Stepping Stones

A Report on Community Well-Being of Children and Families in the Charlottesville/Albemarle Area

City of Charlottesville Seal Equity Center logo

June 2023

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The first Stepping Stones Report was published by the Charlottesville/Albemarle Commission on Children and Families (CCF) in 2000. The report provides trend data for a selection of measures on the well-being of children and families in the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The goal, then and now, is to create a data-informed understanding of our collective trajectory that stimulates dialogue and promotes action to improve the lives of all who reside in our community.

After the CCF was dissolved in 2012, the City of Charlottesville’s Department of Human Services (DHS) began stewarding the Stepping Stones Report. This year’s report was completed in partnership with the UVA Equity Center and the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. We continue to build on the foundation established by the CCF Data Management Work Group and the knowledge cultivated by the Charlottesville DHS, as well as the administrators and agency experts who have provided insight for the last two decades.

It is our shared hope that the Stepping Stones Report will continue to prompt community interest and engagement in the well-being of children and families. The presentation of relevant trends is intended to make this data more accessible and encourage our local leaders, administrators, advocates, and residents to use data-informed approaches to identify problems, implement programs, and carry out collective evaluation.


In updating this community resource, we followed key principles of data equity and ethics, including openness, reproducibility, and contextualization.

Open: Since this report began, there has been a significant movement to make data from public agencies more open and available. We leverage open data as much as possible, gathering measures from publicly maintained sites and collections. This ensures we are measuring the same conditions, behaviors, or outcomes over time. In addition, we use open-source software to ensure our work is openly accessible and reproducible.

Reproducible: These updates include building processes that are repeatable for future years and are well-documented for future researchers. The data collection and corresponding code are documented and made publicly available in a GitHub repository. When measures could not be acquired computationally, we document our steps; when measures required manual curation, multiple people completed this work so that we could validate manual collection.

Contextualized: The report is divided into sections based on the nature of the measures and their source. For each metric, we provide an overview of how the measure impacts youth and community well-being, present visualizations and highlight key trends, and note the sources and limitations of the data.

An important piece of context missing from this report is representation of racial disparities in the outcomes shown here. Many of the metrics we highlight in this report disproportionately impact youth of color due to long-standing systemic racial inequality in our region and the country. Although we only display data for the populations as a whole in this report, understanding how these metrics differentially impact youth depending on their racial identity is critical to promoting racial equity in the region. More information about racial disparities in youth well-being can be found in our supplemental report.

Our Youth

These data represent the youth in our community–your children and their friends, the children you see at your grocery store or waiting at the bus stop, and all the children you know in your community are included here. Although these graphs show single outcomes in isolation, none of these data exist in a vacuum. The environments we prepare for youth in our community, their families, the neighborhoods where they live, and their intersecting identities all provide important context for understanding each of these individual outcomes. We encourage you to keep the children you know in mind, and consider how we can do better by them and future generations.


The 2023 Stepping Stones Report was produced through a collaboration between the City of Charlottesville’s Department of Human Services, the UVA Equity Center, and the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy class, Public Interest Data: Ethics & Practice. The Charlottesville Department of Human Services sponsored the report. The UVA Equity Center’s Democratization of Data Initiative team collected, validated and visualized the data and wrote the report. The students in the course, Public Interest Data: Ethics & Practice, did the initial work of gathering the metrics and providing background research.

Education and Civic Engagement

Kindergarteners At or Above Reading Levels

Virginia screens all incoming kindergartners with a Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS) tool to understand children’s knowledge of important literacy fundamentals and to identify students who are at risk for reading difficulties. Early intervention is one mechanism to identify and combat disparities from widening as students enter kindergarten. In addition, PALS benchmark scores guide the state’s allocation of Early Intervention Reading Initiative funds.

  • Data considerations: Administered to all incoming public school kindergartners, PALS-K scores can be used to provide a full picture of the incoming class. However, this measure provides no information on children not enrolled in public schools (e.g., children who are homeschooled or attend private schools).
  • How is this measured?: This measure represents the number of incoming kindergarten students who are at or above PALS benchmarks as a percent of all incoming kindergarten students screened.

Standards of Learning

The Virginia Department of Education’s Standards of Learning (SOL) outline minimum expectations of what students should know and be able to do at each grade level in a range of subjects. SOL tests are administered in all Virginia public schools starting in 3rd grade, and the resulting pass rates are used to assess student achievement, evaluate school and district performance, and determine whether schools are meeting state and federal standards. Student performance is graded on a scale of 0-600 with 400-499 representing pass proficiency and 500 and above representing advanced proficiency.

The Virginia Board of Education revised both math and reading SOLs to raise standards and implemented these in the math SOL tests in 2012 and the reading SOL tests in 2013. Mirroring the trend in the state as a whole, both Charlottesville and Albemarle divisions saw a notable decline in pass rates for reading and math across 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade in the years these changes were implemented.

  • Data considerations: Because SOL tests are administered to all children enrolled in public schools in Virginia, these data provide a full picture of the population of children in public schools; however, this measure provides no information on children not enrolled in public schools (e.g., children who are homeschooled or attend private schools). Further, SOL tests were not administered at the end of the 2019-2020 school year due to closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. While traditionally participation on the SOL tests has been high (approximately 95%), participation dropped notably in 2020-2021 (approximately 70%) as schools reopened with COVID health precautions.
  • How is this measured?: The pass rate is the number of students in a given grade who passed the math or reading SOL test (i.e., scoring 400 or above) for that grade level as a percent of the total number of students in that grade who took the math or reading SOL test.

Math: Grades 3, 5, and 8

Math is a fundamental subject that is necessary for success in many college and career paths, and children who are proficient at math will be able to access a wide range of paths.

Reading: Grades 3, 5, and 8

Reading test scores measure a students’ ability to read at grade level. Not meeting reading proficiency has lasting impacts on student academic success, degree attainment, and future earnings. Third grade reading is particularly important as this is when children transition from learning to read to reading to learn.