What would be possible if…

  • We adopted shared, whole child, birth-to-age-eight measures that put children on a pathway to grade-level reading?
  • We coordinated strategies to support children’s optimal development beginning at birth?
  • We aligned policies and practices that were rooted in how children develop?

The Pathways to Grade-Level Reading (Pathways) initiative is all about possibility. This collaborative of diverse leaders is building on North Carolina’s history of innovation and success to reach for 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. 

Reading well in the early grades predicts a child’s academic and career success. Research shows that improving third grade reading takes a coordinated birth-through-age-eight approach with aligned policies and practices that focuses on:

  • Children’s Health and Development, Beginning at Birth
  • Supported and Supportive Families and Communities
  • High-Quality Birth-through-Age-Eight Learning Environments, with Regular Attendance

Driving the Pathways initiative is the foundational belief that together we can realize greater outcomes for young children than any of us can produce on our own. Pathways Partners work across disciplines, sectors, systems, and the political aisle. Pathways is an initiative of the NC Early Childhood Foundation in collaboration with NC Child, The North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc., and BEST NC.


  • State leaders identified shared birth-to-age-eight, whole-child measures of success to put children on a pathway to grade-level reading.
  • 95% of stakeholder respondents said they “felt confident that if the state made progress on these measures, we would improve third grade reading outcomes.”
  • The NC General Assembly highlighted Pathways in the 2016 and 2017 budgets when it passed and updated provisions calling for greater birth-to-age-eight coordination across agencies and organizations, “including consideration of the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading.”
  • Collaborative partner organizations have incorporated the Pathways measures into their own data tracking and reporting.
  • Local communities across the state are using the Pathways Measures of Success Framework for collaborative community planning—identifying which of the Pathways shared measures to focus on locally and developing strategies for action to improve child and family outcomes.
  • The Measures of Success Framework has been shared nationally and is being used by communities in other states as well who are focused on improving outcomes for young children.
  • SAS, a national leader in analytics located in Cary, NC, is creating, pro-bono, an online, interactive data dashboard of the High Quality Birth through age Eight Care and Education measures. The dashboard will make the disaggregated NC data for these measures widely available and accessible across the state for organizations, initiatives and communities working on improving outcomes for young children.

What Should We Measure?

In Phase I of Pathways, a Data Action Team identified shared birth-through-age-eight, whole child measures that research has demonstrated can move the needle on third grade reading proficiency to create the Measures of Success Framework. Learn more.

Where Should We Focus?

In Phase II, Learning Teams looked at the NC data around those measures and, based on overall need and equity considerations, recommended a set of measures to move to action on first. Learn more.

What Should We Do?

In Phase III of Pathways, Design Teams co-created the Pathways Action Framework to help North Carolina align around policy, practice and capacity-building strategies that will shift the prioritized measures of success, particularly for children of color. Learn More.

Advancing Work

October 2018

Pathways Partners meet to endorse the Pathways Action Framework and launch the implementation phase of the Pathways work. Learn more.

August 2018

Design Team completes draft Pathways Action Framework.

March 2018

Community Conversations Round 2. The fourteen communities meet again to offer input into which strategies to prioritize. Learn more.

December 2017

NCECF releases Not About Me, Without Me, synthesizing the voices of more than 2,000 North Carolina parents and identifying themes around what helps and hinders them as they support their young children’s healthy development. 

August-September 2017

Community Conversations Round 1. Fourteen communities across the state hold meetings with local providers to provide input into the Pathways Design Teams’ areas of focus. Providers share what supports them and what gets in the way of their work to advance the success of children and families. Learn more.

June 2017 - August 2018

Design Teams focused on children’s social-emotional health, high quality birth-through-age-eight care and education, and regular school attendance to co-create a Pathways Action Framework. The work uses an equity lens, with an explicit, but not exclusive, focus on racial equity. The process incorporates input from families, Design Team experts, local providers of services for children and families, and national research on what moves the needle in the areas of focus, particularly for children of color. Learn more.

March 2017

Pathways Partners meet to confirm priorities and launch Design Teams. Design Teams are tasked with answering the question, What Should We Do? Learn more.

July-December 2016

Learning Teams examine how NC is doing on the measures and recommend where to start. Pathways Partners help determine where there is momentum for action already in NC. Learn more.

May 2016

Pathways Partners meet to finalize Measures of Success Framework and define Pathways’ theory of change. Learn more.

January-April 2016

Data Action Team reviews research and develops Measures of Success Framework. Pathways Partners help define quality and data accessibility, and rank and comment on draft measures. Learn More.

November 2015

Pathways Partners stakeholder group meets to launch Pathways Initiative. Learn More.


Join our network of early learning and education, public agency, policy, philanthropic and business leaders working across disciplines, sectors and systems. Download our Partnership Guide to join the more than 200 organizations and individuals that are Pathways Partners.

  • Ashe County Partnership for Children
  • The Belk Foundation
  • Beth Meyer Preschool
  • Book Harvest
  • Buncombe Partnership for Children
  • The Cemala Foundation
  • Child Care Services Association
  • ChildTrust Foundation
  • Chowan/Perquimans SmartStart Partnership
  • Community Foundation of Western North Carolina
  • Down East Partnership for Children
  • The Duke Endowment
  • Exchange Family Center
  • FPG Child Development Institute
  • Guilford Child Development
  • Helps Education Fund
  • Infant Mental Health Association
  • Institute for Emerging Issues
  • Iredell County Partnership for Young Children
  • Marbles Kids Museum
  • MDC, Great Expectation Initiative of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust
  • Motheread, Inc.
  • Nash Rocky Mount Public Schools
  • National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
  • NC Alliance of YMCAs
  • NC Child
  • NC Council of Community Programs/Child First
  • NC Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Child Development and Early Education
  • NC Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health, Essential for Childhood
  • NC Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health, Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program
  • NC Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health, Early Intervention Branch
  • NC Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health
  • NC Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health, Children and Youth Branch
  • NC Department of Health and Human Services, NC Division of Social Services
  • NC Department of Public Instruction
  • NC Department of Public Instruction, K-3 Literacy/Read to Achieve
  • NC Department of Public Instruction, Office of Early Learning, Head Start State Collaboration Office
  • NC Early Childhood Foundation
  • NC Early Learning Network
  • NC Partnership for Children
  • NC Pediatric Society
  • NCaeyc
  • North Carolina Child Treatment Program
  • NSO Associates
  • Onslow County Partnership for Children
  • Parents as Teachers Guilford County
  • Partnership for Children of Cumberland County
  • Partnership for Children of Johnston County
  • Project Enlightenment Foundation
  • Project Impact, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
  • Reach Out and Read
  • Read Wayne – Wayne County Library
  • Read WS
  • Ready for School, Ready for Life
  • SAS
  • Skeebo Foundation
  • Smart Start of Forsyth County
  • Smart Start of Hanover County
  • Smart Start of Mecklenburg County
  • Triangle Community Foundation
  • United Way of North Carolina
  • United Way of the Greater Triangle
  • Wake County Public Libraries
  • Wake County SmartStart
  • WAKE Up and Read
  • Western NC Conference UMA
  • Winer Family Foundation
  • The Winston-Salem Foundation

And many more. View a list of Pathways Partners.

Featured Resources