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10. Reading interventions

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When reading interventions are early, evidence-based, fully implemented and closely monitored, they are highly effective in reducing reading failure.[994] Students in all grades, from Kindergarten to high school, should have access to effective interventions for reading difficulties. With effective classroom instruction and early interventions, fewer students will need interventions in the older grades, where they are more time-consuming and can be less effective.[995]

Evidence-based reading interventions are a necessary part of an effective Response to Intervention (RTI)/Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS). An RTI/MTSS framework alone does not ensure success in teaching all students to read. To be effective, this framework must include classroom instruction, assessment and intervention practices that are all consistent with current reading science. See section 8, Curriculum and instruction and section 9, Early screening. Although all inquiry school boards reported using an RTI/MTSS framework, they are not implementing the key aspects and elements that make up a successful tiered framework.

In Ontario, many young students need interventions targeting foundational word-reading skills because classroom instruction is not based on research science. Yet, the inquiry found that schools are not providing these interventions. Their first line of action is to provide ineffective commercial programs that have little basis in science. These programs mirror instruction approaches that do not work in the classroom. Some boards have developed their own approaches, but these are isolated, incomplete and ad hoc. These in-house programs have not been adequately evaluated to establish confidence in their effectiveness, or to support their continued use.

When boards do use evidence-based interventions, they often provide them too late and only to a limited number of students. When interventions are delayed, their effectiveness can be reduced, and the critical period when future lifelong reading difficulties could have been prevented is lost. Interventions delivered later are more intensive, time-consuming and costly, and may not be as effective as those delivered earlier, especially in addressing word- and text-reading fluency.[996]

Decisions on who receives an intervention and which intervention they receive are unclear or based on inappropriate beliefs and unscientific criteria. As well, school boards do not have the necessary systems in place to monitor students’ progress in reading and make sure all students who need interventions receive them.

Although our education system acknowledges the importance of an evidence-based approach, this has not translated into changes in beliefs and practices. Authoritative reports from more than two decades ago[997] have outlined what approaches are needed to teach reading effectively. Still, Ontario’s education system promotes mostly unscientific approaches. Using contextual cues as the main strategy to decode words is not supported by evidence – yet this is the primary approach to reading curriculum, instruction, assessment and intervention.

Ontario’s approach to reading interventions is insufficient. When, as a result, students cannot read words accurately and quickly, our education system has failed. Many families have given up on the public education system and opted to pay for private services. Families that cannot afford to pay or do not have these services in their communities must navigate a complex system and hope there are enough spots to get into an evidence-based intervention program, if it exists, at their school. Many families are not even told the school may provide such programs.

There are better, more systematic and scientific ways to select and implement reading interventions. Research shows that the earlier children with reading difficulties receive effective interventions, the more likely they are to fully catch up with their peers in the foundational reading skills that are essential for making continued yearly gains in reading.[998]

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Effective Response to Intervention (RTI)/Multi-tier System of Supports (MTSS)

Effective RTI/MTSS includes instruction and interventions at each tier based on sound research evidence.[999] This evidence comes from a body of robust and reliable empirical studies that examine and show the effectiveness of particular instructional approaches and intervention programs.

Evidence-based practice means using the best available research in making decisions.[1000] It requires a commitment to continuously updating and improving practices based on the science.[1001]

Successful RTI/MTSS for students with or at risk of reading disabilities includes these key components:

  • Evidence-based instruction at each tier starting with classroom instruction, early interventions (Kindergarten to Grade 1), and later interventions (Grades 2–5; 6–8; 9 and above)
  • Universal early screening that includes valid and reliable measures to identify students, and to provide immediate interventions
  • Early, evidence-based interventions targeting the foundational skills of sound-letter knowledge, phonemic awareness, decoding and word-reading accuracy and fluency, including more advanced orthographic patterns, syllables and morphemes
  • Clear and appropriate decision-making rules for choosing evidence-based programs for classroom instruction and tiered interventions, and for matching students to intervention programs (for example, standardized scores on assessments of foundational word-reading skills, rather than setting cut-offs that may not be valid, such as the student having to be a certain number of years behind in their reading)
  • Valid and reliable progress monitoring and outcome measures for interventions
  • Clearly identified rules and guidelines for decisions on individual students, at each juncture within the multi-tiered system
  • Distributing interventions to make sure all students have access to effective interventions
  • Rigorous methods for ensuring program fidelity (implementing an intervention as  intended) and for conducting program evaluation (for example, standardized word-reading, fluency and comprehension measures)
  • Adequate resources to implement the interventions, and provide quality teacher professional development and ongoing coaching.

Classroom instruction and early interventions (Kindergarten and Grade 1) are key to preventing future word-reading difficulties. They have the potential to help students catch up before they fall far behind and reduce the number of students needing interventions. With evidence-based instruction at each tier, almost all children (90–95%) can develop solid word-reading accuracy and fluency.

When children with weak reading skills do not receive effective early interventions, there is a high likelihood they will remain poor readers throughout their school years.[1002] In fact, students who get a quick start with their word-reading skills enjoy and engage in reading more, and that reading practice in turn strengthens their basic reading skills. Students who get a slow and difficult start in word reading are less likely to choose to read. Reading skills are critical across most school subjects, and students with reading difficulty are at risk of falling behind their peers in many subjects.  These “rich get richer” or Matthew Effects were first proposed in the context of reading by Dr. Keith Stanovich, an expert on the psychology of reading.[1003]

Research has clearly shown the benefits from intervening earlier.[1004] For example, in one study, students who received interventions in Grades 1 and 2 made gains in foundational word-reading skills at almost twice the rate of students receiving the intervention in Grade 3, relative to control groups.[1005]

When students, even as early as Grade 2, are behind in word reading, their fluency starts to fall further behind peers who are reading more and building up more and more grade-appropriate words that they automatically recognize. The most important contributor to text-reading fluency is word-reading fluency (also called word-reading efficiency).[1006] Text-reading fluency becomes very hard to address beyond the Kindergarten and Grade 1 years.[1007]

Effective classroom instruction (tier 1) includes evidence-based, explicit teaching that targets decoding and word-reading accuracy and fluency. See section 8, Curriculum and instruction.

In a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, teachers use systematic approaches and programs that allow the greatest number of students to be successful and gain the required skills and knowledge. These programs provide classroom instruction for all children. They set out effective differentiation, and provide extra and more scaffolded instruction and practice for students not progressing at the same rate as their peers. Effective differentiation provides extra support to these students so they reach average word-reading skills, rather than falling behind.

A science-based curriculum builds solid foundational word-reading, fluency and spelling skills for all students. Curriculum that promotes a different approach results in too many students needing interventions and confusion for students receiving those interventions.

Strategies learned in effective intervention programs must be supported in the classroom setting. If the current Ontario Language curriculum is not revised (classroom/tier 1), evidence-based tier 2 intervention will be at odds with tier 1, and at-risk students’ foundational skills will not be reinforced in the classroom. Also, once interventions have ended, classroom practices that are not evidence-based will not support students continuing to develop the necessary skills. Ontario’s 2003 Expert Panel on Early Reading noted:

Successful interventions are strongly linked with regular classroom instruction, are supported by sound research, reflect an understanding of effective reading instruction….It is critical that interventions be measured against these criteria, and that their effectiveness in helping children with reading difficulties be carefully assessed and monitored.[1008]

Screening and progress monitoring help determine the level or intensity of intervention needed. All students should be screened throughout the early years to identify who is not developing the required foundational word-reading skills, despite evidence-based instruction. These students should receive intensive intervention and their progress should be monitored. Based on their progress, students may (1) need more intensive intervention, or (2) continue to need the current amount of intervention, or (3) discontinue their current intervention.[1009]

When students in Kindergarten and/or Grade 1 are not keeping up through classroom instruction and differentiation, tier 2 interventions should be used to prevent long-term reading difficulties. Waiting to see if these students will catch up without an effective foundational skills intervention is not following evidence-based practices.

Interventions generally occur daily in focused short blocks of time.[1010] Tier 2 and tier 3 interventions can be distinguished by how intense, long and often the intervention is delivered.[1011] 

At tier 2, evidence-based interventions must target the foundational skills of sound-letter knowledge, phonemic awareness, decoding skills and word-reading accuracy and fluency. Like tier 1 programs, these usually incorporate teaching morphology and syllable structures. The focus on learning to read words means learning and integrating written words with their pronunciations and meanings. These areas will be consistent with areas taught in evidence-based tier 1 instruction. Tier 2 should be completed with a small group of students, with sufficient time and intensity for an explicit, evidence-based foundational skills program/intervention.

When effective tier 2 intervention is delivered properly and for enough time for Grades 2 and up, it will address critical reading problems. The few students who continue to be behind peers in foundational word reading and spelling will be further ahead having had effective tier 1 instruction and tier 2 intervention, and will benefit further from tier 3 interventions.

Tier 3 should consist of approaches that incorporate more intensive use of tier 2 intervention programs, or some more specialized programs, often with smaller groups, and with more explicit instruction and scaffolded practice,[1012] sufficient cumulative review to ensure mastery of the skills, and more time in the intervention.

No single reading intervention will completely address every student’s reading difficulties. Some reading difficulties/disabilities will be more severe than others. Estimates[1013] are that 3–5% of students will have word-reading problems that are less responsive to even effective interventions.[1014] School boards must have evidence-based interventions at each tier to help reach all students. If they do not, the percentage of students who are less responsive to interventions will be much larger.

Further, in fully evidence-based RTI/MTSS systems, some students with reading difficulties (about 10%) will continue to need extra supports in reading and writing, such as accommodations and technology, to optimally access the curriculum.

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Multilingual learners

With appropriate instruction, multilingual students can learn phonological awareness and decoding skills in the language of instruction (English or French) as quickly as students who speak English as a first language.[1015] The specific difficulties that multilingual learners (often referred to as English language learners) may face are fairly predictable and can be addressed with proactive teaching that focuses on potentially problematic sounds and letter combinations.[1016] Of course, multilingual learners will need instruction in other aspects to fully address reading comprehension and written language.[1017] Still, multilingual learners need instruction and intervention on the same foundational word-reading skills as other students. As described by Dr. Esther Geva, an Ontario psychologists with expertise in culturally and linguistically diverse children, and her colleagues:

Instruction for [English language learners] should be comprehensive and include instruction in the core areas of reading (phonological awareness, phonics, word level fluency, accuracy and fluency in text-level reading, and reading comprehension), as well as in oral language (vocabulary, grammar, use of pronouns or conjunctions, use of idioms) and writing. It is often the case that [English language learners] continue to develop oral language and vocabulary skills while building core literacy skills.[1018]


Examples of reading interventions used in some Ontario boards

Some of the most widely used interventions reported by the inquiry school boards are not shown to be effective for any tiers within RTI/MTSS. For example, there is little to no scientific evidence supporting Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) or Reading Recovery®.

Inquiry boards often use LLI as a first intervention for elementary school students. No rigorous research could be found to support its effectiveness for these young students with reading difficulties. The program does not align with research on approaches that have been shown to be effective with young children to prevent later reading difficulties, or with older students with reading disabilities.[1019]

Some educators, students and parents have reported favourably on using LLI.[1020] However, self-reports and observations of increased student confidence with levelled books is not a substitute for building the foundational word-reading skills that will allow children to continue to make the required gains each year. See section 8, Curriculum and instruction and section 9, Early screening for a discussion on levelled books and running records. Many survey respondents told the inquiry that LLI and Reading Recovery® were ineffective for students.

The OHRC is concerned with school boards’ use of Reading Recovery® because it focuses on cueing systems, levelled readers and running records. There has been more research on Reading Recovery® than LLI. However, the adequacy of the program and research has been consistently contested.[1021]

Programs without a strong evidence base or that are based on the three-cueing approach should not be used for students with reading difficulties. Ineffective programs will delay student progress.

Some school boards in Ontario use commercial programs that have research to support their effectiveness or are aligned with the research on effective classroom instruction and interventions.[1022] These programs target the foundational skills necessary for beginning and struggling readers. They can be provided for the different tiers, including tier 1 (classroom instruction that is necessary to prevent many reading difficulties from occurring).

Many of these interventions include progress monitoring to track a student’s progress and inform intervention-based decisions. However, school boards should also use standardized measures at pre-determined periods, and use them consistently across all interventions. These measures should include word-reading accuracy and fluency, and text reading fluency. This will allow boards and the Ministry to compare and judge the effectiveness and general appropriateness of different programs.

Some instructional programs are best suited to whole classroom implementation (tier 1). When interventions are used in Kindergarten to Grade 1, they are used to prevent reading difficulties/disabilities from developing for many students. Other interventions work best for small groups (tier 2). Programs that are used with increased intensity or include more specialized intervention are reserved for the final tier (tier 3).

Several programs are briefly described below and categorized by their potential place within an RTI/MTSS system. This list is not an endorsement of specific programs. Instead, it provides examples of evidence-based programs.[1023]

The list moves broadly in the following order:

  1. Whole classroom and/or tier 2 early interventions
  2. Tier 2 or 3 interventions
  3. Tier 3 interventions
  4. Interventions that may be viewed as supplements, as these are primarily available as online programs.

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SRA Open Court Reading

SRA Open Court Reading[1024] has comprehensive English Language Arts programs for students in Kindergarten to Grade 5. The Foundational Skills Kits are stand-alone programs for students in Kindergarten through Grade 3 that target the word-reading accuracy and fluency reading skills that are the focus of this inquiry. These programs make up these critical components of complete English Language Arts classroom instruction.

The Open Court Foundational Skills programs are aligned with research on direct, systematic instruction on critical word-reading foundational skills, and have been shown to be effective for classroom-wide instruction for all children, and for preventing future reading difficulties for most students.[1025]

The Foundational Skills kits also provide classroom teachers with small-group instruction for differentiating and supplementing whole-class instruction for students who are not progressing as quickly, and for students who are learning English as an additional language. The focus on word-reading accuracy and fluency is consistent with learning and integrating the forms of written words with the pronunciations and meanings of words.

Word Analysis Kits are available for Grades 4 and 5, and focus on classroom instruction on word analysis (syllable and morphemic analysis) for reading and understanding harder words in increasingly complex texts.


Wilson Fundations®

Wilson Fundations®[1026] is a classroom program available for students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 and teaches phonemic awareness, sound-symbol relationships, word study and spelling, sight word reading and fluency. Some components are also aimed directly at vocabulary, oral language and reading comprehension strategies. The program has been shown, in independent research, to improve students’ foundational reading skills.[1027] It can also be used as a tier 2 intervention for Kindergarten to Grade 3 students who are having difficulty acquiring word-reading accuracy and fluency.


Firm Foundations

The Firm Foundations program was developed in British Columbia by school teachers and psychologists of the North Vancouver School District.[1028] This play-based program consists of games and activities that address the following skills: vocabulary, rhyme detection, syllable detection and segmentation, phoneme detection and segmentation and knowing the sounds of letters. It can be used as a classroom-based program in Kindergarten and early primary classrooms. There is evidence to support its use for children with a wide variety of backgrounds, including multilingual students and students with mixed socio-economic levels.[1029] The program was designed to be sensitive to the needs of both multilingual students and students speaking English as a first language.

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Remediation Plus Systems

Remediation Plus Systems[1030] was developed in Canada in 1999. The program has explicit systematic phonics instruction, including targeting phonemic awareness in the context of building decoding and spelling skills and knowledge. Remediation Plus can be delivered through whole-class instruction in elementary grades, or implemented as small-group tier 2 intervention for all grades.

Remediation Plus Systems is used in some school boards in Ontario, Alberta, Labrador/Newfoundland and Manitoba, including in Labrador Innu and Nishnawbe Aski Nation schools. Some Canadian schools implement this program to teach reading to whole classrooms of students in Kindergarten to Grade 3, and other schools use it as a tier 2 intervention.


SRA Early Interventions in Reading Skills

Early Interventions in Reading Skills is a tier 2 intervention for Kindergarten to Grade 3 students who experience difficulty in foundational word-reading skills. It works in concert with core reading programs to provide intense early intervention. This program is consistent with research on early interventions.[1031]


Empower™ Reading (spelling and decoding)

Empower is a Canadian-developed intervention program designed to support students with significant reading difficulties. It was developed by Dr. Maureen Lovett, an expert in reading disabilities and early reading interventions, and her team from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and has been well-researched. The Spelling and Decoding program is available in Grades 2 to 5 and Comprehension and Vocabulary in Grades 6 to 8. It can be appropriately used as a tier 2 or tier 3 intervention.[1032] The program is delivered four or five days a week for 60 minutes to small groups of students. Instructors teach foundational reading skills directly and explicitly combined with metacognitive strategy instruction (applying and monitoring specific strategies to guide word decoding and analysis for reading simple and complex words).

The program is based on a rigorous body of research that shows it improves students’ ability to decode taught and untaught words, while also building their ability to strategically apply learned knowledge to read multisyllabic words.[1033]

While samples in studies have been a majority of White students,[1034] specific research has examined students’ outcomes based on a range of factors. A large-scale investigation has shown that students have responded equally well based on different racial backgrounds,[1035] socioeconomic status,[1036] IQ levels[1037] and for multilingual students[1038]. A recent study showed that students who had both ADHD and a reading disability showed gains in reading when provided with a similar program.[1039]

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SRA Reading Mastery and Corrective Reading

Reading Mastery[1040] provides systematic instruction in foundational reading skills to students who experience reading difficulties in Kindergarten to Grade 6. Reading Mastery can be used as an intervention program for struggling readers (tier 2), as a supplement to a school’s core reading program (increasing classroom support to students experiencing difficulty in the early years), or as a class-wide program in schools with many students at risk for not developing accurate and fluent reading skills.

Corrective Reading targets reading accuracy (decoding), fluency and comprehension skills of students in Grade 3 and up who are experiencing significant reading difficulties. It can be implemented in small groups of four to five students or in a whole-class format. Corrective Reading is intended to be taught in 45-minute lessons four to five times a week. This program may be thought of as tier 3 for students in Kindergarten to Grade 3, but tier 2 for older students with reading difficulties/disabilities/dyslexia.[1041]

The programs reflect the research-based practices recommended by the National Reading Panel, and studies have shown their effectiveness in improving reading skills.[1042] The programs include explicit, systematic instruction in five critical strands: phonemic awareness, letter-sound correspondences, word recognition and spelling, fluency, and comprehension.



SpellRead™[1043] was developed in Atlantic Canada. It is an intervention program for all students with difficulties in word-reading accuracy and/or fluency, with or without a diagnosis, including for multilingual students who are learning English at the same time as they are learning the curriculum. The complete program can be delivered over an academic year and is suitable as a tier 2 intervention for Grades 1 to 12, or as a tier 3 intervention.

Instruction focuses on learning sound-letter mapping and decoding accuracy, all the way through to learning frequent morphemes and syllable patterns and reading multisyllabic words. The focus is initially on students building accuracy and then making skills automatic, and increasing word- and text-reading accuracy, fluency and resulting comprehension.

The program can be delivered to small groups of three to six students, and includes practice using the reading skills in reading real books. Studies in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and the U.S. have shown the intervention has positive effects on students’ decoding skills, word reading, reading fluency and reading comprehension.[1044]

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Wilson Just Words®

Wilson Language Training® also has a tier 2 program called Just Words®.[1045] This program targets the word-reading accuracy and fluency problems of children with word-reading difficulties/disabilities/dyslexia.


Wilson Reading System® 4th Edition

Wilson’s Reading System®[1046] is a tier 3 reading intervention. It draws heavily on Orton-Gillingham principles. Orton-Gillingham is not a specific program but a structured literacy approach. The approach is systematic and cumulative – each lesson builds on the initial concept learned. It is also explicit – it uses direct phonics instruction.[1047]

Wilson Reading System® is an intensive program designed for students not making progress in other interventions. The depth of support and breadth of skills targeted by this program reflect its status as a tier 3 program.[1048]


Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing® (LiPS®)

The LiPS®[1049] program teaches struggling readers in Kindergarten to Grade 3 the skills they need to decode words, including a focus on phoneme-level awareness, identifying the sounds represented by letters in words, and blending these to decode words.

Teachers work with students in small-group or one-on-one settings to help them become aware of the mouth formations and movements to produce speech sounds. This can be helpful for students who do not respond to tier 2 intervention and have persistent difficulties with phoneme-level awareness. Instruction is generally four to six months for one hour a day. Studies have shown that the program improves students’ word-reading accuracy and fluency.[1050] However, for many students, a less intensive program targeting these skills was as successful.[1051] Thus, the LiPS® program appears best as a tier 3 intervention for students who do not make adequate progress with a good tier 2 program. These students need more intensive, targeted instruction to identify and hear individual sounds in words, to then better learn sound-letter connections and blending these to sound out words. Like all programs, it should be used in its entirely rather than in individual pieces taken out of context.


Online programs and resources

Some boards use online programs that either have research evidence or are aligned with the approaches outlined in this report. The inquiry does not recommend online programs in place of teacher-led classroom instruction and tiered interventions. Rather, school boards should explore how online programs can be used to enhance effective, teacher-led instruction and interventions in tiers 1 through 3.

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ABRACADABRA (A Balanced Reading Approach for Children and Designed to Achieve Best Results for All)[1052] is a Canadian online program that can help pre-school to early elementary school-age children develop phonemic awareness, phonics and word-reading skills. It includes first- and second-language instruction in both English and French. The program is free of charge. School boards can also download assessment resources and toolkits to their servers free of charge. This program can be considered a supplement to explicit classroom instruction in foundational word-reading skills that offers students practice and support.

The program was developed through a multi-university initiative and has been studied in Canada and internationally (for example, Australia, Kenya), to explore its impact on children’s reading.[1053] When used regularly in the classroom, students perform at a higher level on several reading-related skills compared to students who received only typical classroom instruction.[1054]

This has been observed consistently across cultural backgrounds and geographic locations where studies took place.[1055] For example, in Australia’s Northern Territory, researchers delivered the program to 164 children and compared the results to a control group of 148 children who received regular instruction. The total sample included 28% Indigenous students. Results showed that all students in the intervention group made significant gains in phonological awareness and phoneme-grapheme knowledge over the control group. Indigenous students gained significantly more per hour of instruction than non-Indigenous students in phonological awareness and early literacy skills.[1056] 



PlayRoly is a play-based online program developed in British Columbia.[1057] The program is for children who are three to five years old and is designed to strengthen phonological awareness skills. All the lessons are available at no cost to educators and parents.


Parker Phonics

The book Reading Instruction and Phonics: Theory and Practice for Teachers[1058] includes a phonics scope and sequence program. The book is online and can be downloaded for free.


Lexia® Core 5® Reading

Lexia® Core 5® Reading is a computer-based intervention to supplement regular classroom instruction and support skill development in the five areas of reading instruction identified by the National Reading Panel. It uses web-based and offline materials to help pre-Kindergarten to Grade 5 students develop phonics, decoding, word reading, fluency and reading comprehension.

There is some evidence to support the use of this program to improve skills in phonics and reading comprehension for students in Kindergarten to Grade 5 who have reading difficulties.[1059] The program may also work to support word reading for multilingual students who are learning English at the same time as they are learning the curriculum.[1060] Computer-based interventions such as Lexia® work best as a supplement to tier 1 instruction or tier 2 interventions, always under the direction of a trained teacher.

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Ontario’s approach to reading interventions

Ontario’s tiered approach

In Ontario, the Ministry recommends[1061] but does not mandate a tiered approach. It defines a tiered approach as “a systematic approach to providing high-quality, evidence-based assessment and instruction and appropriate interventions that respond to students’ individual needs.”[1062] This approach is also known as RTI/MTSS.[1063] The figure below is an excerpt from one of the Ministry’s resource guides:


Figure 5: The Ministry of Education’s tiered approach model

Pyramid: The tiered approach (Ministry of Education) Tier 1 (bottom level): Assessment and instruction are planned in relation to the curriculum for all students, applying principles of UDL and DI. The teacher observes, monitors student progress, and notes which students may be experiencing difficulty. Tier 2 (middle of pyramid): On the basis of assessment results, differentiated instruction and interventions are planned for students who are facing learning challenges in a particular area, or in general. Student progress in response to these interventions is closely monitored, and instruction is adjusted as needed. Tier 3 (top of pyramid): For students who require intense support to achieve learning goals, even more precise and personalized assessment and instruction are planned, often with the help of the in-school team and/or other available resources. Monitoring of progress continues.


The Ministry does not provide any detail on how to implement a tiered approach to prevent reading difficulties in each tier.

For RTI/MTSS delivery to be effective in maximizing all students’ academic achievement within an inclusive education system, all the critical components need to be evidence-based, implemented properly, and have all the necessary resources – financial and otherwise.

A tiered approach will not be effective if the curriculum outcomes are not aligned with evidence-driven classroom instruction (tier 1) or if tier 2 and 3 interventions are not evidence-based. It will also likely not be effective without other mandated elements such as universal screening, progress monitoring, data collection and standardized decision-making procedures.

Classroom instruction (tier 1) is not currently aligned with evidence-based instruction for foundational word-reading skills. As a result, far too many students need early and later interventions, and this is particularly evident in schools that serve communities at higher risk for word-reading difficulties (for example, more students from low-income families).[1064] Some of the early and later interventions being used are not evidence-based.

It is not enough to suggest a tiered approach. The Ministry should mandate effective implementation of RTI/MTSS frameworks across Ontario.

None of the Ministry guides outline what interventions are evidence-based. While in 2021, the Ministry provided examples of intervention programs in its Transfer Payment Agreement (TPA) to school boards for purchasing reading interventions, only suggested guidelines were included.

In its inquiry submission, the Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy noted the necessity of mandating evidence-based interventions:

A tiered approach to intervention needs to be required (not just suggested as in PPM 8), with early implementation of Direct Instruction using evidence based tools that are available in all schools. The Ministry of Education should fund these programs directly so schools cannot claim they are too expensive to implement.

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Standards on the use of reading interventions

Schools use many different reading interventions. Standardizing interventions would lead to more equitable outcomes and would likely result in cost savings over time.

The Ministry does not mandate any approaches to intervening when students are not developing foundational word-reading accuracy and fluency. School boards determine which reading intervention to use, which grades to provide the interventions, eligibility criteria, and if and how to track student progress. Sometimes boards delegate this responsibility to individual schools.

The inquiry boards reported having at least 16 different commercial interventions, only five of which were evidence-based. However, two of these evidence-based interventions were seldom used. There were six board-developed interventions, but none of them had been rigorously evaluated or included the scope of all skills needed to address early or later word-reading difficulties.

Some inquiry boards said they do not have the resources or capacity to always research which intervention is effective. Very few boards could produce sound research on the effectiveness of interventions they were offering, or report how an intervention they used was aligned with the science of effective reading instruction. This is why knowing the research on effective reading instruction and interventions is a critical prerequisite. Without this knowledge, system leaders and personnel are not in a position to evaluate a program.

Many inquiry schools boards wanted direction from the Ministry on which reading interventions to use, and thought it would be more efficient for the Ministry to purchase licenses for evidence-based interventions. One board said “not all boards are rowing the boat in the same direction.” This approach would likely increase the effectiveness of teaching more students to read, and result in financial savings based on economies of scale.

Educators who completed an inquiry survey reported that school boards or schools often do not have the funds to buy interventions or train staff to deliver them. This is one of the essential components of effective RTI/MTSS implementation. A board literacy consultant said:

There are so many different reading interventions available. More direction is needed in terms of which intervention is best for [whom].The Ministry should also provide more funding specifically for reading intervention.

When essential programs are not standardized across the province, it creates the potential for inequality. One survey respondent, a psychologist, said:

…A systematic and intensive phonics program is needed in ALL schools across the province. The availability of this type of program should NOT be dependent on a school's discretionary budget. This is incredibly inequitable as some schools receive much more money in fundraising efforts (parent donations) than others.

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2016–2020 Reading pilot project

In 2016, the Ministry provided funding for the LD Intensive Reading Pilot Board Project in eight English-language public and Catholic district school boards. Originally planned for three years, the Ministry continued funding the pilots for the 2019–2020 and 2020–2021 school years.[1065] The pilot was intended to increase the availability and responsiveness of supports for students with learning disabilities in reading. While this is a worthy goal, it is not clear if the pilot also included the goal of increasing academic achievement and outcomes in reading and other academic subjects.

The eight pilot boards were Greater-Essex, London Catholic, Rainbow, Sudbury Catholic, Thames Valley, Waterloo Catholic, Waterloo Region and Windsor-Essex.

These boards selected students who were at risk for or already identified with an LD exceptionality with reading challenges to take part. The pilot included supports to match those provided at the three English Provincial Demonstration Schools for students with learning disabilities in Ontario. These supports included the Empower™ Reading Program (Empower), a systematic and intensive reading intervention program, Lexia® Core 5®, a technology-based literacy program and social-emotional supports.

The Ministry’s pilot project found that, overall, Empower had some positive effects on some aspects of foundational skills for students. Dr. Rhonda Martinussen, a psychologist from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), led the external research team that evaluated the project. Although the pilot studied the Empower program, the findings were expected to also inform board practices in implementing any tier 2 or tier 3 reading intervention. The goal of the research was to enable boards to implement a range of evidence-based reading interventions to meet the needs of students with learning disabilities in developing reading skills.

The research team’s 2020 final report discusses factors that influence how successfully Empower is implemented. Factors included how often lessons were given, interruptions to learning, staff training and collaboration with homeroom teachers. Boards also reported that student selection criteria was an important area of focus including determining need and fit with the program.

The research team reported a positive response to the pilot activities in terms of principals’ and teachers’ perceptions of student engagement and gains in their learning. Interviews with principals and teachers reported an encouraging response to the intervention program because of the positive effects on students’ reading skills, self-confidence, and perception of themselves as readers.

Analysis of students’ pre- and post-assessment measures was reported for students who had completed at least a large proportion of the program.[1066] The 2020 Ministry report showed an increase in participants’ core phonics skills (for example, reading words with short vowels and with consonant blends; reading words with more complex spelling patterns, such as r-controlled vowels, long-vowel spellings, low-frequency spellings, and reading multisyllabic words).

As well, the mean scores on standardized tests improved for word- and non-word-reading accuracy and fluency, and reading comprehension (see Table 21). Mean standard scores on the non-word-reading subtest came into the average range. However, the sample size of 70–80 students was not high and only 41% of these students received all 110 hours of the Empower program.


Figure 6: Reading level at program start and growth

This bar chart provides a visual representation of the numbers in the paragraph above.


Grade 2 students made larger standard score gains in non-word-reading (word attack subtest) than students in Grades 3 and 4 (see Figure 5). This is consistent with some past research showing younger students make larger gains with Empower™.[1067]

As can be seen in Figure 6, the participants in each grade level made gains and of similar magnitudes, on standardized word-reading scores. These mean scores on word-reading accuracy, however, did not come within the average range. The report did not present the number of students altogether or in each grade who came into the average range for each different measure. This is data that school boards and the Ministry should collect when implementing Empower and other reading intervention programs.


Figure 7: Gains in decoding by grade in Ministry pilot project[1068]

Grade 2: start 84, end 95; Grade 3: start 87, end 91; Grade 4+: start 86, end 91.


Figure 8: Gains in sight words by grade in the Ministry pilot project[1069]

Line graph: Age Based Standard Scores for Word Identification from start to end of program. Grade 2: start 76, end 82; Grade 3: start 74, end 81; Grade 4+: start 83, end 85.

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2021 Transfer Payment Agreement (TPA)

The Ministry provided additional funding to school boards to purchase reading intervention programs in Winter 2021. The Ministry created a TPA that outlines guidance on selecting appropriate interventions. This is a good start and provides more detailed guidance than any other Ministry document, including PPMs, resources and guides. The Ministry provided an overview of the tiered approach and related reading interventions for each tier. For example:

  • Tier 1: programs are delivered in the class; the instruction is targeted to address a specific gap that has been identified through assessment
  • Tier 2: higher intensity and may be delivered by a classroom teacher or a special education teacher, and it is usually every day or close to every day for 20 to 40 minutes in general, could be more or less
  • Tier 3: delivered by a trained special education teacher with a very small group or an individual student, consistently every day and for a longer period of time each day than in tier 2 (for example, 60 minutes, and ideally in addition to the regular language class), and using a high-intensity evidence-based program.

The TPA provides examples of literacy programs that meet the core literacy skills outlined in the document (phonemic awareness, phonics, word reading, reading fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension). The listed examples are SRA’s Early Intervention in Reading, Corrective Reading, Reading Mastery, Empower, Jolly Phonics, Kindergarten Peer-Assisted learning Strategies (K-PALS) and PALS.

Although the document acknowledges this is not an exhaustive list, it is important to include more tier 1 whole-class reading programs such as SRA Open Court Foundational Skills and Wilson Fundations®.

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School Board approaches to reading interventions

Overall approach

All eight inquiry school boards reported using an RTI/MTSS framework to address reading achievement and provide interventions for struggling students. However, boards are not structuring tiered interventions in way that is consistent with effectively implementing RTI/MTSS systems.

The inquiry found concerns with critical aspects of how boards are choosing and implementing interventions. Many interventions are not evidence-based. When schools do have evidence-based interventions, they are not available in the earliest grades where they are most effective in fully addressing word-reading accuracy, and word- and text-reading fluency.

Many students face barriers to accessing effective interventions. In some cases, boards prioritize interventions for students with a learning disability diagnosis, which can be difficult to receive, or get in a timely way, unless obtained privately at significant cost. Other problematic criteria include requiring students to have average to above-average intelligence and/or no other disability (such as ADHD, ASD, MID). These entry requirements are based on a mistaken belief that interventions will only be effective or be more effective for these students, which research has consistently contradicted.[1070]

All of these barriers can result in systemic discrimination against groups of students who need intensive interventions in reading. The exclusionary criteria are not appropriate measures for decisions about whether a student will respond to a reading intervention.[1071] See section 12, Professional assessments.

School boards sometimes only offer interventions to students who are a specified number of grades or years behind in reading. This is not based on science or sound use of statistical reasoning, and will leave many students behind. A child in Grade 1 or 2 who is a year or half-year behind their grade-level peers needs immediate interventions.

Interventions are not provided to all students who need them. The inquiry found that resources for interventions are generally not distributed to schools that may be deemed higher priority in terms of the number of students at risk for or with reading difficulties. The inquiry could not determine if enough training and support has been provided to educators implementing the various interventions, which is important to how successful a given intervention will be.

Boards are not adequately monitoring individual student progress and the effectiveness of intervention programs. This data is needed to inform decisions about individual students, and to make data-driven decisions at the board level, on which intervention programs are leading to successful outcomes and in which schools. For example, a program that was promising may not be having good effects across most schools, or a family of schools may be getting exceptional results with a certain intervention and could offer lessons about implementation procedures for the board or province.

Each inquiry board reported that the goal of their RTI/MTSS is to effectively meet the instructional needs of about 80–90% of students through tier 1 instruction; leaving 10–20% of students requiring tier 2 interventions, and 5–10% of students who will require tier 3 intervention.

In practice, many more students require tier 2 and 3 interventions in Ontario school boards. The current approach to reading instruction and intervention in boards is not effective and conflicts with boards’ stated goals of meeting most students’ reading instruction needs in tier 1, so only a very small proportion of students (5–10%) will need tier 2 interventions. The current set-up wastes valuable time and jeopardizes the critical period when many future reading difficulties could be prevented.[1072]

This is a direct result of the ineffective approaches in the classroom that are based on the Ministry’s curriculum and instructional guidelines and implemented by boards. There is an absence of, and even an avoidance of, direct and systematic phonics and decoding instruction. At tier 2, many ineffective interventions are the first response. With ineffective instruction and tier 2 interventions, the boards are falling far short of their goals for the percentage of students who will need each successive level of tiered interventions.

The Ministry promotes whole language and balanced literacy philosophies and approaches in its curriculum and teaching guideline documents. These documents promote an inaccurate view of reading development and instruction. See section 8, Curriculum and instruction. Many of the early intervention programs used by schools also follow these ineffective approaches to teaching reading (using cues to deduce the spoken form of unknown written words in text) and/or largely focus on phonological awareness to the exclusion of other critical foundational reading skills. Thus, when children with difficulties in word reading are placed in tier 2 interventions, they do not receive the needed instruction in foundational word-reading skills.

Evidence on how to teach all students to learn to read is highly consistent with OSLA’s submission to the inquiry that schools must use “systematic, direct instruction with lots of practice over time and specific feedback, because reading skills are too important for children to have to infer what they are supposed to learn.”

The results from the Grades 3 and 6 EQAO reading assessments for students overall and for students with special education needs supports the finding that school boards’ current approaches to reading instruction and intervention are not effective. More than half of students with special education needs in Grade 3, and almost half in Grade 6, failed to meet the provincial standard.[1073]

One school board also noted that about 32% of its Kindergarten and Grade 1 students were at risk for reading difficulties, consistent with a general estimate in most school boards of about 30%. In 2018–2019, 74% of all Grade 3 students in Ontario met the provincial standard for the EQAO reading assessment, but only 62% of these students did so unassisted (without scribing or assistive technology). Only 8% of Grade 3 students with IEPs met the standard without assistive technology.[1074] This data should make Ontario school boards question whether their early interventions have been effective. If interventions do not vastly reduce the number of students at risk in an area, it is an indication that those interventions have not been successful. See section 5, How Ontario students are performing.

The materials provided by the school boards show a need for increased tier 3 interventions for students who struggle with word-reading skills – implying that earlier tier 1 instruction and tier 2 interventions have not been effective. With so many students in need of reading interventions beyond classroom instruction, it is not surprising that the resources for tier 2 and tier 3 interventions are limited. Inquiry boards reported having far too many students needing interventions, overwhelming their ability to provide tiered supports beyond the classroom. However, if classroom instruction (tier 1) is evidence-based, it will relieve the financial pressure on the system as fewer students will need tier 2 and tier 3 interventions.[1075] This “ounce of prevention” is currently absent in school boards.

Students are also not receiving interventions early enough, and interventions are certainly not effective or evidence-based. In the inquiry survey for students and parents, respondents across Ontario reported that only 33% of students received reading interventions before Grade 2. The most commonly reported time students received interventions was in Grade 3. Most students (62%) received a reading intervention program in Grade 3 or above.

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Table 21: Grade level students received intervention (student/parent survey)


Percentage of students

Number of students

Kindergarten Year 1



Kindergarten Year 2



Grade 1



Grade 2



Grade 3



Grade 4



Grade 5



Grade 6



Grade 7



Grade 8



Grade 9



Grade 10



Grade 11



Grade 12









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Tier 2 interventions

Most inquiry boards do not have evidence-based early reading interventions and do not have procedures to effectively deliver them to the young students who need them. Students who need interventions the most are often not receiving them. In most boards, Kindergarten and Grade 1 students with or at risk for word-reading disabilities are the least likely to have access to evidence-based interventions.

Although many inquiry boards implement some intervention in Kindergarten in phonological awareness and/or sound-letter knowledge, these are most often board-developed. They do not adequately teach necessary skills, such as those taught in a synthetic phonics program focused on word decoding, and word-reading accuracy and fluency.

The inquiry boards’ most frequent early interventions follow similar instruction strategies used in the classroom, but delivered in smaller groups. These often include programs based on guided reading and supplemental “word work,” rather than the targeted and systematic programs required for students to progress in foundational word-reading skills. Early interventions need to focus on explicit and systematic instruction in grapheme-phoneme correspondences, and on how students use these to sound out words (blending part of phonemic awareness) and to spell words (segmenting part of phonemic awareness). In other words, this involves using a synthetic phonics program that teaches all the necessary skills that students need to decode and spell.

School boards are using a combination of commercially available reading interventions such as Levelled Literacy Intervention (LLI) and Reading Recovery®, and some board-developed approaches. These approaches are ineffective and insufficient, based on both the body of research on effective early interventions and the boards’ own outcome data on early reading.

Boards use commercial reading interventions to determine if students need further interventions. If a student is struggling to learn to read, the school will increase guided reading in the classroom (tier 1). If the student still struggles, the school will provide extra reading support, such as LLI, or often, “extra reading support” which is vaguely defined (tier 2). If the student is still not progressing, the school will provide SRA Reading Mastery, SRA Corrective Reading or Empower (defined by school boards as tier 3). This approach means students often endure years of ineffective supports in tier 1 and tier 2, before maybe being offered an evidence-based intervention in Grades 3 to 4 or later. We know interventions in these later grades need to be more time-consuming, more intense in the breakdown of all component parts of foundational reading skills, and have more teacher-directed, scaffolded practice and review. Even then, these later interventions will not fully address gaps in reading achievement for as many students as would early intervention.

Some of the inquiry boards recognize the foundational skills that need to be taught as part of reading instruction, and provide board-developed early intervention programs. The board-developed approaches target some skills found in evidence-based programs, like phonological or phonemic awareness, and some aspects of letter-sound work. However, these programs do not deliver a thorough, systematic, explicit program in phonics instruction toward building decoding and word-reading and spelling skills. Isolated phonological awareness work is not enough to catch students up or to prevent later word-reading difficulties.

In these board-developed intervention approaches, students (primarily in Kindergarten) who scored low on a screener enter a program working with a teacher, speech-language pathologist (SLP) or another educator, in a small group for a defined period of time. The focus of these skills is most often on phonological awareness, and may include some letter-sound teaching and other aspects of oral language.

Boards have not established that these in-house interventions, some more formalized than others, are effective for addressing and preventing future word-reading difficulties.

Half of the inquiry boards reported using the Lexia® Core 5® reading program as a stand-alone intervention or as a classroom or intervention supplement. There were differences in how teachers supervised the use of this computer-based intervention. Computer-based interventions should not be substituted for effective teacher-led interventions. They should be used under the supervision and direction of a teacher and as a supplement to a teacher-led program. The boards did not provide clear reports to show the effectiveness of Lexia® Core 5®.

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Tier 3 interventions

Ontario school boards need to use intensive programs as the first line of intervention when students are behind their same-age peers in critical reading skills. Boards are withholding these interventions and only using them after ineffective tier 2 approaches have failed.

Some boards use evidence-based interventions such as SRA Reading Mastery, Corrective Reading or Empower. However, many boards require proof that students have had a prior literacy intervention that did not work before enrolling them in further (usually evidence-based) interventions. In many of the inquiry school boards, students only receive systematic and explicit structured literacy programs in tier 3, and for some boards, this may not happen until as late as Grade 4, 5 or 6.

Generally, these intervention programs are not available in the earliest grades (Kindergarten – Grade 1 ideally, or in Grade 2) when they will be most effective. When they are provided early, they are only provided in a small sample of schools as part of the Ministry’s reading pilot project or the board’s own pilot. However, one board, Simcoe Muskoka Catholic, noted that it makes SRA Reading Mastery, an evidence-based program, available to Kindergarten and Grade 1 students.

The inquiry boards reported important differences in how they implement evidence-based tier 3 programs. These differences may undermine effectiveness in some cases. Students have varying access to what boards consider tier 3, focused interventions such as Empower and SRA interventions. While several boards deliver these to students in Grades 2 through high school, other boards deliver the interventions only to students in higher grades (for example, Grades 6–8). This variation was particularly significant for delivering Empower, while SRA Reading Mastery and Corrective Reading served a broader grade range among the school boards.

Even when boards reported that interventions were available for a broader grade range, the focus was on delivering the program to students in Grades 4 and above. Hamilton-Wentworth, Simcoe Muskoka Catholic and London Catholic were exceptions to this general rule. Hamilton-Wentworth had a high proportion of Grade 2 students in Empower and both Simcoe Muskoka Catholic and London Catholic provided Reading Mastery in earlier grades as part of a pilot project to target younger students.



Effective programs are not available for all students who need them. Access to reading interventions that work well varies dramatically by board. Often, the non-evidence-based interventions are the ones most widely available.

The availability of interventions was inconsistent between and within school boards. It is difficult to compare availability between boards because every board has a distinct way of providing and tracking interventions.

Some boards purchase reading interventions or develop their own interventions and directly provide them to schools. Other boards leave the choice of interventions to individual schools. This can lead to disparity between which schools get effective interventions and which do not. Also, a board’s decision can mean most students within that board will not have access to effective early reading intervention.

Boards reported that both commercial programs and board-developed kits were available to teachers. However, there was no accountability for what programs were implemented or how schools and teachers were guided to use effective programs and at critical periods of time. One board noted that schools may have the kits available but that does not mean that they are being used. Boards reported that teachers view them as an optional resource.

School boards reported the number of schools that had access to a given intervention – but had less information about whether schools deliver the program or how many students were enrolled. Many boards reported that availability of interventions was based on “the needs of individual students” or “school data,” but were less clear about the actual data that informed decision-making. Without universal early screening, boards are not in a position to assess the needs of individual students, and the decision-making processes appear ill-defined. See section 9, Early screening.

Inquiry survey respondents reported very limited spots for evidence-based interventions at schools. Some student and parent respondents reported having to change schools to access a “reading intervention hub.” Most school boards also reported that some schools either had LLI or Empower. This means that some schools do not have any evidence-based interventions. This is inequitable, as every student should have access to effective reading interventions without having to change schools or school boards, go to a Provincial Demonstration school or pay for private tutoring.

In inquiry surveys, educators expressed concerns about reading interventions and the procedures guiding their selection and delivery. They said there are no standards for reading interventions and many factors inform decisions about which programs are delivered, such as special education teachers’ subjective preferences, time, budget and available trained staff. These school-level operational factors should not drive decisions that result in inadequate and inequitable access. One psychologist said:

Many schools don't have access to evidence-based reading programs or available teaching staff to offer the programs, so they select what they have (e.g., often LLI) and whichever special education teacher is trained and available to offer it.

Even when boards deliver evidence-based interventions, the full program, including the early interventions, may not be available in all schools. In some boards, only a relatively small percentage of schools were delivering early interventions (for example, only 30–40% of schools). One board did not have any evidence-based interventions for students until Grade 5.

Most boards did not have a system to allocate resources to communities or schools that may be deemed higher priority in terms of high numbers of students at risk for or with reading difficulties. Hamilton-Wentworth did report allocating more reading supports to schools based on national census data on unemployment rate, lone-parent families, recent immigration, low household education level and low income (less than $30,000). However, without guidelines for choosing and delivering effective interventions, it is hard to judge whether allocating more resources would translate into more effective classroom programs and interventions.

All students who do not have skills in the solidly average range compared to same-age peers on measures of word-reading accuracy and fluency need effective interventions. Tiered interventions should be distributed based on school needs, so that all students have access to effective classroom instruction and interventions.

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Student selection criteria

Generally, the inquiry boards did not have clear procedures to identify students and enroll them in early interventions. Broad discretion and unclear processes are susceptible to bias and inconsistent implementation. School-level decision-making can be driven by pressures due to finite school supports and resources.

Teachers and psychologists suggested this in the inquiry surveys. For example, one teacher said: “I think there is a bias or implicit belief that some students will not learn to read.” This raises alarming equity issues, which have been discussed throughout this report.

One psychologist, responding to a survey question asking how decisions are made about which students receive reading interventions, said they “suspected this is done rather unsystematically.” Another professional said:

The disconnect here is the funding. We can say all students should, and do deserve, reading [interventions]…100% of the time, but funding just won’t allow this…that means only the students experiencing the worst difficulties, or with parent advocates, will be referred to very intense reading speciality programs in schools that require small class sizes, [one-on-one], etc.

Other teachers said it depends on “how much the parents push.” Parents reported they did not know about reading intervention programs, and when they found out about them, it was either too late as an option for their child or it took significant parental advocacy to get their child into the program.

Most school boards rely partly on unreliable or invalid assessments to determine who receives interventions. These assessments look at students’ book-reading levels at certain points in each grade. Examples are PM Benchmarks and Benchmark Assessment System (BAS). These are often the primary measures, along with teacher observations, informing decisions about the need for an intervention and placement into a program. Teacher professional development materials often stress assessments such as running records to identify students who need additional interventions.

The inquiry found many problems with these assessment systems. Book-reading assessment strategies can obscure word-level reading difficulties, particularly in the primary grades. These approaches confuse a student’s decoding and word-reading skills with their language comprehension. They are inadequate measures of foundational word-reading skills, as students may and have indeed been taught to use their oral language skills and pictures to guess at unknown words on the page.[1076]

Word-focused programs for older students set out clearer guidelines for program entry. For example, Ottawa-Carleton’s materials noted that “decoding” is the primary deficit for entry into the Empower™ program. Still, even for older students, access to interventions were often based on book-reading-level assessments, rather than on word-reading skills.

As noted in Section 8, Curriculum and instruction, the Simple View of Reading provides a framework for thinking about the two broad components that determine students’ reading comprehension. Assessments need to examine each component independently, to place students in appropriate interventions. See section 9, Early screening for a discussion of skills that need to be assessed in Kindergarten to Grade 2. As students move beyond Grade 2, word-reading accuracy and fluency should be measured to make decisions about appropriate placements in interventions.

Students who struggle with both word reading and language comprehension need targeted, intensive word-reading interventions. As well, they need effective programing for any oral language weaknesses. It is critical to make sure effective word-reading interventions are not delayed for these students because of oral language weaknesses.

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Student eligibility requirements

Although most boards do not require a diagnosis of a learning disability for entry into interventions, there were variations. One board required students to have a diagnosis to be eligible for Empower™. Other boards reported prioritizing students with a diagnosis. Student/parent survey respondents from many boards across Ontario said that having a diagnosis was needed or helped get interventions.

Requiring a learning disability diagnosis is not necessary and can create equity issues. When criteria for a learning disability require at least average intelligence or a discrepancy between intelligence and achievement for diagnosing a learning disability, this raises the potential for systemic discrimination. See section 12, Professional assessments.

Also, some boards said or implied that only students with particular qualities, such as certain cognitive or “LD-like” profiles, benefit from Empower™. Research has shown that IQ, cognitive abilities or cognitive processing strengths and weaknesses do not predict a student’s response to reading interventions.[1077]

School boards need to remove these requirements from eligibility criteria. Also, boards must examine if, in practice, certain groups are being unconsciously excluded from interventions. The OSLA recommends that the education system must:

Assess for bias in processes to select students for reading interventions and ensure access for students from equity seeking groups, especially members of intersecting Code-protected groups…and ensure access to reading interventions for students with a range of learning needs…and those with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Some boards required a student to be a specified number of grades or years behind in reading. For example, one board required that the student be two years behind in reading and another required that the student be “significantly behind in reading.”

Grade- or age-equivalent scores should not be used to determine entry into effective intervention programs. These scores are not interval levels of measurement. In other words, the difference between each grade- or age-equivalent score is not equal or comparable. The example below serves to illustrate this fallacy.

Consider a student in mid-Grade 2 who scored the same on a word-reading test as the average score of children at the beginning or even the middle of Grade 1. School boards that use grade-equivalent scores would consider this student one or 1.5 years behind. A student in mid-Grade 8 who received a grade-equivalent score of mid-Grade 6 on a word-reading test would be considered two years behind. If the board uses a “two years behind” criterion, the Grade 2 student would not be eligible for an intervention program despite being far below same-age peers and struggling in word-reading accuracy. The increase in word-reading accuracy between Grades 6 and 8 is not as vast, and the Grade 8 student would not be struggling with word-reading skills to the same extent as the Grade 2 student. This is why percentile or standard scores should be used.

Boards should use standardized scores at each grade level and provide interventions for students below a given criteria (such as at or below the 25th percentile on word-reading accuracy and/or fluency). Similarly, the requirement that students are “significantly” below grade level in reading is not clear, and may be interpreted differently across schools, affecting who will get an intervention.  

Requiring students to be a certain numbers of years behind on assessments violates the scientific properties of these measurements and sets up a “wait to fail” system of intervention delivery.

Also, most school boards required that multilingual students who are learning English at the same time as they are learning the curriculum have at least two years of English language instruction before considering them for an intervention. This approach is not supported by research and delays timely intervention. Multilingual students should receive interventions as soon as the need arises.[1078]

A few school boards had positive elements in their approach to selecting students for interventions. Hamilton-Wentworth reported that they provide equitable access to all students who require Empower™. Their process for selecting candidates explicitly includes students with MID or who have a “slow learner profile” as well as non-identified students with and without IEPs.

A few boards recognized that early intervention must be provided immediately without requiring psychoeducational assessments. For example, Simcoe Muskoka Catholic used funds provided for professional assessments by the Ministry to purchase SRA interventions. The board noted: “It made a lot of sense to increase intervention levels and possibly decrease assessment in the longer term. We are trying to do phonemic and phonics instruction early on without waiting for assessment.”

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Monitoring student progress

Ontario boards do not currently have a consistent system to measure students’ progress or response to an intervention, or to monitor long-term effects. School boards should collect valid and reliable data on students’ immediate and long-term outcomes, to inform their decisions about individual student programming and efforts to evaluate program effectiveness.

Boards need standardized measures to judge if an intervention has been successful for a student. Success means improving outcome scores to the average range on measures of reading accuracy, fluency and comprehension. If a student has not come into the average range, then the school must provide further intervention and programming. Monitoring progress can also tell educators about the nature of a student’s continuing difficulties, to help inform next steps.

Boards often reported using students’ book-reading levels to examine the effectiveness of an intervention. This is problematic for gauging progress in any intervention, including guided reading approaches (for example, Reading Recovery®, LLI). Book-level systems do not measure what aspects of reading are contributing to the students’ difficulties in reading and understanding texts. For example, a student could increase by many levels, and may even reach the benchmark for their grade by increasing their oral prediction skills without also increasing their word-reading and decoding skills. However, word-reading and related decoding skills must increase to improve the student’s reading trajectory.

Another problem with using these assessment systems is that each increase in level is not a meaningful unit and cannot be reliably interpreted. Book-reading levels are not interval units of measurement (just as grade-equivalent scores are not). This means that the “amount of improvement” between each level is not comparable. A student moving from level B to level C is not comparable to that student later moving, or an older student moving, from level G to level 1.

Similarly, a three-level increase by students from early to mid-Grade 1 is not comparable to a three-level increase for students in early to mid-Grades 2, 3 or 4. Yet, many boards judge individual student success in a program and the program’s overall effectiveness on reports of students’ book-reading levels and increases in those levels. Some boards reported the number of students meeting a grade-level benchmark alongside the average number of units of increase across students. These methods are not adequate to judge student progress.

Most boards do not currently use standardized measures of reading.[1079] They use program-specific assessments designed to test for the skills taught during a given intervention. These assessments should be supplemented with standardized reading measures to evaluate student progress and make further programming decisions. For example, the Empower™ Reading Decoding and Spelling programs have a pre- and post-test assessment for five program-specific measures.[1080] These measures alone do not help with decisions about how much a student has improved on generalized word-reading accuracy and fluency, or about whether these skills are now within the solidly average range.[1081]

Hamilton-Wentworth has a good foundation for monitoring progress. It tests students before and after receiving the Empower™ program. The board includes standardized measures of word-reading accuracy (a word identification subtest), non-word-reading accuracy (a word attack subtest) and reading comprehension (passage comprehension subtest).

Adding in word-reading efficiency and/or text-reading fluency measures would complete this battery of monitoring. These measures are each very brief subtests that can be given by a range of school personnel, and provide necessary information to make decisions on individual students. Other boards should adopt a similar approach to Hamilton-Wentworth and add tests to measure fluency. This would be useful to inform decisions about individual students and for program evaluation across all interventions.

These standardized reading measures and decision-making processes are necessary to judge a student’s response to the full range of school-based interventions, including SRA Reading Mastery, SRA Corrective Reading, and Lexia® Core 5®.

Students in early reading interventions will also need standardized measures of phonemic awareness, sound-letter fluency, and reading and decoding.

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Program evaluation

Most boards do not track outcomes from interventions at a system level.[1082] Many of the same issues with student progress monitoring also apply to the how school boards examine program effectiveness.

Boards examined program effectiveness in a variety of different ways – some more valid than others. As noted earlier, book-reading assessments are not valid or reliable.

Some boards used these approaches:

  • Comparing pre- and post-intervention book-reading levels
  • Assessing whether students improved on one or more measures, sometimes specific to the intervention program
  • Comparing students’ improvement in an intervention program with a group of students who did not have the intervention.

Although these approaches are a good first step, they are not enough to evaluate an intervention program. They do not tell boards if foundational word-reading skills were addressed to support, and correct, the trajectory for continued reading development.

Program evaluations need to track student progress over time and ask, in a valid and more methodologically rigorous way, some central questions:

  1. What proportion of students who received the intervention were brought into the average range in word-reading, fluency and comprehension skills?
  2. Are these students successful in their classroom academic tasks and on future standardized assessments (such as provincial assessments)?

Boards need to use standardized word-reading, word- and text-reading fluency, and comprehension measures to evaluate the overall effectiveness of the interventions. This approach will provide the best information on program effectiveness. When boards assess programs properly, they can determine which programs are best suited for students based on their grade level or the severity of their decoding and word-reading difficulties.

One board produced a report comparing pre- and post-test PM Benchmark levels for students in Grades 4–6 who had completed the Empower™ program. The report showed students’ PM Benchmark levels increased after completing the program. However, we do not know if students may have increased similarly without the intervention. Critically, the board did not include measures that could gauge the proportion of students whose word-reading accuracy and fluency came into the average range.

This school board tracked the Grade 6 EQAO results of approximately half of the students in the Empower™ program (28 students). About one-third of these students met grade-level expectations in reading. Tracking students’ results over time is a good practice. It also highlights that despite a pre- to post-test increase in book-reading levels, many students needed further intervention and programming to become proficient readers and meet provincial standards. Pre- and post-test assessments alone are not sufficient.

As well, other boards did not adequately design their analysis of Empower™ to make conclusions about program effectiveness. Boards made conclusions that Empower™ as delivered through a special education program[1083] increased students’ reading more than the regular, school-based Empower™ program, and that students with lower pre-scores improved more. However, students in special education classrooms generally had lower pre-scores, which confuses the results and any valid conclusions that can be made. One board examined students’ change scores using Empower’s specific measures and on the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA). Change scores look at post-test (after intervention) minus pre-test (before intervention). They are less reliable measures of program effectiveness because they incorporate measurement error associated with two testing periods. 

Boards do not adequately evaluate their in-house developed programs to have confidence in their effectiveness and to support their continued use as evidence-based interventions. For example, two school boards reported using the same phonological awareness program as an early intervention. However, one board’s materials examining the program do not meet methodological standards to support continuing its use as an evidence-based early intervention program. To show the effectiveness of these programs, boards must use methodologically sound and rigorous examinations.

The standard for adopting early interventions in boards appeared much lower than for later interventions. This is not in the best interest of individual students, teachers, schools or boards. Standards for adopting early interventions should be high, as these have the potential for the largest effect on the most students. Boards should invest in early interventions supported by the research literature, and evaluate them in-house.

It will be essential that boards and the Ministry work with experts to develop and implement valid program evaluation protocols. It will be important to give sufficient time and resources to develop and validate the evaluation questions and the skills to measure and follow over time.

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Professional development for in-service teachers

Educators providing interventions need thorough and effective training in program delivery, with initial and ongoing coaching.

There was significant variation among boards on the amount of professional development and support they gave to educators carrying out interventions. All boards with Empower noted that the professional development came almost exclusively from the Hospital for Sick Children program staff and included ongoing coaching. This was a requirement to teach this intervention program. Boards gave less attention to adequate professional development and ongoing coaching for teachers running other programs for their current tier 2 or 3 decoding and word-reading-focused interventions.

Similar to previous studies,[1084] the research team that studied the Ministry reading pilot project also found teaching a program such as Empower requires explicit training in skills such as phonemic awareness, the alphabetic principle (relations between letters and the sounds they make) and morphological knowledge (the structure and formation of words and how to use this knowledge to pronounce, derive meaning from and write words). The research team cited studies that suggest more training in early reading skills and processes for pre- and in-service teachers might be needed to develop this knowledge base.

In their final report, the Ministry research team suggested that school boards could offer an AQ course for all teachers (not just special education teachers), similar to training provided in other areas of the curriculum (for example, math):

One implication of the perceived value of the training to teach Empower™ is that school boards may wish to offer training to staff, where needed, (particularly elementary teachers and special education personnel) in the fundamental processes related to reading acquisition and the needs of learners with reading difficulties. This training content could include skills such as how to teach blending sounds, how to correct errors in word analysis, how to analyze errors to understand students’ strengths and needs in the alphabetic principle...

The team further suggests that special education staff, SLPs and school psychologists may be resources to draw on for this training.

The Ministry reading pilot project also made findings about the role of principals as agents of change, and the importance of sharing information with the homeroom teacher about interventions where withdrawal is needed. As school leaders, principals play a key role in setting the tone for what is being taught in their schools. They provide professional development opportunities, purchase resources and have ongoing conversations with school educators. Principals can help lead professional learning communities that will bring the science of reading into their schools. Studies have shown that principals’ support contributes positively to student outcomes in word reading.[1085] The Ministry reading pilot project found:

Principals played a key role in the implementation process as they assisted with a variety of implementation challenges such as space considerations for the intervention classroom, scheduling of the intervention provision time across multiple classrooms, the provision of professional development opportunities for school staff related to the intervention, and promoting parent engagement for those parents whose children were involved in the program. Our ninth helpful finding was the importance of sharing information with the homeroom teachers about Empower™. We noticed that when school staff understood Empower™ and how it helped their students, their [sic] appeared to be more buy-in to the withdrawal process. This finding suggests that any implementation of a program where withdrawal is needed, it is important to facilitate an understanding of the program and its benefits to the homeroom teachers.[1086]

Pre-service education is equally as important for classroom teachers. Effective instruction in foundational word-reading skills in the classroom reduces the number of students needing intensive interventions later on. As noted throughout this report, tier 1 instruction in the early grades (Kindergarten to Grade 3) needs to include class-wide explicit, direct instruction in word reading, ongoing screening of all students, and immediate interventions. When school leaders and teachers have the knowledge and tools to teach all students word-reading accuracy and fluency, schools and families will be able to work together without need for blame.

Without effective instruction in each tier, it is common to see the responsibility for learning to read transferred to families, often accompanied with explicit or implicit blame placed on home-literacy practices. Some school improvement plans centre largely around increasing family literacy. This is not appropriate. When teachers are not being adequately prepared on best practices, it is not reasonable to expect parents to address their children’s struggles to learn to read.

Many teachers reported not being taught about what works for students with reading difficulties. They felt they had to research information themselves but did not have enough time, and would have appreciated a resource with “best practices in a succinct and practical manner.” One survey respondent, a Grade 1 teacher, said:

I would say that the need for reading interventions might be decreased if we changed the way we deliver the language program in the Early Years and Grade 1. Thankfully, my colleague who teaches Kindergarten still manages to teach most students the sounds and names of the alphabet and does phoneme work with them as well, within the play-based learning experience of Kindergarten. By the time they come to me in Grade 1, many kids know their alphabet. My program is heavily based on direct instruction of phonics, word families, diagraphs, blends, etc. I have just pulled this stuff together from many sources.  I would love to follow a prepackaged guided plan that could be provided by my board. I feel that more students would learn to read in Grade 1 and 2 where they should be learning to read and interventions should be offered in late Grade 1 and early Grade 2…This seems to me a better approach than waiting until Grade. 4 and 5 when by this time, all subjects are suffering because the child can't read.

One inquiry board echoed this observation and said:

Teachers have never been taught how to teach a child how to read. Students coming out of [teachers’ education programs] lack this expertise – we are seeing some shifts but they are not significant. The work is left to boards to make sure teachers become experts in teaching kids how to read but finding time for that is limited.

The educator survey asked which reading interventions should be used. Respondents could select more than one option. Across the categories of teachers, special education teachers, SLPs and psychologists, participants most often chose Empower™ as the intervention tool that should be used.

Classroom and special education teachers’ second intervention choice was different from SLPs and psychologists. They chose LLI second while SLPs and psychologists chose Orton-Gillingham.

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Table 22: Preferred interventions by profession[1087]


Classroom teachers

Special education teachers













Corrective Reading





Reading Mastery





Wilson Reading Systems®






Table 22 shows a trend where evidence-based interventions are more favored by SLPs and psychologists compared to teachers. This may be because teachers are not trained on evidence-based reading interventions during their pre-service and in-service education. The majority of educators responded that they did not receive training on how to address reading disabilities.

Research has linked teachers’ pre-service experience to outcomes for students with disabilities.[1088] Recent research from the U.S. found that teachers are more effective when their special education pre-service preparation on Kindergarten to Grade 12 literacy is evidence-based. This study, conducted in Washington State, found that evidence-based literacy practices were more present in school districts than in the teacher preparation programs. However, when teachers were taught evidence-based instruction (phonological awareness, phonics and reading fluency) in their pre-service programs and when their school districts emphasized these practices, students showed larger reading gains.[1089] Also, in school districts that emphasized balanced literacy approaches, students with disabilities had considerably lower reading gains.[1090]

Many inquiry boards stressed that teachers are not adequately trained on how students acquire literacy skills, particularly students who struggle. One board acknowledged that “kids do fall through the cracks even though everyone does their best” because of this lack of preparation on reading.

There are clear steps that Ontario can take to meet the needs of students with reading difficulties/disabilities. Preparing teachers in evidence-based instruction and intervention and providing evidence-based interventions to students, at every tier, will lessen the academic, financial, social and emotional burden on students, families and teachers.

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The OHRC makes the following recommendations:


Standardize evidence-based reading interventions

68. The Ministry should provide stable, enveloped yearly funding for evidence-based reading interventions in word-reading accuracy and fluency.


69. The Ministry should work with external expert(s) to mandate and standardize evidence-based interventions in word-reading accuracy and fluency. The Ministry and its external expert(s) should:

  1. Select appropriate early interventions (Kindergarten to Grade 1) and later interventions (Grade 2 and onwards) that are evidence-based and that school boards must choose from to implement
  2. Make sure the interventions are systematic, explicit programs in phonics instruction and building decoding and word-reading accuracy and fluency. Early intervention should target the foundational skills of phonemic awareness, sound-letter knowledge, decoding and word-reading accuracy and fluency. Later interventions should include more advanced orthographic patterns, syllables and morphemes
  3. Make sure there are sufficient tier 1 class programs in these foundational reading skills that prevent later reading difficulties and that are used for whole-class instruction
  4. Set out the steps necessary to effectively implement these programs within individual schools and boards. This should include the necessary resources, funds, comprehensive, sustained and job-embedded training and ongoing support
  5. Set up a process to make sure the list of approved reading interventions undergoes a periodic review to ensure it reflects the latest scientific research, and the interventions being used are shown to be effective in the data collected by the boards.


70. School boards should immediately stop using reading interventions that do not have a strong evidence base or are based on the three-cueing approach for students who struggle with word reading. These programs should not be used for students who struggle with word reading, and students at risk for or identified or diagnosed with reading disabilities or dyslexia.


Develop eligibility criteria

71. The Ministry should work with external expert(s) to mandate and standardize evidence-based eligibility criteria to receive reading interventions. The Ministry should:

  1. Set out the recommended grade levels to receive the specific interventions
  2. Outline clear and appropriate decision-making rules for selecting evidence-based programs, and for matching students to intervention programs. Standardized scores or percentiles on reading measures (e.g. a score that is one standard deviation or more below the mean on a standardized test of word recognition or decoding) should replace vague language about being “significantly” below grade level. These decision rules should be universally applied.


72. The Ministry and school boards should make sure that any student who struggles with reading should receive an intervention. Access to interventions should never be based on a formally identified disability, diagnosis or requirement to have at least average intelligence or a discrepancy (or inconsistency) between intellectual abilities and achievement. Students with other disabilities should never be disqualified from receiving an intervention.


Make evidence-based reading interventions available

73. School boards should make sure every school has at least one evidence-based reading intervention that can be implemented with students in each grade level and for each tier, and interventions are available to all students who require them. Students should not have to change schools to receive evidence-based interventions.


74. School boards should make sure resources for effective classroom instruction and interventions are distributed in a way that meets the needs of schools that may be deemed higher priority in terms of high numbers of students at risk for or with reading difficulties.


Remove inappropriate eligibility requirements

75. School boards should never require a psychoeducational assessment as a precondition for receiving an evidence-based reading intervention.


76. School boards should provide small-group early and later interventions (tier 2) for students when evidence-based classroom instruction (tier 1) is not adequate for them to develop average-level foundational word-reading skills. School boards should provide more intensive and individualized interventions (tier 3) to students who do not respond adequately to tier 1 instruction and 2 interventions, based on progress monitoring with standardized measures of reading. At tier 3, a professional (psychoeducational or speech-language pathology) assessment could be used to fully assess the learning challenges, but should not be required or delay tier 3 intervention (see recommendations in section 12, Professional assessments).


77. School boards should not use grade- or age-equivalent scores for entry into intervention programs. Instead, boards should:

  1. Use standardized scores or percentiles at each grade level and provide interventions to students below a pre-determined criteria
  2. Include fluency scores, as students who score adequately on accuracy but low on fluency may still struggle with reading comprehension and will benefit from intervention
  3. Collect information on whether and to what degree foundational reading skills are impairing the student’s classroom achievement
  4. Consider measurement errors when a student just misses a cut-off score for a program. These students should be considered for interventions if they are also experiencing classroom difficulties.


78. School boards should not use results from intelligence tests and/or the absence of another disability (for example, ADHD, ASD) as prerequisites to receive a reading intervention.


Develop a mechanism for centralized support

79. The Ministry should determine how boards must support and monitor their interventions for program fidelity (how and when the intervention is delivered).


80. The Ministry should set up a mechanism to support boards in implementing and monitoring intervention programs. This will help resolve inconsistencies and could serve to consolidate best practices among school boards, so that boards do not need to reinvent the wheel and can share successes and failures.


Mandate data collection

81. The Ministry should work with external expert(s) to mandate data collection on the selected reading interventions, to improve accountability and decision-making procedures. The Ministry should:

  1. Mandate that school boards track the effectiveness of interventions for individual students through standardized individual assessments/progress monitoring (including analysis of student errors to determine the nature of difficulties)
  2. Develop valid and reliable progress monitoring and outcome measures to inform programming decisions for individual students, and to inform boards’ efforts to evaluate program effectiveness. Progress monitoring measures should include word-reading accuracy, non-word-reading accuracy, reading comprehension, word-reading efficiency (fluency) and text-reading fluency measures. For early reading interventions, standardized measures should include phonemic awareness, sound-letter fluency, and reading and decoding accuracy and fluency
  3. Require school boards to input this data into a centralized system and break down the information by demographics to identify and address any equity gaps
  4. Publish provincial data, without any identifying information, on the progress of students and trends
  5. Mandate that school boards track the overall effectiveness of interventions to assess and compare what is showing the best outcome for students. Students’ book-reading levels should not be used to examine the effectiveness of an intervention program
  6. Require school boards to track the length of time it takes for individual students who are identified as at risk according to screening tools, to receive an intervention and the type of intervention received.


Mandate accountability measures

82. School boards should make sure clear standards are in place to communicate with students and parents about available interventions. If a student is receiving a reading intervention, the school should communicate details about the intervention such as information about the program, the timing, expected length of the intervention, results from progress monitoring and what steps the school will take if the student does not respond well to the intervention.


Ensure staff receive adequate training on reading intervention

83. The Ministry of Education should provide increased funding to hire and train additional teachers to provide tier 2 and tier 3 interventions, without increasing class sizes. 


84. School boards should make sure all intervention providers have access to thorough and effective training in program delivery, with initial and ongoing coaching.


85. School boards should build collaborative teams from personnel with knowledge and experience in the science of reading. Interdisciplinary teams may bring together special education and elementary teachers, psychologists and SLPs who have advanced their knowledge and experience in this area. These teams can develop and provide comprehensive, sustained and job-embedded professional learning on the fundamental processes related to reading, early reading skills and the needs of learners with reading difficulties.


[994] Louisa C Moats, “Can Prevailing Approaches to Reading Instruction Accomplish the Goals of RTI” (2017) 43:3 Perspectives on Language and Literacy 15 [Moats, “Can Prevailing Approaches to Reading Instruction Accomplish the Goals of RTI”]; Savage et al, “Preventative reading interventions,” supra note 765. 

[995] Torgesen, “The prevention of reading difficulties” supra note 59; Moats, Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science, supra note 22; Partanen & Siegel, “Long-term Outcome of the Early Identification and Intervention of Reading Disabilities,” supra note 65.

[996] Stephanie Al Otaiba & Joseph Torgesen, “Effects from Intensive Standardized Kindergarten and First-Grade Interventions for the Prevention of Reading Difficulties” in Shane R Jimerson et al, eds, Handbook of Response to Intervention (Boston: Springer, 2007) 212.

[997] NICHD: National Reading Panel Report, supra note 654.

[998] Torgesen, “The prevention of reading difficulties” supra note 59; Moats, Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science, supra note 22; Partanen & Siegel, ‌“Long-term Outcome of the Early Identification and Intervention of Reading Disabilities,” supra note 65.

[999] Moats, “Can Prevailing Approaches to Reading Instruction Accomplish the Goals of RTI,” supra note 994; Moats, Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science, supra note 22; Jennifer Buckingham et al, “Why Jaydon Can't Read: The Triumph of Ideology over Evidence in Teaching Reading” (2013) 29:3 Policy: A Journal of Public Policy and Ideas 21; Louisa C Moats, “Structured Literacy: Effective Instruction for Students with Dyslexia and Related Reading Difficulties” (2019) 45:2 Perspectives on Language and Literacy 9, online: International Dyslexia Organization

[1000] David L Sackett et al, Evidence-Based Medicine: How to Practice and Teach EBM, 2nd ed (London: Churchill Lvingstone, 2000).

[1001] Sharon E Straus et al, Evidence-Based Medicine: How to Practice and Teach EBM, 3rd ed (Edinburgh: Elsevier/Churchill Livingstone, 2005).

[1002] Juel, supra note 65.

[1003] Cunningham & Stanovich, “Early reading acquisition and its relation to reading experience and ability 10 years later,” supra note 73; Stanovich, “Matthew effects in reading,” supra note 73. For a simple explanation of the Matthew Effect, see Rippel, supra note 73. See also Susan du Plessis, “’Matthew Effect’ in Reading: Why Children with Reading Difficulties Fall Farther and Farther Behind” (26 August 2021), online: Edublox Online Tutor

[1004] Vellutino et al, “Response to intervention as a vehicle for distinguishing between children with and without reading disabilities”, supra note 41; Scott Lingley, supra note 60.

[1005] M W Lovett et al, “Early intervention for children at risk for reading disabilities: The impact of grade at intervention and individual differences on intervention outcome” (2017) 109:7 Journal of Educational Pyschology 889 [Lovett et al, “Early intervention”].

[1006] Hudson et al, “The complex nature of reading fluency: A multidimensional view,” supra note 799.

[1007] Torgesen & Hudson, Reading fluency, supra note 31.

[1008] Ontario Ministry of Education, Early Reading Strategy, supra note 201.

[1009] Gersten et al, Assisting Students Struggling with Reading, supra note 58 at 4.

[1010] Ontario, Ministry of Education, Early Reading Strategy, supra note 201 at 35.

[1011] Douglas Fuchs & Lynn S Fuchs, “Introduction to Response to Intervention: What, Why and How Valid is It? (2006) 41:1 Reading Research Quarterly 93 [Fuchs & Fuchs, “Introduction to Response to Intervention”].

[1012] The Ministry of Education define scaffolding as: “The instructional approach that provides…support at the right times in the student’s cognitive development – that is, at the times that the student is “ready to learn” – is called “scaffolding.” In differentiated instruction, teachers scaffold and tailor instruction to individual students’ needs and understanding, providing the emotional support and opportunities for practice they need.” Ontario Ministry of Education, Learning for All, supra note 686 at 13.

[1013] J K Torgesen, “Preventing early reading failure – and its devastating downward spiral” (2004), 28:3 American Educator 6.

[1014] And will remain below the average range (below about the 26th–30th percentile).

[1015] Geva, “Issues in assessment of reading disabilities in L2 children,” supra note 453; Thompson et al, “Effectiveness of supplement reading instruction,” supra note 691.

[1016] R M Gersten & E Geva, “Teaching reading to early language learners” (April 2003) Educational Leadership 44.

[1017]For a review of these issues, see E Geva, “Second-Language Oral Proficiency,” supra note 693. 

[1018] Adelson et al, Identification, Assessment and Instruction, supra note 452.

[1019] Intervention Taxonomy Brief: Levelled Literacy Intervention (September 2021), online: National Center on Intensive Intervention at American Institute for Research; Carolyn R Ransford-Kaldon et al, Implementation of Effective Intervention: An Empirical Study to Evaluate the Efficacy of Fountas & Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention System (Memphis, TN: Center for Research in Educational Policy, University of Memphis, 2010), online: ERIC; What Works Clearinghouse Intervention Report: Leveled Literacy Intervention (US Department of Education: 2017), online: Institute of Education Sciences; Savage et al, “Preventative Reading Interventions,” supra note 765. 

[1020] “Early reading intervention program proving very successful” (June 2013), online: Pearson Canada

[1021] Deborah Bradford & Wai-Yin Wan, Reading Recovery: A Sector-Wide Analysis (Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation, The New South Wales Department of Education, 2015), online: Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation; Scott Baker et al, “Experts Say Reading Recovery Is Not Effective, Leaves Too Many Children Behind: An Open Letter from Reading Researchers” (20 May 2002), online Wrightslaw; Tim Dodd, “$50m Reading Recovery®Reading Recovery®® program is ineffective, NSW Education Department study finds,” Financial Review (6 September 2015), online:; Jordan Baker, “F for fail: NSW Education dumps another reading program after review,” The Sydney Morning Herald (12 September 2020), online:; James W Chapman & William E Tunmer, “Is Reading Recovery an Effective Intervention for Students with Reading Difficulties? A Critique of the i3 Scale-Up Study” (2016) 37:7 Reading Psychology 1025; James W Chapman & William E Tunmer, “Reading Recovery: Does it Work” (2011) 37:4 Perspectives on Language and Literacy 21; William E Tunmer et al, “Why the New Zealand National Literacy Strategy has failed and what can be done about it: Evidence from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2011 and Reading Recovery monitoring reports” (2013) 18:2 Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties 139, online: Research Gate . Significant difficulties with the research include dropping students with the most severe reading difficulties from the program and research outcomes; teaching cueing systems for levelled book-reading rather than targeting foundational word-reading skills; comparing the one-on-one tutoring to a no-treatment comparison group rather than alternative treatment comparison groups; the high cost of the one-on-one program and fading effects over time for students with word-level reading difficulties like dyslexia and students at risk for word reading difficulties.

[1022] Barbara R Foorman & Joseph Torgesen, “Critical Elements of Classroom and Small‐Group Instruction Promote Reading Success in All Children” (2001) 16:4 Learning Disabilities Research & Practice 203, online: University of Florida College of Education [Foorman & Torgesen, “Critical Elements”].

[1023] Long-term studies typically follow students with reading disabilities for 1-2 years after the intervention. Torgesen and his colleagues, for example, showed good maintenance of gains at the two-year follow-up point: J K Torgesen et al, “Intensive remedial instruction for children with severe reading disabilities: Immediate and long-term outcomes from two instructional approaches” (2001) 34:1 Journal of learning disabilities 33 [Torgesen et al, “Intensive remedial instruction for children with severe reading disabilities]. Studies are largely absent over a 5–10-year period (but see Blachman et al, “Intensive reading remediation in grade 2 or 3: are there effects a decade later?” (2014) 106:1 Journal of Educational Psychology 46 (found small positive effects at the 10-year follow-up period on word decoding skills). See also Linda S Siegel, “Early Identification and Intervention to Prevent Reading Failure: A Response to Intervention (RTI) Initiative” (2020) 37:2 The Educational and Developmental Psychologist 140, online: Research Gate [Siegel, “Early Identification and Intervention to Prevent Reading Failure]. In this latter study, “children were assessed in kindergarten and every year through to 7th grade for this study and as part of the progress-monitoring

program. The study was a longitudinal one, beginning in kindergarten when the children entered formal schooling at age 5 and continued until the children were 13 years old in Grade 7. They were tested every year on reading, spelling, mathematical skills, and oral language and memory skills. The initial assessment was designed to determine the children who were at risk for reading difficulties.” The rate of reading difficulties was significantly reduced up to and including Grade 7.

[1024] “Open Court Reading Foundational Skills and Word Analysis Kits” (last visited 31 January 2022), online: McGraw Hill mheducati‌o‌n‌.‌com/prek-12/program/open-court-reading-foundational-skills-word-analysis-kits/MKTSP-THT03M0.html?page=1&sortby=title&order=asc&bu=seg

[1025] Barbara R Foorman et al, “The Role of Instruction in Learning to Read: Preventing Reading Failure in At-Risk Children” (1998) 90:1 Journal of Educational Psychology 37; Foorman & Torgesen, “Critical Elements,” supra note 1022.

[1026] Wilson Language Training® (last visited 31 January 2022), online: Wilson Language Training® ‌‌s‌/‌wilson-reading-system/ [Wilson Language Training,® Wilson Language Training®].

[1027] Joseph Torgesen et al, National Assessment Of Title I Interim Report – Volume II: Closing the Reading Gap: First Year Findings from a Randomized Trial of Four Reading Interventions for Striving Readers: A Report Prepared for IES by the Corporation for the Advancement of Policy Evaluation (Washington, DC: US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, 2006), online: U.S. Department of Education [Torgesen et al, National Assessment of Title I Interim Report]; What Works Clearinghouse Intervention Report: Wilson Reading System® (U.S. Department of Education: 2017), online: Institute of Education Sciences [IES, What Works Clearinghouse Report: Wilson Reading System®].

[1028] “North Vancouver School District Learning Resources” (last visited 31 January 2022), online: North Vancouver School District

[1029] Siegel, “Early Identification and Intervention to Prevent Reading Failure,” supra note 1023.

[1030] “About” (last visited 31 January 2022), online: Remediation Plus System

[1031] Foorman & Torgesen, “Critical Elements,” supra note 1022.

[1032] Fuchs & Fuchs, “Introduction to Response to Intervention,” supra note 1011.

[1033] Rhonda Martinussen & Kimberly Tsuhimoto, Systemic Review of Research Leading to the Development of the Empower™ Program (Decoding and Spelling) (Ontario Ministry of Education, May 2019).

[1034] Ibid.

[1035] Robin D Morris et al, “Multi-Component Remediation for Developmental Reading Disabilities: IQ, Socioeconomic Status and Race as Factors in Remedial Outcome” (2012) 45:2 Journal of Learning Disabilities 151, online: Research Gate‌_for_Developmental_Reading_Disabilities_IQ_Socioeconomic_Status_and_Race_as_Factors_in_Remedial_Outcome [Morris et al, “Multi-Component Remediation”].

[1036] Ibid.

[1037] Ibid.

[1038] Maureen W Lovett et al, “Interventions for Reading Difficulties: A Comparison of Response to Intervention by ELL and EFL Struggling Readers” (2008) 41:4 Journal of Learning Disabilities 333, online: Research Gate

[1039] Lovett et al, “Early Intervention,” supra note 1005. (The Empower program was formerly known as the Phonological and Strategy Training Program – PHAST).

[1040] Jean Stockard & Kurt Engelmann, “The Development of Early Academic Success: The Impact of Direct Instruction's Reading Mastery” (2008) 1:1 Journal of Behavior Assessment and Intervention in Children 2; Kerry Hempenstal, “Corrective Reading: An Evidence‐Based Remedial Reading Intervention” (2008) 32:1 Australasian Journal of Special Education 23, online: Research Gate‌ective_Reading_An_EvidenceBased_Remedial_Reading_Intervention.

[1041] McGraw Hill, “Pre-K to 12 SRA Reading Interventions”, online:

[1042] What Works Clearinghouse Intervention Report: Corrective Reading (U.S. Department of Education: 2017), online: Institute of Education Sciences

[1043] “SpellRead: Every Student Reading Efficiently” (last visited 31 January 2022), online: Pro-Ed Inc   

[1044] Carol A Rashotte, Kay MacPhee & Joseph K Torgesen, “The Effectiveness of a Group Reading Instruction Program with Poor Readers in Multiple Grades” (2001) 24:2 Learning Disability Quarterly 119. Torgesen et al, National Assessment of Title I Interim Report, supra note 1027; Jamie L Metsala & Margaret D David, “The Effects of Age and Sublexical Automaticity on Reading Outcomes for Students with Reading Disabilities” (2007) 40:S1 Journal of Research in Reading 209, online:  Wiley Online Library; [Metsala & David, “The Effects of Age and Sublexical Automaticity”]; Jamie L Metsala & Margaret D David, “Improving English Reading Fluency and Comprehension for Children with Reading Fluency Disabilities” (2021) Dyslexia, online:  Wiley Online Library [Metsala & David, “Improving English Reading Fluency and Comprehension”]; Metsala et al, “An examination of reading skills and reading outcomes for youth involved in a crime prevention program,” supra note 66.

[1045] “Just Words®” (last visited 31 January 2022), online: Wilson Language Training®

[1046] Wilson Language Training,® Wilson Language Training,® supra note 1026.

[1047] “What is the Orton-Gillingham Approach?” (last visited 31 January 2022), online: Orton-Gillingham Academy

[1048] IES, What Works Clearinghouse Report: Wilson Reading System®, supra note 1027.

[1049] “Evidence-Based Programs” (last visited 31 January 2022), online: Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes

[1050] Joseph K Torgesen, “Computer-Assisted Instruction To Prevent Early Reading Difficulties In Students At Risk For Dyslexia: Outcomes From Two Instructional Approaches” (2010) 60:1 Annals of Dyslexia 40, online: Research Gate; Joseph Torgesen et al, Summary of Outcomes from First Grade Study with Read, Write, and Type and Auditory Discrimination in Depth Instruction and Software with At-Risk Children: FCRR Technical Report No 2 (Tallahassee, FL: Florida Center for Reading Research, 2003), online: ERIC

[1051] Torgesen et al, “Intensive remedial instruction for children with severe reading disabilities, supra note 1023.

[1052] “Early Literacy Tool” (last visited 31 January 2022), online: Concordia University, Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance

[1053] Philip C Abrami et al, “The Effects of ABRACADABRA on Reading Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis of Applied Field Research Data” (2015) 26:4 Journal of Interactive Learning Research 337 [Abrami et al, “The Effects of ABRACADABRA”]; Phil C Abrami et al, “Using Technology to Assist Children Learning to Read and Write” in Teena Willoughby & Eileen Wood, eds, Children's Learning in a Digital World (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2008) 129; Monique Brodeur et al, (2011). “L'analphabétisme crée l'obligation d'agir” in Miriam Fahmy, ed, L'état du Québec 2011 (Montreal : Boréal and Institut du Nouveau Monde, 2012) 373; Geoffrey Hipps et al, “ABRACADARA: The Research, Design and Development of Web-Based Early Literacy Software” in S Pierre, ed, Développement, intégration et évaluation des technologies de formation et d'apprentissage (DIVA): Innovations et tendances en technologies de formation et d'apprentissage (Montreal : Presse Internationale Polytechnique, 2005) 89; Robert Savage et al, ABRACADABRA : A Study in the Development, Implementation, and Effectiveness of a Web-Based Literacy Resource (Canadian Council on Learning, 2009), online: COPIAN

[1054] Noella A Piquette et al, “A Cluster Randomized Control Field Trial of the ABRACADARA Web-Based Reading Technology: Replication and Extension of Basic Findings” (4 December 2014) 5 Frontiers in Psychology 1413, online:

[1055] Abrami et al, “The Effects of ABRACADABRA,” supra note 1053; Joanne Arciuli & Benjamn Bailey, “Efficacy of ABRACADABRA Literacy Instruction in a School Setting for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders” (2019) 85:1 Research in Developmental Disabilities 104 [Arciuli & Bailey]; Erin M Comaskey et al, “A Randomised Efficacy Study of Web-Based Synthetic and Analytic Programmes Among Disadvantaged Urban Kindergarten Children” (2009) 32:1 Journal of Research in Reading 92.

[1056] Jennifer R Wolgemuth et al, “ABRACADABRA aids Indigenous and non-Indigenous early literacy in Australia: Evidence from a multisite randomized controlled trial” (2013) 67 Computers and Education 250, online: Research Gate

[1057] “Play Roly free Mini Readers program” (last visited 31 January 2022), online: Play Roly

[1058] Stephen Parker, Reading Instruction and Phonics: Theory and Practice for Teachers: 2nd Edition (Boston, MA: Royce-Kotran Publishing, 2019), online: Stephen Parker

[1059] Paul O’Callaghan et al, “A Randomized Controlled Trial of An Early-Intervention, Computer-Based Literacy Program to Boost Phonological Skills in 4-6 Year Old Children” (2016) 86:4 British Journal of Educational Psychology 546, online: Queen’s University Belfast

[1060] Rachel Schecter et al, “Exploration of a Blender Learning Approach to Reading Instruction for Low SES Students in Early Elementary Grades” (2015) 32:3–4 Computers in Schools 183, online: Research Gate

[1061] The Ontario Ministry of Education does not mandate the tiered approach but recommends it as a guiding principle in its resource guide: Ontario, Ministry of Education, Learning for All, supra note 686 at 22.

[1062] Ontario Ministry of Education, Learning for All, supra note 686 at 22.

[1063] Kyle Allen Robinson & Nancy Lynn Hutchinson, “Tiered Approaches to the Education of Students with Learning Disabilities” (2014), online: Research Gate

[1064] D’Angiulli et al, “Schooling,” supra note 764; Heisz et al, supra note 121; Caroline Alphonso & Tavia Grant, “A Tale of Two Schools: The Correlation Between Income and Education in Toronto” (16 November 2013) The Globe and Mail, online:

[1065] The Ontario Ministry of Education extended the pilot to further evaluate the program and in response to labour relations and COVID-19 disruptions.

[1066] See the report for a complete picture of the number of participants with co-existing disabilities (e.g. language and attention disabilities, etc.).

[1067] Lovett et al, “Early Intervention,” supra note 1005.

[1068] Taken from Rhonda Martinussen et al, “Update to the LD reference Group on LD Pilot” (27 May 2020).

[1069] Ibid.

[1070] Arciuli & Bailey, supra note 1055; Lovett et al, “Early Intervention,” supra note 1005; Morris et al, “Multi-Component Remediation,” supra 1035.

[1071] Ibid.

[1072] Torgesen, “The prevention of reading difficulties” supra note 59; Moats, Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science, supra note 22; Partanen & Siegel, “Long-term Outcome of the Early Identification and Intervention of Reading Disabilities,” supra note 65.

[1073] EQAO, Literacy Highlights 2017-2018, supra note 346.

[1074] IDA, Lifting the Curtain on EQAO Scores, supra note 59 at 19.

[1075] Catts & Hogan, “Dyslexia,” supra note 708; Savage et al, “Preventative Reading Interventions,” supra note 765. Lesaux & Siegel, “The development of reading in children who speak English as a second language,” supra note 711; Partanen & Siegel, “Long-term Outcome of the Early Identification and Intervention of Reading Disabilities,” supra note 65.

[1076] This can over-estimate the student’s foundational word-reading skills or put the focus on poorly developed language skills, at the expense of also addressing word-decoding difficulties. Further, fluency is not defined in a way consistent with making solid judgements about students’ increasing automaticity with word reading. Without measures of foundational word-reading skills, students who need early interventions will not be identified.

[1077] Morris et al, “Multi-Component Remediation,” supra note 1035; Maureen W Lovett, et al, “Putting Struggling Readers on the PHAST Track: A Program to Integrate Phonological and Strategy-Based Remedial Reading Instruction and Maximize Outcomes” (2000) 33:5 Journal of Learning Disabilities 458; Fletcher et al, Learning disabilities, supra note 59; Jeremy Miciak et al, “Patterns of cognitive strengths and weaknesses: Identification rates, agreement, and validity for learning disabilities identification,” (2014) 29:1 School Psychology Quarterly 21, online: Research Gate‌esses_Identification_Rates_Agreement_and_Validity_for_Learning_Disabilities_Identification [Miciak et al, “Patterns of cognitive strengths and weaknesses”]; Jack M Fletcher et al, “Assessment of reading and learning disabilities a research-based intervention-oriented approach,” (2002) 40:1 Journal of School Psychology 27, online: Research Gate [Fletcher et al, “Assessment of reading and learning disabilities”].

[1078] Geva & Wade-Woolley, “Issues in the assessment of reading disability in second language children,” supra note 458.

[1079] Some boards mentioned DIBELS assessment, but it was unclear in the documentation how and when these measures were used in the MTSS framework, and how widespread they were.

[1080] Sound symbol test, sound combination test, keyword test, transfer word test, and challenge word test.

[1081] For example, a student who finishes the Empower program with standard scores below 91–92 on word-reading accuracy and fluency will need further programming to address these skills, and accommodations to help them have equitable access to the curriculum.

[1082] Boards either explicitly noted they do not track outcomes from interventions at a system level, or it became apparent from examining their program evaluation reports.

[1083] Special education programs (often in a different school than the student’s home school) typically deliver a particular intervention in a self-contained classroom.

[1084] Elaine A Cheesman et al, “First-Year Teacher Knowledge of Phonemic Awareness and Its Instruction” (2009) 32:3 Teacher Education and Special Education; Kristin L Sayeski et al, “Teacher Candidates’ Mastery of Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondence: Massed versus Distributed Practice in Teacher Education” (2017) 67:1 Annals of Dyslexia 26; Washburn et al, “Teacher Knowledge,” supra note 808; Erik Washburn et al, “Are Preservice Teachers Prepared to Teach Struggling Readers?” (2011) 61:1 Annals of Dyslexia 21.

[1085] See for example J F Carlisle et al, “Literacy coaching as a component of professional development” (2011) 24:7 Reading and Writing 773.

[1086] R Martinussen et al, Learning Disabilities Project Final Report (2021), Ministry of Education.

[1087] Respondents were able to select more than one option.

[1088] Li Feng & Tim Sass, “What Makes Special-Education Teachers Special? Teacher Training and Achievement of Students with Disabilities” (2013) 36 Economics of Education Review 122.

[1089] Roddy Theobald et al, Special Education Teacher Preparation, Literacy Instructional Alignment, and Reading Achievement for Students with High-Incidence Disabilities: CALDER Working Paper No 253-0621 (National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research: 2021), online:  Calder Center

[1090] Ibid.

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