Ontario's public education system fails to meet needs of students with reading disabilities: report

Report contains recommendations calling for critical changes to Ontario's approach to early reading

Ontario's public education system fails to meet needs of students with reading disabilities: report

Ontario’s public education system has failed to meet the needs of students with reading disabilities, according to Ontario Human Rights Commission in its latest report.

In Oct. 2019, the OHRC commenced a public inquiry into potential human rights issues affecting students with reading disabilities in Ontario’s public education system. The inquiry builds on the OHRC’s previous work on accessible education, including its intervention in the case of Moore v. British Columbia (Education), 2012 SCC 61. In that case, the Supreme Court of Canada held that human rights laws in Canada protect the right of all students, including those with disabilities, to an equal opportunity to learn to read.

The inquiry heard from thousands of students, parents, organizations, educators, and other professionals through surveys, public hearings, submissions, emails, artwork, community meetings, and engagements with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities. It is the first of its kind in Canada.

In its Right to Read inquiry report released in Feb. 2022, the OHRC found that Ontario’s public education system is failing students with reading disabilities, such as dyslexia, and other students by not using evidence-based approaches to teach students to read.

In particular, the OHRC found that Ontario’s education system is falling far behind on consistent, equitable screenings, interventions, and accommodations. According to the report, these measures can mitigate low literacy and reading difficulties among students and the compounding impacts of social and economic barriers faced by vulnerable students, such as Indigenous, Black, Latin American, newcomer, and those with disabilities.

The OHRC also found that Ontario’s education system has ineffective methods and systems that fail to provide students with the foundational building blocks to identify and decode words. The system lacks a “universal, systematic, evidence-based” early screening program to detect “at-risk” students who may require additional support, accommodations, and interventions for reading.

The OHRC determined that French school boards had limited resources and opportunities to address reading challenges among students in French-language education. Therefore, many French-speaking families give up their language rights and transfer their children to an English board school.

Moreover, the OHRC determined that parents experienced significant barriers to ensuring proper accommodations for their children, including the development and implementation of accommodation plans or Individual Education Plans and access to professional assessments.

“The report highlights the urgent need for systemic change,” PooranLaw Professional Corporation said. “It strongly condemns the ableist assumption that is perpetuated by the provincial system that some students – including students with disabilities – will never learn to read.”

With this, the OHRC made 157 recommendations to the Ministry of Education, school boards, and faculties of education to address systemic issues affecting the right to learn to read. These recommendations called for critical changes to Ontario’s approach to early reading in curriculum and instruction, screening, reading interventions, accommodations, and professional assessments.

Specifically, the OHRC asked to improve access to technology, including assistive technology and accommodations reflecting “intersecting needs” of students that respect the dignity and privacy of students, rather than distinguishing and isolating students needing additional supports.

The OHRC also asked to improve consistency, monitoring, and accountability in the education system for students with disabilities and other Human Rights Code-protected identities. It called for Ontario’s kindergarten program to be revised and remove the use of cueing systems and focus on word-reading accuracy and fluency, emphasizing early screening and evidence-based interventions.

The OHRC urged the Ministry of Education to provide sufficient funding to implement the recommendations, including but not limited to additional staff, professional development, evidence-based early screening and intervention, access to accommodations, and removing barriers to receiving professional services.

“We will continue to monitor the province’s progress on implementing the OHRC’s recommendations and other developments in education law and policy impacting students with disabilities,” PooranLaw Professional Corporation said.  

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