The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has released their report from the Right to Read Inquiry. At issue was whether learning-disabled and marginalized students were subject to human rights violations during their instruction in Ontario public schools.
The Commission’s findings were released February 28th 2022.
How data was collected
Both numerical and qualitative (narrative, descriptive means of data collection) were collected and analyzed. Several key findings emerged:
Learning outcomes for learning-disabled, Black, Indigenous, low-income, students from racialized groups and other marginalized subsets were concerning to the Commission. For example, Indigenous students were less likely to reach provincial reading benchmarks than their white counterparts. Their five-year graduation rates were lower than their white counterparts.
The demand for early intervention programs (Kindergarten through Grade 2) outstripped the supply, and many students’ needs were continuing to go unmet under the current eligibility guidelines.
The main source of the numerical data was EQAO standardized test scores.
Report uncovers limited access, widespread inequity
The Commission found Ontario public schools failed to provide evidence-based instruction to struggling students. Schools are taking a “wait and see” approach for struggling students instead of creating access to reading support and evidence-based intervention. Students must also have a formal diagnosis and a psycho-educational assessment to be eligible for interventions.
These factors disproportionately affect marginalized and lower-income students who historically lack access to diagnostic and evaluation services.
Increasing access, removing barriers
Recommendations from the Commission to remedy this portion of the findings included the implementation of evidence-based, systemic, phonics, and word-reading programs for students who needed them. The Commission also recommended removing inappropriate barriers, such as required psycho-educational assessments, which were costly when privately obtained, and out of reach to limited-income families.
Additionally, the lack of province-wide consistency means uneven access for students, especially those most in need of reading intervention programs. School boards used 16 different programs, only five of which were evidence-based. The board-developed programs were not rigorously evaluated or vetted before implementation.
Additionally, the Commission proposed developing standardized, evidence-based eligibility criteria for students.
The Commission also recommended making evidence-based reading interventions widely available at each grade level.
SpellRead earns high marks for a science-based approach
However, once the evidence-based program, SpellRead, received high praise for its science-backed, age-appropriate, and comprehensive approach to reading instruction. Aimed at students with or without a diagnosis, studies in Newfoundland, Novia Scotia and the U.S. have demonstrated the program’s positive effect on students’ decoding skills, word reading, fluency, and comprehension.
SpellRead has been regarded as the Gold Standard of evidence-based reading programs, and its implementation throughout Canada would benefit struggling students and even the learning playing field.
The implementation of SpellRead fall in line with the Commission’s recommendation to implement standardized, evidence-based reading programs for struggling readers.
To do this, the Commission also recommended the Ministry of Education allocate additional funding to hire and train additional teachers to facilitate the recommended reading programs. Doing so would eliminate the current “wait and see” approach and would increase access for students who would otherwise struggle without intervention.
Furthermore, the Commission encouraged increased accountability and transparent communication at the school board level. Parents and students should be able to receive clear, timely communication regarding the availability of reading intervention programs.
Although the report uncovered inequities within Ontario’s public school system for students from marginalized groups, it did identify concrete solutions to closing the achievement gap that currently exists.
The ability to read fluently is a right all students should have access to, regardless of their socioeconomic standing or group identity. By implementing science-based, standardized reading intervention programs and removing access barriers, more students will be able to succeed not only at reading but life outside of school.