LETTER: OHRC’s inquiry into reading shows disappointing results

The Ontario Human Rights Commission released the ‘Right to Read’, a public inquiry into human rights issues affecting students with reading disabilities in January (www.ohrc.on.ca/en/right-to-read-inquiry-report).

I have a child who struggles with reading and this report is infuriating. I’ve had to sit and read it in several sittings and I am cursing the whole time. I’m not sure which is worse, the state of Ontario’s health care or public school system. This inquiry was the first of its kind in Canada and the inquiry heard from thousands of students, parents, organizations, educators, through public hearings, surveys, community meetings, etc.

A total of eight specific school boards and 13 public faculties of education in Ontario were reviewed and the result of this public inquiry is a long list of 157 recommendations. Data gathered from the inquiry shows there is an ‘urgent need to improve reading’, that ‘more Ontario students are experiencing reading difficulties than should be’, that ‘some students entering high school were reported reading at a primary level (Grades 1-3)’, and ‘that students who have been identified with learning disabilities are more likely to be streamed’ even in younger grades.

Further, the inquiry found that there ‘are no clear sets of reading skills that teachers are expected to teach, and students are expected to learn’. The Ontario curriculum is ‘inconsistent with a science-based core curriculum that meets the right to read’.

Our current and future teachers are not actually being taught how skilled reading develops including reading fluency, comprehension, phonics, and decoding skills, and even more maddening is that ‘they learn little about screening to identify at risk students and evidence based interventions’. Students with reading difficulties are not being caught early enough; not ‘flagged’ by the school until Grade 3 or later. Unless the family can afford a private assessment, students are placed on a waiting list and the child can be in Grade 5 or 6 before they are properly assessed.

One of the key findings of the inquiry states, ‘Ontario’s approach to reading interventions is deficient resulting in many students failing to learn foundational word reading skills, and when this happens, our education system has failed these students’.

Sad to say our experience isn’t much different. As parents we had to advocate harder than we should have for our child. The teachers always recognized our child loved books, was, generally a good student, and was a boy, so he ‘would catch-up’.

Well, by the time he was in Grade 3, he wasn’t catching up and was falling further behind. We strongly felt the school looked at us as a ‘good’ family, one that was providing lots of support at home but our child was falling through the cracks. We actually had to say, ‘this kid is going to get to Grade 5 and not know how to read’.

Shocking really, how hard we had to push. Now I am reading in the inquiry that ‘school boards lack clear, consistent criteria for deciding when to refer students with suspected reading disabilities for professional assessments.’

We spent a lot of our own money on a private assessment and we used that assessment to help us through the IPRC process at the school to get support. However, we still needed to support our son with private tutors. Our tutors were amazing and had the most significant impact. Reading is still challenging, but we’re over the hump.

My family is fortunate enough to be able to afford the private resources we’ve had, and I only hope the inquiry allows for more screening, interventions, and follow-through for all students in need.

Catherine Sinclair

St. Greg’s parent