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Early reading screening, sure — but give us more resources, say parents and teachers

Even though Ontario students won’t be subject to regular standardized reading tests this school year, parents and teachers are warning that any screening tool is only useful if there are more resources to back it up.

Last year, in its Right to Read report, the Ontario Human Rights Commission recommended that teachers should screen students in kindergarten to Grade 2 twice a year to identify kids who are falling behind.

This spring, the province announced it was mandating an early reading screening tool.

“It’s a quick and easy way to understand if they’re might be a problem now, or if there is likely to be a problem,” said Una Malcolm, president of International Dyslexia Association Ontario, in a recent interview on CBC Radio’s Ontario Today.

But in August, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association accused the government of failing to bargain in good faith, since the new requirement is a topic of discussion in negotiations.

A woman looks into the camera
Una Malcolm is the president of International Dyslexia Association Ontario and a doctoral candidate in reading science. (Submitted by Una Malcolm)

“Without the investments called for in the Right to Read report there is little chance that the government’s implementation of this plan will achieve the desired outcomes for student literacy success,” reads a statement from the Catholic teachers’ association.

Last month, the government backtracked and said it would not make the tool mandatory for the upcoming school year.

“It’s fine to do all this testing, but what kind of support are they going to give these needy students?” said Mary Ellen Kot, a retired Ottawa Catholic School Board teacher.

“We need smaller classrooms. You can’t pay attention to 30 kids at once even with two adults in the classroom,” she said.

Plus teachers already have a good sense of who needs extra help, said Kot.

“But we need to have the support staff to help those kids,” she said, noting her grandson struggles in school and finding help to support him has been difficult.

The province has invested $32.6 million to “boost literacy rates with screening tools and supports” and hired 2,000 “literacy and math-focused educators,” said Grace Lee, spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Students in Grades 1 to 3 will get at least 30 minutes a day to focus on reading instruction and improvement, Lee said in a statement.

Regardless of the resources currently available in schools, there’s power in knowledge, said Malcolm.

“It’s a quick and easy way to understand if they’re might be a problem now, or if there will be,” she said. “For struggling readers, time is not on their side.

“We know that when students get support earlier, intervention is more effective.”

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