Guidance for Advancing Action Along NC Pathways To Grade-Level Reading

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Strengthening NC’s early care and learning system in ways that are responsive to the state’s cultural diversity.

Preschool students playing
Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages.


Over the next five months, we will release the five parts of the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Policy and Practice Action Toolkit to provide guidance for how policymakers, advocates, community non-profits, the business community, and other stakeholders can support the wellbeing of all NC children. The Pathways actions that will be highlighted in this five-part toolkit are the result of asking what would be possible by coordinating policies and strategies across all levels of state government and types of organizations to support optimal development from birth through the end of third grade with one central outcome: reading at grade-level by the end of third grade. 

These toolkits also highlight organizations and initiatives across the state that are already taking action to move the needle forward. Read Part 1 of the toolkit here and see below to preview the actions that will be the focus of each toolkit. 

Toolkit Part 1 

  • Support Families in Advocating for their Children.
  • Require Linked Strategies Across Programs to Engage and Learn from Families.
  • Ensure Assessment Instruments are Culturally and Linguistically Relevant
  • Ensure Education Accountability Systems are Culturally Relevant
  • Provide Professional Development for Teachers on Cultural Competency/Working with Families
  • Support Schools and Child Care Programs to Engage Deeply with Families 

Toolkit Part 2 (September 2023) 

  • Recruit and Retain Educators and School Leaders of Color
  • Adjust Hiring Practices to Ensure High-Quality Educators
  • Invest in School Health and Mental Health Staff and Clinics
  • Eliminate or Minimize Suspension and Expulsion
  • Infuse Social-Emotional Health into Other Child-Serving Systems
  • Invest in School Health and Mental Health Staff and Clinics

Toolkit Part 3 (October 2023) 

  • Create Family-Friendly Employment Policies
  • Expand Child Care Subsidies; Raise Child Care Subsidy Rates; and Provide Higher Subsidy Rates to Providers in Underserved Communities
  • Increase Standards and Compensation of Birth-through-Age-Five Educators
  • Ensure Accessible Transportation to Early Care Programs, Schools and Health Services
  • Increase Access to Infant and Toddler Care
  • Provide Wrap-Around Services for High Quality Early Care and Education

Toolkit Part 4 (November 2023) 

  • Address Barriers in Health Insurance Coverage of IECMH Services to Ensure Adequate Benefits
  • Create a Mental Health Professional Development System Focused on Infant and Toddler Clinicians 
  • Expand the NC Child Treatment Program
  • Increase Professional Development in MH Treatment for Pediatricians and Family Physicians 
  • Integrate Mental Health Providers with Pediatric and Other Primary Care Practices

Toolkit Part 5 (December 2023) 

  • Use Data to Track Community Needs and Service Provision 
  • Screen Children and Families for Social Determinants of Health and Connect them to Appropriate Services
  • Expand Maternal Depression Screening and Treatment
  • Invest in Two-Generation Interventions
  • Increase Access to Affordable Housing
  • Include At-Risk Children in Early Intervention

Background on Pathways Creation of Actions & Measures of Success to Impact Early Childhood

Eight years ago, the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation co-convened more than 85 representatives of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, the private sector, foundations, research institutions, and members of the General Assembly to improve outcomes for young children by aligning around a common set of measures and strategies that would increase the percent of North Carolina children who are reading at grade-level by the end of third grade. The outcome of this meeting led to the development of the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading (Pathways) initiative.

Pathways provides: 

  1. An Action Framework of 44 prioritized policy and practice recommendations that can help move the needle forward on grade-level reading.
  1. A Measures of Success Framework of more than 60 whole child measures that influence grade-level reading and enable stakeholders to hold policymakers accountable for change.

Pathways aims high and is driven by a bold vision:

All North Carolina children, regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, are reading on grade-level by the end of third grade, and all children with disabilities achieve expressive and receptive communication skills commensurate with their developmental ages, so that they have the greatest opportunity for life success. 

Racial equity was a core component of Pathways from its inception. The most recent 2021-22 academic year National Assessment of Educational Progress scores add new urgency to this aim of narrowing racial gaps in academic performance. The latest scores show that only 44 percent of white children in NC are reading proficient by the start of fourth grade, and much lower 17 percent of Black and 21 percent of Latinx students. 

As stated by Pathways stakeholders: 

“It was important [then and is important now] for this initiative to focus explicitly on racial equity, since race in America plays such a large role in determining children’s life outcomes. Ensuring that all our children and families have high quality child care and early education, effective public elementary schools, high quality health care and well-paying jobs that can support a family is the key to improving third grade reading proficiency—and the key to prosperity for all of us.”

This bold vision and the supporting resources have created lasting impact across the state:

  • Pathways has bipartisan support and has informed the development of several early childhood initiatives across the state. This is because the framework is research based and the outcome of more than 85 representatives participating in numerous meetings over three years. 
    • The Frameworks informed the development of the state’s Early Childhood Action Plan, as well as serving as a foundation of other state-level early childhood initiatives like the Leandro commission for a sound, basic education, the myFutureNC attainment goal, and the B-3 Interagency Council.
  • Local communities across the state use the Pathways Measures of Success Framework for collaborative community planning. The action oriented and measurable targets enable them to evaluate progress towards goals.
  • Because the Measures of Success Framework makes it clear that we must hold each other collectively accountable for advancing change, it has inspired and provided guidance for several early childhood data development initiatives across the state, including the NC Early Childhood Data Advisory Council and data workgroup recommendations for measuring social-emotional health and child development at kindergarten entry.

Keep in Touch with NCECF and Support Our Work

Visit the info page to learn more about the Pathways Action Map and consider adding your work! Share it with others in your network and community, whose work you think should be spotlighted. We want to utilize the Map as a resource to build awareness of innovation, make connections, and identify gaps and opportunities that can help guide policy making, advocacy, funding, and capacity building.

If you have any questions, or would like a guided tour of the Pathways Action Map, please contact us. We’d love to hear your ideas on how to continue to utilize this tool to support the success of all North Carolina children.

Please be sure to subscribe to our biweekly newsletter and consider making a donation today to continue a strong 2023 by helping us transform the lives of North Carolina families, from their earliest days, while also supporting a small growing, family-friendly team.

The NC Early Childhood Foundation is driven by a bold – and achievable – vision: Each North Carolina child has a strong foundation for life-long health, education, and well-being supported by a comprehensive, equitable birth-to-eight ecosystem. We build understanding, lead collaboration, and advance policies to ensure each North Carolina child is on track for lifelong success by the end of third grade.