Written by Martin Smit, Educational Consultant, LDAO
The Right to Read Inquiry Report (https://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/right-to-read-inquiry-report) released by the Ontario Human Rights Commission revealed that methods used to teach reading to students in Ontario have been seriously flawed. The report states that:
“Ontario’s public education system is failing students with reading disabilities (such as dyslexia) and many others, by not using evidence-based approaches to teach them to read” (OHRC, 2022a).
Although the inquiry focused on the human rights issues affecting students with reading disabilities, the findings and recommendations apply to all students. Implementing the recommendations at the foundational classroom level and Tier 1 will improve reading scores and skills, while significantly reducing the need for Tier 2 and 3 supports.
The key idea within the Right to Read report lies in the power educators have at the foundational classroom level and Tier 1. This is a call for a fundamental shift in how reading is taught to all students. Using evidence-based reading instruction founded on empirical, peer-reviewed research and science will ensure that, “most students (80–90%) will learn to read words accurately and efficiently, and few students will need more intensive instruction or intervention” (OHRC, 2022b, p.20).
Currently, Ontario schools follow a 3-Tiered approach to intervention. Reference to this model can be found on page 24 of Learning for All: A Guide to Effective Assessment and Instruction for All Students, Kindergarten to Grade 12.
What is the Tiered System of Supports?
Simply put, the Tiered System refers to a model of support that becomes progressively more intensive, precise, and personalized for students who are having difficulty learning.
Foundational classroom instruction or regular classroom instruction is the starting point where all students receive evidence-based instruction in reading. If a student or group of students has some difficulty understanding and mastering these skills and concepts, then they can be supported in varying intensity through the different tiers. The same skills and concepts are taught, however, students may receive more time, smaller group or individual instruction, or a more intensive program such as direct instruction. A student receives support in the tier that they require, based on their needs.
- Tier 1 is universal programming that all students receive as soon as they struggle with a classroom concept. This is instruction that takes place in a regular classroom for all students.
- Tier 2 is a more targeted, higher-intensity instructional approach for a smaller group of students who are experiencing some moderate difficulty understanding instruction. These students are close to but not at grade level. Tier 2 support typically takes place in or outside the regular classroom, supported by a resource teacher or other staff.
- Tier 3 is intensive individualized instruction for students who are having great difficulty understanding concepts taught and/or who may have significant learning gaps or learning needs. Tier 3 support typically takes place outside of the regular classroom and is delivered by a teacher with specialized training. A typical Tier 3 support would include a specialized evidence-based program such as Empower or Corrective Reading.
Effective tiered support is determined with ongoing assessment evidence. This evidence keeps support flexible, and students move between tiers to meet their immediate needs and challenges. Tiered supports work for all students and allow educators to provide equity of instruction to everyone, not just students with learning disabilities.
For more information on the tiered approach, click here to access the LD@school article “Tiered Approached to Education of Students with Learning Disabilities”.
Current Situation in Ontario
The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) Ontario Branch’s “Lifting the Curtain on EQAO Scores” report is an in-depth examination of EQAO reading scores in Ontario. The IDA reported that:
“In Ontario, we see a large gap between human potential and literacy outcomes. For example, in 2019, the EQAO province-wide reading assessment found that 26% of students in Grade 3 did not meet the provincial standards for reading. The results are even more concerning for students with special education needs: 53% of that group did not meet the provincial reading standards” (IDA Ontario, 2021, p. 7).
This information calls into question how we are currently supporting students with reading difficulties and whether our methods are working. While we might believe this calls for more focus on the supports provided through Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction, the solution lies in foundational classroom instruction and Tier 1. Shifting to evidence-based and science-informed methodology in Tier 1 will increase the number of fluent and confident readers in our schools and reduce the number of students requiring Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions and supports.
Research on learning to read includes “results from thousands of peer-reviewed studies and meta-analyses that use rigorous scientific methods. The science of reading is based on expertise from many fields including education, special education, developmental psychology, educational psychology, cognitive science and more” (OHRC, 2022b). As educators realize the importance of this research, they can ensure all students are given the best instruction possible and the strongest chance to become fluent and confident readers.
Collaboration between Curriculum and Instruction teams and Special Education Services will ensure that educators have the appropriate understanding of consistent instruction methods, tools, skills, and leadership to implement the Right to Read Recommendations efficiently. Working together, educators, schools and school boards can ensure that all Ontario's students achieve their fundamental right of learning to read.
International Dyslexia Association Ontario. (2021). Lifting the Curtain on EQAO Scores. IDA Ontario. https://www.idaontario.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/LiftingTheCurtainOnEQAO69747.pdf
Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2022a). Right to read inquiry report. Right to Read inquiry report | Ontario Human Rights Commission. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/right-to-read-inquiry-report#:~:text=The%20Right%20to%20Read%20inquiry,to%20teach%20them%20to%20read.
Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2022b). Executive Summary Right To Read Public inquiry into human rights issues affecting students with reading disabilities. Government of Ontario. https://www.ohrc.on.ca/sites/default/files/Right%20to%20Read%20Executive%20Summary_OHRC%20English_0.pdf