TORONTO, Sept. 21, 2023 /CNW/ - Dyslexia Canada commends the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) for its seminal report, "Equitable Education for Students with Reading Disabilities." This report represents a significant victory for students with dyslexia and a step toward addressing systemic discrimination within the Saskatchewan public education system.
The Commission concluded that "with science-based approaches to reading instruction, early screening, and intervention, it is estimated that Saskatchewan could expect to see only about 5% of students still below grade level expectations on word-reading accuracy and fluency". Shockingly, provincial reading scores indicate that before the COVID-19 pandemic, 25% of all students and a staggering 45% of students identifying as First Nations, Métis, and Inuit were not meeting provincial standards for reading. The pandemic has further exacerbated these existing challenges, underscoring the need for urgent action.
Dyslexia is the most common cause of reading difficulties, affecting between 10 and 20 percent of children. The report captures the lived experiences of individuals and families affected by dyslexia and the barriers they continue to face within the Saskatchewan public education system. "Our experience is horrific. I wish it was a one-off and not the norm; it isn't. My son continues to struggle through the system. Our trust and faith in the education system is gone. We advocate and fight for every accommodation." stated one Saskatchewan parent whose experience is echoed by others throughout the report.
With early identification and intervention, students at risk for dyslexia can learn to read well and succeed in school. However, when appropriate intervention is delayed or not provided, as the report found happens too often in Saskatchewan, outcomes are often bleak. Early reading difficulties can erode a child's confidence and self-esteem and increase their risk of experiencing serious mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and even suicide. One parent stated, "the damage done to my child through the school system is unrepairable."
Universal early screening is an efficient and effective way to identify children at risk for reading difficulties so that intervention can begin in kindergarten or grade one when it is most effective. However, numerous professionals told the commission that in Saskatchewan, "many students are not being screened effectively or early enough." One professional cited the shortcomings of provincial policies as a barrier for students - "we don't have an early screening protocol, so I know we are missing many students who would benefit from early intervention." The commission concluded that "from a human rights perspective, universally implemented screening ... is necessary to protect the rights of all students, particularly students from many marginalized and Code-protected groups."
The report's recommendations, particularly its emphasis on shifting to a preventative model and maintaining high expectations for all students, resonate deeply with Dyslexia Canada's mission. We firmly endorse the Commission's call for a thorough review and update of the provincial literacy curriculum, the implementation of universal screening and access to intense evidence-based intervention for all students who need them.
Dyslexia Canada is also grateful to the commission for seeking input from frontline educators. The Commission noted that the majority of educators who responded: "see benefit in adopting a change." Many told the commission that the approach outlined in the provincial curriculum is not aligned with scientific evidence-based practices, leading to an unacceptably high number of students experiencing difficulties and an unmeetable demand for special education services. One educator stated that "if classroom teachers followed a Science of Reading approach.., rather than a balanced literacy approach.. we might actually have enough time to meet the needs of students who need extra."
Educators also spoke out about the shortcomings of the training they have received and called for faculties of education to update their courses to align with current evidence-based practice. Dyslexia Canada stands with educators in their calls for changes to initial teacher training. Further, it calls upon the province to provide job-embedded professional development and ongoing support to assist educators with the transition to structured literacy.
While there has been a long-standing philosophical debate about how best to teach children to read the SHRC report is definitive, "the Commission's own research and consultation from a vast array of sources has shown the science and research behind the structured literacy approach to be superior to the balanced literacy approach and has been proven to serve a wider audience of learners, including those with dyslexia."
Saskatchewan is not the first province to undergo an in-depth review of its approach to reading instruction from a human rights perspective. In February 2022, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released the Right to Read report calling for sweeping changes including a curriculum based on structured literacy. Ontario has committed to implementing the OHRC recommendations. Within Canada, Alberta, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the First Nations School Board of the Yukon have also begun to make similar changes. Internationally, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and many US states have also removed balanced literacy from their curriculum.
Dyslexia Canada urges Saskatchewan to follow suit by swiftly updating the curriculum and implementing universal evidence-based screening and intervention for the benefit of its students. Dyslexia Canada remains resolute in its dedication to supporting the SHRC's mission and collaborating with all stakeholders to ensure that students with dyslexia receive the equitable education they deserve. Together, we can build a brighter and more inclusive future for all students in Saskatchewan.
SOURCE Dyslexia Canada
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