A 'Right to Read' in Ontario
In October 2019, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) launched an inquiry called 'Right to Read' into reading instruction in Ontario schools after many parents came forward with concerns about their child’s reading development. The OHRC were initially concerned that Ontario’s public education system may be failing to meet the needs of students with reading disabilities (such as dyslexia) but revealed a much more widespread issue.
In February 2022 and after over 2 years of investigation, the OHRC published a 74-page report outlining the results. This blog post attempts to highlight 5 major takeaways of the report in a more digestible way. Note: although there are many components to developing skilled readers, the report focuses on word reading. Here is a visual that illustrates various other skills that contribute to a child becoming a fluent, skilled reader who understands what they read. Stay tuned for future blog posts on how to better understand all of these components!
5 Takeaways From the 'Right to Read' Inquiry Report:
1. Ontario schools are, by and large, not using evidence-based approaches to teach children how to read words. This means that the methods being used to teach kids how to read have not been shown to develop reading skills in most children.
Not Evidence-based Approaches
Whole word approach
Guessing at words (using pictures, the first letter or a word that makes sense in the sentence/story)
Memorizing levelled readers
Memorizing sight words (when words can be sounded out; e.g., n-o-t = not)
Structured literacy (which involves direct, explicit, and systematic instruction in foundational word-reading skills)
2. ALL children should be taught to read words using evidence-based approaches. This should lead to 80-90% of children learning to read words accurately and efficiently (currently ~67% are achieving this).
3. ALL children should be screened for foundational word reading skills twice a year from kindergarten to grade 2. This will help to identify children who are at risk of or currently having challenges in order to provide support in a timely manner. It is possible that a screener could involve tasks of phonological awareness and phonics, two main components of word reading, as well as other information that is often associated with reading challenges (e.g., history of speech or language challenges, family history of reading and writing challenges).
4. Added supports in school for children with reading challenges should occur in the following trajectory (possible that [b] and [c] flip):
Evidence-based reading intervention. A child should be able to access without a professional assessment (often a psycho-educational assessment).
Professional assessment. A referral should occur when a child has not responded appropriately to a period of evidence-based classroom instruction and evidence-based early intervention (as early as late grade 1).
Accommodations (e.g., assistive technology, scribing) should be used when required but never as substitute for actually learning how to read.
Modifications to curriculum (when a child’s curriculum is changed to a lower grade) should be used very cautiously due to possible later ramifications on education and opportunity.
5. Professional assessments should be needed less when using evidence-based word reading instruction and intervention. When appropriate, the report supports the use of the label “dyslexia” or “reading disability” in professional assessment reports over “learning disability”. "Learning disability" is a very broad label which does not help narrow the focus of how to help a child.
So where do we go from here?
The report makes it very clear that change is necessary in order to ensure children are on a path to become stronger, more skilled readers. Parents & educators: our voices have power. Speak up. Band together. Create advocacy groups. Make your voices heard.
All of that being said, we also need to appreciate that meaningful change takes time. Learning about evidence-based reading instruction and intervention takes time, energy and money resources. I've spent 4 years of my career learning about literacy and still learn something new almost every interaction I have with a client. It is not as simple as purchasing an evidence-based reading program because teachers, learning resource teachers and other educators need quality professional development and time to learn how to utilize these tools appropriately. It will not help our children if these new materials are implemented with a balanced literacy approach. It's more about how you instruct than what you instruct with.
Until these systemic changes and learning occur, we need to ensure kids are supported as much as possible. If you are ready to:
Take a new and evidence-based approach to your child's reading challenges
Feel empowered about how to best support your child's reading
See your child's confidence in reading (and life) blossom
... then complete our quick, online form today. Our team supports children in-person (Norfolk County, Haldimand County, Kitchener-Waterloo & Welland area) as well as virtually across Ontario! All our services are provided by registered speech-language pathologists which means you can utilize your extended health benefits for assessment and intervention services.
Here's to building stronger, more confident readers who can thrive, together!