Ontario Human Rights Commission on the Right to Read
In the past school year (2019-2020), the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) on the Right to Read has launched a public inquiry on the human rights issues affecting students with learning disabilities. This public inquiry was facilitated due to concerns from parents and recent Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) test scores showing over 25% of Grade 3 students and 53% of Grade 3 students with special education needs did not meet provincial standards.
Students Struggling with Reading
The OHRC cites that students who cannot read struggle with many aspects of school and are more vulnerable to psychosocial stress, behavioural issues, bullying and much lower levels of educational achievement (Schumacher et al, 2007.) The result of these challenges means that these students face life-long consequences including, homelessness, and involvement with the criminal justice system (Bruck, 1998; Macdonald, 2012; Maughan, 1995).
All students with reading disabilities, such as dyslexia, have a right to learn how to read. The OHRC is concerned that these students are not getting the supports they need to become literate. This is particularly challenging when students are not receiving early intervention and supports that are known to be effective in increasing reading ability.
The OHRC Right to Read inquiry team assessed evidence based approaches to meet students’ right to read. As part of an effective systematic approach to teach all students to read, they cited five benchmarks including: universal design for learning (UDL), mandatory early student screening, reading intervention programs, effective accommodations, and psycho-educational assessments.
OHRC Advocacy for the Right to Read
For the 2020-2021 school year, the OHRC Right to Read inquiry team wrote to the Ministry of Education and school boards, calling on the establishment of programs that systematically address the needs of students with learning disabilities. The communication cited concerns around students’ inconsistent access to technology, professional services, screening and assessment, and specialized reading instruction and programing. In addition, the OHRC Right to Read inquiry team had concerns about the role of Identification, Placement, and Review Committees (IPRCs), the implementation of Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and the duty to accommodate students’ education needs.
The OHRC Right to Read inquiry team is currently analyzing the information received and is drafting a final report. The report will address concerns with how Ontario’s public education system meets the needs of students with reading disabilities. These concerns relate to curriculum and teaching, early screening, reading interventions, accommodations and psycho-educational assessments.
A final OHRC Right to Read inquiry report, which will include detailed findings and recommendations for government and education stakeholders, is now planned for release in Spring of 2021.
Teacher and Guardian Advocacy on the Right to Read
As teachers, we see the direct impact challenges with reading has on students’ learning. The lack of literacy at grade level prevents students from taking full advantage of what is being taught in the classroom. Every day of not being able to read results in another day where students fall further behind.
Waiting for Psychoeducational Assessments
Psycho-educational assessments are key to determining students’ strengths and needs in their educational profile. With this profile, students can receive the special education funding and support they need to achieve their potential as learners.
As teachers, we also know of students who have been placed on long waiting lists for psycho-educational assessments. Even with the increase in special education funding, boards of education and principals report inadequate resource funding to meet students’ needs (People for Education, Feb 2020.)
Parents and guardians must wait, for sometimes years, for their child’s name to make it to the top of the list in order to receive a board funded assessment. Parents and guardians who have resources can seek costly psycho-educational assessments from private providers. Parents and guardians who do not have resources must wait as their child falls further and further behind. Sometimes students never receive a psycho-educational assessment. This reality means that students who live in lower socioeconomic households may never get their special education needs assessed or met, thus making them more susceptible to leave school early.
It is important to note that boards of education are trying their best to support all students’ needs. Boards of Education already spend 80% more on special education than they receive from provincial educational Ontario funding (Ontario’s Auditor General, 2017.)
Teacher Advocacy Matters
When students struggle with their learning, teachers’ advocacy matters. In the Ontario College of Teachers’ (OCT) Ethical Standards for Care includes “compassion, acceptance, interest and insight for developing students’ potential. Members express their commitment to students’ wellbeing and learning through positive influence, professional judgment and empathy in practice” (OCT, 2020). This means that within teachers’ practices, they must promote students’ potential. I cannot think of anything more important than promoting literacy to promote students’ potential.
As a dyslexia learner and a teacher of dyslexic learners, I understand the struggle and emotional impact of living with dyslexia. People do not grow out of learning disabilities, they just learn how to live with them.
The bottom line is that reading is a human right and without the ability to read, students face an ambiguous future.
Teachers work to empower literacy for all students, as all our students deserve the Right to Read.
Deb Weston, PhD
Resources for Teachers and Guardians
Bruck, M. (1998). Outcomes of adults with childhood histories of dyslexia. Reading and spelling: Development and disorders, 179, 200.
Macdonald, S. J. (2012). Biographical pathways into criminality: understanding the relationship between dyslexia and educational disengagement. Disability & Society, 27(3), 427-440.
Maughan, B. (1995). Annotation: Long‐term outcomes of developmental reading problems. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 36(3), 357-371.
Schumacher, J., Hoffmann, P., Schmäl, C., Schulte-Körne, G., & Nöthen, M. M. (2007). Genetics of dyslexia: the evolving landscape. Journal of medical genetics, 44(5), 289-297.