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Perspective | NC Pathways to Grade Level Reading releases a new early childhood data dashboard

Early childhood data are more important than ever as North Carolina addresses the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and continues to reckon with structural racism and social injustice. Advocates, policymakers, and child and family service providers need to know how young children and families — particularly those facing the most barriers to opportunity — are doing, and how our systems are doing in serving them.

Through the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading initiative, the NC Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) has released an interactive, online dashboard of early childhood data measures that influence third-grade reading. The Pathways Data Dashboard supports a statewide effort to improve the collection, analysis, and use of early childhood data in North Carolina for young children, birth to age 8. It can be used by state and local policymakers, government agencies, community service providers, child advocacy organizations, Smart Start partnerships, Campaign for Grade-Level Reading communities, and others to make data-informed decisions about investments in early childhood and changes to policies and practices that affect young children and their families.

You can visit the dashboard and access a 20-minute tutorial on how to navigate it.

The Pathways Data Dashboard includes North Carolina data on more than 60 measures of child development that research shows influence third grade reading scores. Whenever possible, the dashboard presents data at the state level, compared to national averages; at the county or school district level; by race and ethnicity; by income; by age; and over several years.

Each page of the dashboard features interactive graphs and maps. Dashboard visitors can use dropdown menus to select outcomes and tailor graphs to display the data of most interest to them. Users can also print PDFs of the dashboard pages and download the data into spreadsheets.

The Pathways Data Dashboard will be updated regularly to allow those who work with and for young children and their families to have data at their fingertips to better understand and explain child and family outcomes across sectors and disciplines. Research tells us that many different factors impact third grade reading proficiency — there is no silver bullet — and the dashboard looks at the whole child, from birth through age eight.

The data are organized into three goal areas that research shows are critical for improving children’s early literacy:

  • Children’s health and development
  • Supported and supportive families and communities
  • High-quality birth-through-age-eight learning environments, with regular attendance

Each goal area includes data on:

  • Measures of Success, which help to quantify progress toward a goal and are tied to grade-level reading by the end of third grade. A few examples include:
    • Percent of parents reporting their children’s health is excellent or good
    • Average number of days per week that families read to their children
    • Percent of young children with regular attendance in early care and elementary schools
  • Influencer Measures, which move, or influence, the Measures of Success and also have research connecting them to early literacy. A few examples include:
    • Percent of young children who have seen a dentist in the past year
    • Percent of young children living in food insecure households
    • Percent of young children suspended and expelled from early care and elementary school

The dashboard shares detailed data on third grade reading scores in North Carolina, as well as data on the community conditions in which children live that influence child outcomes — such as family economic security, housing stability, environmental health, and safe and economically-viable neighborhoods.

The data measures in the dashboard were chosen by a team of 30 experts from North Carolina’s leading universities, research institutes, government agencies, businesses, and think tanks. They translated the research behind what moves third-grade reading proficiency into a framework of measures that helps North Carolina’s leaders, teachers, providers, and parents know how our children are doing on the pathway to early literacy. The Pathways Measures of Success Framework shares the research on the connections between the measures and third-grade reading proficiency.

The dashboard will support the work of the NC Early Childhood Data Advisory Council, a partnership among NCECF, the NC Department of Health and Human Services, and the NC Department of Public Instruction, to improve collection, analysis, and use of early childhood data in North Carolina. The dashboard makes it clear where North Carolina has good data and where there are gaps. The work now is to fill those gaps so that leaders can make data-informed decisions about early childhood policy.

The General Assembly and the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisory Council have called for the Pathways measures to be considered as North Carolina builds greater birth-to-age-eight coordination across state agencies and organizations. The measures and associated policy strategies for action have informed the work of several early childhood initiatives in North Carolina, including:

  • NC’s Early Childhood Action Plan
  • Leandro Commission for Sound, Basic Education
  • myFutureNC Commission
  • Birth-3rd Grade Interagency Council

The Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative has created partnerships among the state’s early learning and education, public agency, policy, philanthropic, and business leaders to define a common vision, shared measures of success, and coordinated strategies that support children’s optimal development beginning at birth. Pathways is an initiative of NCECF in collaboration with NC Child, the NC Partnership for Children (Smart Start), and BEST NC. 

For more information about the Pathways Data Dashboard, please contact Mandy Ableidinger at

Mandy Ableidinger

Mandy Ableidinger is the NC Early Childhood Foundation’s Deputy Director.