3. Methodology

To assess Ontario’s performance on its approach to reading disabilities, the OHRC obtained documents, data and information from a variety of sources using several different methods.


School boards

The OHRC worked with its expert to select a representative sample[23] of eight Ontario English-language public school boards:

  1. Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (Hamilton-Wentworth)
  2. Keewatin-Patricia District School Board (Keewatin-Patricia)
  3. Lakehead District School Board (Lakehead)
  4. London District Catholic School Board (London Catholic)
  5. Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (Ottawa-Carleton)
  6. Peel District School Board (Peel)
  7. Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (Simcoe Muskoka Catholic)
  8. Thames Valley District School Board (Thames Valley).

The boards were selected based on a variety of factors, including lived experience accounts, size and type of school board (public and Catholic), different geographic regions, demographic information, EQAO data including reading test results, boards’ Special Education Plans, the proportion of students with different Code-protected identities, and public reports.

The OHRC used its section 31 Code powers to request significant production of documents, data and information from the eight boards.[24] The OHRC obtained additional information and clarification from the boards through follow-up interviews and questions.

While there were delays in receiving information from one school board, the school boards’ overall level of cooperation and assistance was excellent. This was especially noteworthy given the challenges boards were facing with providing continuity of learning during school closures due to COVID-19 and other challenges. The OHRC extends its appreciation to the school boards for their assistance.

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Faculties of education

To assess whether teachers educated in Ontario receive adequate training and academic preparation to teach all students to read, the OHRC requested production of documents, data and information from Ontario’s 13 English-language public faculties of education (faculties).[25] After seeking several extensions, the faculties eventually provided the requested information.


Ministry of Education

The OHRC is grateful to the Ministry for its ongoing assistance throughout the inquiry. The OHRC obtained and reviewed relevant Ministry documents and asked the Ministry questions about the areas being considered in the inquiry. 

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Public engagements

The OHRC received a significant amount of information from the public through a variety of means. A total of 1,425 students, parents and guardians[26] completed an online Qualtrics survey and shared their experiences with learning to read and the impact on themselves and their families. A survey for educators and other professionals was widely distributed, including to every school board in Ontario. The OHRC received 1,769 surveys from educators (classroom teachers, teacher candidates, special education teachers, early childhood educators, educational assistants, school and board administrators), private tutors, and other professionals (such as speech-language pathologists, psychologists and pediatricians). Both quantitative and qualitative data was analyzed for this report.

The OHRC received surveys about school boards across Ontario. This included 100 surveys about French public and French Catholic school boards.

The OHRC received over 1,000 telephone calls or emails and many more engagements through social media.

The OHRC also received over 20 submissions from organizations representing a variety of perspectives.

The OHRC held four public hearings corresponding with the location of five of the eight school boards selected for the inquiry: Brampton, London, Thunder Bay and Ottawa. At each public hearing, up to 20 speakers or groups of speakers shared their experiences. The OHRC heard from students, families, educators, service providers (such as private tutors, a child welfare agency) and other professionals. Over 600 people attended the hearings. All but the Brampton hearing were live streamed, and all hearings are archived on the OHRC’s YouTube channel.

The OHRC had also planned to hold community meetings in Kenora, Barrie and Hamilton to give people in those communities the opportunity to share their experiences. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the province’s Emergency Order prohibiting public gatherings,[27] only the Kenora public hearing took place, with 25 people attending.

The OHRC held Indigenous engagements at the London, Thunder Bay and Kenora Friendship Centres, and met with representatives of an Inuit organization in Ottawa. The OHRC also met with representatives of the Métis Nation of Ontario. Further Indigenous engagements planned for Barrie and Hamilton could not take place due to the pandemic.

To mark Human Rights Day, December 10, 2019, the OHRC called on students to submit art, poetry and media on “what the right to read means to me.” The OHRC received several submissions.

Both before launching the inquiry and afterwards, the OHRC interviewed many people with specialized knowledge or expertise or unique insight into the issues in the inquiry. This included school board staff (teachers and other professionals) who approached the OHRC independently to provide confidential insight into their experiences working within boards.

All of these engagements combined provided the OHRC with a rich understanding of a variety of perspectives on the right to read. The OHRC is grateful to everyone who took the time to share their knowledge and experience. Your voices have been instrumental in shaping this report and its recommendations.

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Expert assistance

The OHRC retained two experts, Dr. Linda Siegel and Dr. Jamie Metsala, to assist with the inquiry and analyze the information received.

Dr. Siegel is an international authority on reading disabilities and the former Dorothy C. Lam Chair in Special Education, an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology and Special Education at the University of British Columbia and a registered clinical psychologist. She has over 200 publications on early identification and intervention to prevent reading problems, dyslexia, reading and language development, mathematical concept learning, mathematical learning disabilities, and children learning English as a second language.

Dr. Metsala is a Professor of Education and the Gail & Stephen Jarislowsky Chair in Learning Disabilities at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. She was previously an Associate Professor in Educational Psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she also served as the Associate Director of the National Reading Research Center. Dr. Metsala has expertise in the psychology of language and reading, dyslexia and learning disabilities, psychological assessments, has taught English language arts methods to pre-service teachers, and is a registered clinical psychologist.

The experts’ participation was central to all aspects of the inquiry. The analysis, findings and recommendations in this report are based on the combined expertise of the OHRC in human rights and discrimination and the experts in reading disabilities. While many reports have studied the most effective way to teach reading, this report is unique in making clear how these research-based approaches are essential to meeting human rights obligations.

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Among other things, this report draws on extensive multi-disciplinary research into:

  • How children learn to read
  • What causes reading difficulties
  • Which students are at risk
  • The essential components of effective reading instruction
  • How to identify children who may be at risk of reading failure
  • Reading interventions that are scientifically supported and effective
  • Teacher training
  • The impact of not learning to read on the individual and society
  • Best practices in other jurisdictions.

References to this research are found throughout the report.

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While the level of public engagement in the inquiry was significant, there were some limitations of note. The OHRC has been mindful of these limitations in drafting this report.

The OHRC’s student/parent and educator/other professional surveys were based on self-selection (people choosing to complete the survey) rather than random sampling, (randomly selecting people to complete the survey). The risk of self-selection bias exists as the people who chose to take part may not represent the entire population of students with reading difficulties or educators/other professionals. For this reason, the OHRC has used multiple sources of information, not just the surveys, to draw its conclusions. For example, the 479 student/parent surveys and 635 educator/other professional surveys concerning one of the eight school boards selected for the inquiry were carefully reviewed to compare students’ and educators’ lived experiences with the information provided to the OHRC by the school boards.

A relatively low number of student/parent surveys described the experiences of:

  • Racialized students[28] (132 out of 1,369 surveys where a race category was specified)
  • First Nation, Métis and Inuk/Inuit students (44 out of 1,369 surveys where a race category was specified)
  • Students whose first language learned was not English or French (68 surveys)
  • Students who were not born in Canada (60 surveys).

Student/parent survey respondents also tended to have income levels higher than the Ontario average, and relatively higher levels of education. Half reported a household income of over $100,000 before taxes, compared to the median after-tax income of Ontario families of $66,200 in 2018.[29] Of the 1,405 respondents who indicated the highest level of education they completed, 31.8% had a professional degree (such as a law or medical degree), Master’s degree or Doctorate degree.

The OHRC recognizes that completing a survey or attending a public hearing may have been challenging for families that are the most marginalized. More diverse engagements may have been possible had the COVID pandemic not affected the OHRC’s ability to hold additional in-person meetings. The OHRC has paid special attention to the accounts it did receive from vulnerable groups to better understand intersectional barriers. As well, given the research that shows students from these groups are even more likely to fall behind in reading, it is reasonable to assume that the challenges these students with reading difficulties face are just as significant, if not more significant, than challenges faced by students with relative privilege. Concerns about the particular impacts on marginalized students are noted throughout this report.

The student/parent survey described experiences of individuals ranging in age from four to 84. The OHRC recognizes that the experiences of older students or people no longer in the public education system may not reflect the current situation in all cases. Even so, these accounts had significant value to the inquiry as they showed the profound, long-lasting impacts of failing to address a reading difficulty. Unfortunately, the OHRC also found that many of the issues these surveys identified remain today. This shows the systemic, enduring intergenerational effects of the public education system’s failure to adequately meet the needs of students with reading difficulties.

The survey for educators and other professionals asked respondents to rate the effectiveness of different approaches to teaching reading, screening tools for reading difficulties, and reading interventions. Educators may have a bias toward rating as most effective the teaching approaches, screening tools and reading interventions they are most familiar with and currently use. They may not be familiar with other options, and may not be in a position to assess their effectiveness. Therefore, in assessing effective approaches to teaching reading, screening for reading difficulties and reading intervention, the OHRC has placed less emphasis on survey responses compared to scientific research and empirical validation.

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[23] The Office of the Auditor General of Ontario audits government activities and programs and public sector organizations; See “Welcome” (last modified 1 December 2021), online: Office of the Auditor General auditor.on.ca/index.html. When examining issues related to school boards, it audits up to four of Ontario’s 72 publicly funded school boards.

[24] For more details on the OHRC’s initial production request, see the November 8, 2019 letter that was sent to the Chair and Director of Education of each of the eight school boards, online: ohrc.on.ca/en/news_centre/letter-board-chair-and-director-education-eight-selected-school-boards. Additional information was requested through oral interviews and questions for each Board.

[25] For more details on the OHRC’s production request, see the December 20, 2019 letter that was sent to the Dean of each of Ontario’s English-language public faculties of education, online: ohrc.on.ca/en/right-read-inquiry-letter-deans-13-ontario-faculties-education.

[26] Throughout this document, the term parents refers to parents and guardians, as appropriate.

[27] Order Under Subsection 7.0.2 (4) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act – Organized Public Events, Certain Gatherings, O Reg 52/20.

[28] Where the race category selected to describe the student included one of: Black (e.g. African, Afro-Caribbean, African-Canadian descent); Latino (e.g. Latin American, Hispanic descent); Middle Eastern (e.g. Arab, Persian, West Asian descent, e.g. Afghan, Egyptian, Iranian, Lebanese, Turkish, Kurdish, etc.); East Asian (e.g. Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese descent); South Asian (e.g. East Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Indo-Caribbean, etc.); Southeast Asian (e.g. Filipino, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Indonesian, other Southeast Asian descent).

[29] “Canadian Income Survey, 2018” (24 February 2020), online: Statistics Canada (“The Daily”) www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200224/dq200224a-eng.htm.