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October 23, 2020

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New Tool Aims to Help Educators Keep Kids Reading on Grade Level

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the majority of North Carolina’s eight-year-olds, especially those from low-income families, lagged in reading proficiency.

A new online tool developed by the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation shows how the state stacks up to national averages on factors that influence third-grade reading skills, including low birth weight and regular school attendance.

It’s aimed at helping educators and community services providers such as Karen Mills, operations director of Partnership for Children of Johnston County, prevent children from falling too far behind.

Mills says the Pathways Data Dashboard sets the stage for measuring reading progress at the statewide level.

“Really where it’s going to be helpful with COVID, and where we are right now in our schools, is to see what the impacts are going to be two years from now,” Mills states. “How are children varying from before the pandemic and after? And that will help us to identify areas where we really need to focus.”

The latest data show slightly more than half of the state’s third-graders are proficient in reading, and both state lawmakers and Gov. Roy Cooper’s Early Childhood Advisory Council have called for better data measures to help guide early education policy and improve reading outcomes.

Mills says she plans to use the online tool to collaborate more effectively with community partners and county leaders, address inequities and ensure that despite the challenging times, children are on track to read at grade level.

“It’s important, really, to reaffirm that these indicators of whole child and child well-being are key to early reading success, but beyond that to high school graduation and college and career readiness and employment,” she points out.

Mills says the dashboard includes North Carolina-specific data — in some cases, at the county or school district level — on more than 60 measures of child development that researchers have found influence third-grade reading scores.

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