditions for every child to be in school every day.

NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading (Pathways) is an initiative of the NC Early Childhood Foundation in collaboration with NC Child, the North Carolina Partnership for Children (Smart Start), and BEST NC.

The pathway to grade-level reading starts at birth. The first eight years of life lay the foundation for all future learning and development. Research demonstrates that third-grade reading proficiency is impacted by a range of factors, such as healthy birthweight, interactions with parents and caregivers, on-track development, and regular school attendance. And outcomes at third grade are predictive—children who are not reading on grade-level by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school than their peers. In 2017, only 39 percent of NC fourth-graders scored proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The Pathways Action Framework outlines four expectations for North Carolina’s systems that serve children and families.

  • Expectation 1: Systems are Family-Driven and Equitable. North Carolina’s systems for children birth-through-age-eight and their families are built on two core strengths: engaging with and learning from families, and focusing on racial equity and cultural competence. These strengths enable systems to adapt to the needs of children and their families – ensuring that those facing the most barriers to success have access to the most supports, and providing a strong foundation for children’s development and learning.
  • Expectation 2: Systems Serve Children in the Contexts of Families and Communities. North Carolina’s early childhood systems work from the knowledge that children live in families and communities that shape their development and learning. The well-being of children is closely linked to the well-being of their families and communities.
  • Expectation 3: Education System is Accessible and High-Quality. North Carolina’s birth-through-age-eight education system is available to all, user-friendly, culturally-competent, employs a racially diverse, high-quality workforce, and supports all aspects of children’s development, including literacy and language development, cognition, approaches to learning, physical well-being, and social-emotional development.
  • Expectation 4: Social-Emotional Health System is Accessible and High-Quality. North Carolina’s infant and early childhood health system provides children with access to high-quality, racially diverse pediatric, primary care and mental health clinicians and linked services that support children’s social-emotional health and development.

The Framework outlines actions to move North Carolina toward realizing these expectations.  A broad range of organizations are endorsing the Framework, such as ChildTrust Foundation, Child Care Services Association, The Duke Endowment, BEST NC, NC Child, the North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc., Marbles Kids Museum, MomsRising, Prevent Child Abuse NC and the United Way of North Carolina. A complete list is available online at:

The Pathways process and resulting Framework are the products of three years of work by dedicated stakeholders, including teachers, school nurses, principals, pediatricians, advocates, academics, family support providers, philanthropic partners and more. Partners cross disciplines, sectors, geography and the political spectrum.

Many of these agencies and organizations will now lead the way in implementing the policy actions in the Action Framework. The North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation will support the implementation of the Pathways vision by:

  • Improving NC’s early childhood data collection and analysis on the Pathways measures of success.
  • Providing tools to support Pathways Partners in aligning their work to the Pathways measures and actions.
  • Fostering collaboration across state-level early childhood initiatives.
  • Supporting early childhood systems in learning from and engaging families and local communities.
  • Keeping a sustained focus on racial equity in NC’s early childhood systems building.
  • Tracking and analyzing policy and sharing progress on how policies and practices advance the Action Framework.
  • Communicating strategically to keep Pathways relevant and valuable as an initiative.
  • Supporting policy work on some actions in the Action Framework.
  • Convening Pathways Partners annually to support our collaborative work to put Pathways into action.

Many Pathways Partners are directly supporting implementation of the policy actions in the Action Framework. For example:

  • NC Child will advance policies to improve the social-emotional health system in North Carolina for young children.
  • The North Carolina Partnership for Children (Smart Start) will convene Smart Start local partnerships to develop community plans for increasing authentic family engagement.
  • BEST NC will promote solutions that prioritize the recruitment, preparation, and retention of highly effective teachers and school leaders.