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State’s Leading Experts Collaborate on Grade-Level Reading

The following is a press release from the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation. 

Raleigh – Thirty experts from North Carolina’s leading universities, research institutes, government agencies, businesses and think tanks are working together to identify whole-child, research-based, birth-to-eight measures of success that put children on a pathway to grade-level reading. They are part of a Data Action Team for the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading.

The NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Project is creating 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. It is co-convened by the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) in partnership with NC ChildNC Partner of Children and Excellence (BEST NC).

Only 38 percent of North Carolina fourth graders and 25 percent of students from economically disadvantaged families scored at or above reading proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2015. Reading in the early grades predicts high school and later success. Those who read well, go on to graduate, but those who aren’t reading well by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. To be successful readers, children need health and development on track beginning at birth, supportive and supported families and high quality birth-to-eight early care and education.

“North Carolina has a strong history of leading the nation in innovative policies and and programs that produce results,” said Tracy Zimmerman, NCECF Executive Director. “Each time we’ve made such progress it was by coming together – by recognizing that together we can realize greater outcomes for young children than any one of us can on our own. The grade-level reading collaboration is unleashing that spirit of innovation.”

The Pathways work launched in November when more than 85 stakeholders representing government agencies, nonprofit organizations, the private sector, foundations, research institutions and members of the General Assembly came together to discuss identifying shared measures of success as a means to align policy, funding and strategies and make large-scale progress for young children. This stakeholder group will be informing the Data Action Team’s work.

Members of the Data Action Team include (bios are online):

  • Gary Ander, NC Infant Mental Health Association
  • Laila Bell, NC Child
  • Jessica Murrell Berryman, Parent Representative and Business Owner, Lango Kids RTP
  • Brandy Bynum, Rural Forward NC, Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation
  • Anna Carter, Child Care Services Association
  • KC Elander, Department of Public Instruction
  • Kelly Evans, Duke Center for Child and Family Policy
  • Paula Henderson, SAS
  • Brisa Hernandez, Carolinas HealthCare System
  • Jennifer Johnson, NC Division of Child Development and Early Education
  • Sandy Johnson, Director at the Friendly Avenue Christian Preschool
  • Mary Jones, Nash-Rocky Mount Schools
  • Jennifer Mattie, Parent Representative
  • Kelly Maxwell, Child Trends
  • Priscilla Jacobs Maynor, Ph.D., imaginED
  • Mark McDaniel, UNC Center for Community Capital
  • Tazra Mitchell, Budget and Tax Center
  • Karen Mills, Johnston County Partnership for Children
  • Nicole Gardner-Neblett, Ph.D., FPG Child Development Institute, UNC Chapel Hill
  • Amy Hawn Nelson, Ph.D., UNC Charlotte Urban Institute
  • Kristin O’Connor, NC Division of Social Services
  • Chris Payne, Ph.D., Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships, UNC Greensboro
  • Ellen Peisner-Feinberg, Ph.D., FPG Child Development Institute, UNC Chapel Hill
  • Olivia Rice, RTI International
  • Katie Rosanbalm, Ph.D., Duke Center for Child and Family Policy
  • Meghan Shanahan, Ph.D., UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health
  • Terry Stoops, Ph.D., John Locke Foundation
  • Kim McCombs-Thornton, Ph.D., North Carolina Partnership for Children
  • Kathleen Jones Vessey, NC State Center for Health Statistics
  • Marvel Andrea Welch, Commissioner, North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs


NCECF is the state lead for the National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national collaborative effort to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career, and active citizenship. NCECF builds public will by advancing understanding of birth-through-eight child development and promotes practice and policy solutions that drive aligned action to support each child being on a pathway to grade-level reading. Learn more at


EdNC staff reporting relies on staff, interns, and columnists.