Statement on Ontario Human Rights Commission Right to Read Report

The Canadian Institute of Reading Recovery applauds the Ontario Human Rights Commission for the ambitious inquiry into how Ontario’s publicly funded English-speaking schools are ensuring students with reading disabilities are learning to read.  The Inquiry placed a needed spotlight on teaching students with reading disabilities, systemic issues in education and on preparing educators to teach literacy.

We wholeheartedly agree that learning to read and write is vitally important and a basic human right for all children.  We deeply believe that all children should have access to the education and professionals that will ensure they are able to learn to read and write.  

The Canadian Institute of Reading Recovery is gravely concerned, however, that some of the program evaluations and recommendations within the report do not reflect recent advances in the science of reading instruction currently endorsed by the international academic community.[1]  We would point to the International Literacy Association’s recent summary of research regarding the nature of effective, scientific reading interventions in which they caution:

“emphasis on dyslexia and direct phonics instruction is far too narrow…The comprehensive studies of Reading First interventions that had an intensive focus on decoding indicated positive effects for decoding ability but not for comprehension. Even more concerning is the unsupported claim in some recent articles that all students should receive the same decoding content in the same sequence and in the same way, which not supported by research. In fact, this practice can actually have negative consequences.[2] (p. 5)

Children in Ontario schools possess a diversity of identities, lived experiences, ways of knowing, skills and abilities.  Literacy instruction in schools, including those emphasizing word reading accuracy and fluency, must therefore arise from a deep knowledge of students and their families, support high expectations for student achievement, embed opportunities for students to build and construct their knowledge and nurture an environment in which students feel seen, heard, valued and represented.  There is nothing settled or simple about teaching children.  Gholdy Muhammad states in her book Cultivating Genius, “Students need rich meaningful experiences when learning skills – experiences that engage mind and heart and help shape positive school histories.” (p. 98).

The Canadian Institute of Reading Recovery asserts that Reading Recovery’s design meets or exceeds the 5 key requirements to teach foundational reading skills described in the report.

  1. Curriculum and instruction that reflects the scientific research on the best approaches to teach word reading. This includes explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics, which teaches grapheme to phoneme (letter-sound) relationships and using these to decode and spell words, and word-reading accuracy and fluency. It is critical to adequately prepare and support teachers to deliver this instruction.”

Reading Recovery is one of the most effective, evidence-based[3] Tier 2 literacy interventions for Grade 1 students that is available in both English and French.[4]  

A daily 30-minute Reading Recovery lesson is individualized to a student’s needs and provides explicit, direct, personalized instruction in reading and writing to develop students’ knowledge and skills in:

  • Phonological awareness and phonics
  • Word making, analysis, and morphology
  • Immediate recognition of words and spelling
  • Application of word recognition and solving skills in connected texts

“Students progress at a much faster rate in phonics when the bulk of instructional time is spent on applying the skills to authentic reading and writing experiences.” (p. 6)[5]

  • Decoding, comprehending, and self-regulation
  • Reading fluency

The development of students’ independence, self-confidence, and their formation of an identity as a reader and writer is also of critical importance in Reading Recovery.

The Canadian Institute of Reading Recovery believes that teachers require specialized training in literacy instruction to become well-equipped to teach students with reading and writing difficulties.  We applaud the Right to Read report highlighting the need for improved training of pre-service teachers and professional learning for practicing teachers.  We use a “Train the Trainer” model so that school boards build internal local capacity in their own staff to have the knowledge and skills to facilitate Reading Recovery professional learning. Teachers trained in Reading Recovery receive over 300 hours of comprehensive, job-embedded training and are specifically trained to understand a complex, research supported literacy processing theory and apply it to individual student learning. Reading Recovery implements its intervention with quality professional development and ongoing coaching for teachers through monthly professional learning sessions and regular in-school visits.  This sustained approach to professional learning is part of the school’s comprehensive approach to literacy. 

These trained teachers are a tremendous asset to the school as they work in collaboration with classroom and special education teachers and apply their Reading Recovery skills and knowledge in assessment practices, effective lesson planning and meaningful accommodations in response to student diversity[6]

Reading Recovery has been used as a Grade 1 early intervention in Canada since 1989.  In Ontario, Reading Recovery has served over 100,000 students, trained over 15,000 teachers and provided more than 4 million hours of professional learning sessions to educators.  Reading Recovery offers the experience, know-how and expertise honed over decades to be an effective part of the solution for Ontario students’ Right to Read.

  1.  “Early screening of all students using common, standardized evidence-based screening assessments twice a year from Kindergarten to Grade 2, to identify students at risk for reading difficulties for immediate, early, tiered interventions.”

Reading Recovery uses the Observation Survey for Early Literacy Achievement a reliable, valid, systematic and standard set of tasks to screen for phonological processing, word identification, spelling, and passage reading to determine Grade 1 students in need of an early literacy intervention[7].  It has been normed through research studies with Canadian students across three points of the Grade 1 school year[8].  Collectively, the tasks of the survey provide comprehensive information about what a child can do as a starting point for instruction and helps the teacher to ensure an individual focus on specific areas in reading and writing that require targeted support. 

The Observation Survey tasks, listed below, yield rich information for screening, intervening, lesson planning and monitoring a child’s progress over time including:

  1. Concepts About Print – knowledge of foundational principles, including directionality and regulators of decoding and interpreting English print (concepts of letters, words, book handling)
  2. Letter Identification – knowledge of English alphabet in upper- and lower-case forms linked to letter names, sounds or words
  3. Word Reading – vocabulary of immediately identified words in reading
  4. Writing Vocabulary – vocabulary of correctly spelled words in writing
  5. Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words – ability to hear sounds within words (phonological/phonemic awareness) and represent those sounds with letters (phonics)
  6. Instructional Text Level – parameters for teachers to guide text selection to foster instructional conditions with sufficient challenge to move reading forward without overwhelming a learner
  7. Burt Word Reading Test (NZCER) – ability to recognize, analyze and solve complex words through analysis of letter/sounds and word parts
  8. Reading interventions that are early, evidence-based, fully implemented and closely monitored and available to ALL students who need them, and ongoing interventions for all readers with word reading difficulties.”

Reading Recovery is an early intervention for Grade 1 students identified through screening as having the most difficulty learning to read and write and does not require a learning disability diagnosis to participate.  Standards and guidelines provide consistent, research informed student selection criteria.  Reading Recovery is complementary to curriculum and classroom instruction. The classroom teacher and the Reading Recovery teacher work in tandem to ensure students are making literacy learning gains.  It is a short-term preventative intervention (about 40 hours of instruction) that provides instruction to close achievement gaps for most students and acts as a screening and referral service for longer more intensive remediation programs.

Additionally, the Canadian Institute of Reading Recovery vigorously refutes the claim in the Right to Read report that Reading Recovery lacks scientific evidence of effectiveness.  Reading Recovery is among the most researched literacy intervention in the English-speaking world.  It has received the highest ranking from the United States’ Institute of Educational Science and through independent studies of effectiveness including study of its long term effects conducted in the United Kingdom.  Reading Recovery is the highest ranked early literacy intervention in the  What Works Clearinghouse review of the i3 scale up of Reading Recovery in the US and has presented scientific evidence demonstrating its effectiveness relative to other reading interventions recommended in the OHRC Right to Read inquiry.[9]

The OHRC recommends improving data collection, analysis and reporting in several key areas. The Canadian Institute of Reading Recovery has collected 30 years of data demonstrating its long-standing accountability to stakeholders through the continuous tracking of the short- and long-term progress of every Reading Recovery student, regardless of their achievement in the intervention. Standardized assessments are administered pre- and post-intervention and at the end of the Grade 1, 2 and 3 years. Reading Recovery teachers collect data of student learning daily to make immediate instructional adjustments and monitor progress.  School based data is used for primary literacy program planning. System data is reported regularly to senior administrators and the Canadian Institute of Reading Recovery collects data from school districts annually at the provincial and national level[10].  This data is used to monitor the overall effectiveness of Reading Recovery and guide its continuous improvement and ongoing research.

  1. Accommodations (and modifications to curriculum expectations) should not be used as a substitute for teaching students to read. Accommodations should always be provided along with evidence-based curriculum and reading interventions. When students need accommodations (for example, assistive technology), they should be timely, consistent, effective and supported in the classroom.”

Reading Recovery works because it tailors the intervention to each student based on the results of screening assessments.  This allows incorporation of student strengths and specialized attention to what they need to learn.  The curriculum expectations are never modified as Reading Recovery believes that all children can learn to read and write when given effective, research based, responsive instruction. Reading Recovery teachers can adapt and accommodate the lesson to meet specific disabilities and individual diversity, but the expectation is for children to become more independent, accurate, fluent and active readers and writers every day.  Students also compose and write daily to build composing, phonics, word solving and spelling skills.  Reading Recovery teachers collaborate with classroom teachers to make links between the classroom literacy expectations and the intervention lessons.

Teachers of Reading Recovery know how to accommodate students with reading difficulties by not only selecting texts with words that students can decode and read quickly but also analysing texts for engagement, cultural relevance and to achieve the goal of reading to understand and make meaning.  Students’ comprehension, oral language and literacy learning is purposefully supported through conversations that build vocabulary and background knowledge.  In every Reading Recovery lesson, students learn about printing letters, spelling words and writing sentences in ways that match the child’s current abilities and incorporate their interests and lived experiences.  The one-on-one instructional format ensures that the student learning can easily be accommodated in timely, consistent, effective and supported ways (i.e. visual schedules, movement breaks, additional time, breaking tasks down into smaller components, pencil grip/ writing supports, other recommendations from professional assessments). Reading Recovery teachers are in regular communication with families and this relationship supports conversations about accommodations necessary for student achievement.

  1.  “Professional assessments, particularly psychoeducational assessments, should be timely and based on clear, transparent, written criteria that focus on the student’s response to intervention. Criteria and requirements for professional assessments should account for the risk of bias for students who are culturally or linguistically diverse, racialized, who identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuit, or come from less economically privileged backgrounds. Professional assessments should never be required for interventions or accommodations.”

Reading Recovery is inclusive. It does not require any professional assessments prior to students participating in the intervention.  Students are eligible for Reading Recovery intervention regardless of diagnosis, English language learning, disability, race, socio-economic status or Indigenous identity.  Reading Recovery is a particularly timely intervention that is provided only to students in Grade 1 when a majority of students have not yet had the opportunity to complete a psychoeducational assessment and at a time when intervention is most effective[11].  One of the systemic benefits of Reading Recovery is that some students are accurately identified much earlier as being candidates for further professional assessment and Tier 3 interventions.  Reading Recovery teachers get to know these students personally and academically very well and they work closely with school teams regarding early referrals and recommendations for additional assessment and supports.    

The concluding statement in the report is as follows:

“As this report does not address all aspects of a comprehensive approach to literacy, further research will be needed to make sure Ontario addresses all the critical components of a rich language arts curriculum while improving its approaches to teaching foundational reading skills.

School boards in Ontario that are implementing Reading Recovery are at an advantage because they have already developed a comprehensive approach to literacy that addresses all of the critical components required. Grade 1 students who are in Reading Recovery have access to the world’s most researched early literacy intervention with specially trained literacy specialists, individualized instruction in reading and writing, early screening and on-going monitoring that supports evidence based, rich classroom language arts instruction.  Reading Recovery is a valuable part of any school board’s comprehensive approach to literacy.  As such, Reading Recovery is an intervention that works along side recommendations and should be named among the interventions included in the OHRC Right to Read report that will ensure all Ontario students are able to read.

“It has been one of the surprises of Reading Recovery that all kinds of children with all kinds of difficulties can be included, can learn, and can reach average-band performance for their class in both reading and writing achievement. Exceptions are not made for children of lower intelligence, for second-language children, for children with low language skills, for children with poor motor coordination, for children who seem immature, for children who score poorly on readiness measures, or for children who have been categorized by someone else as learning disabled.” (p. 60)[12]

~Canadian Institute of Reading Recovery, March 8, 2022

Ontario Human Rights Commission, Right to Read Report:

[1] Duke, N., & Cartwright, K. B. (2021). The science of reading progresses: Communicating advances beyond the simple view of reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 56(51), 525-544.

[2] International Literacy Association. (2019). Children experience reading difficulties: What we know and what we can do [Position Statement].

[3] May, H., Sirinides, P. M., Gray, A., & Goldsworthy, H. (2016). Reading Recovery: An evaluation of the four-year i3 scale-up.; What Works Clearinghouse. “Reading Recovery: An Evaluation of the four-year i3 scale-up”

[4] See the end of this statement for a detailed ranking of scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of Reading Recovery in comparison to other interventions included in the Right to Read report.

[5] International Literacy Association. Meeting the challenge of early literacy phonics instruction [Position Statement].

[6] Stouffer, J. (2016). A palette of excellence: Contextualizing the reported benefits of Reading Recovery training to Canadian primary classroom teachers. The Journal of Reading Recovery, 15(2), 31-48.

[7] National Centre on Intensive Intervention at the American Institutes for Research. (n.d.). Observation survey of early literacy achievement (osela)reading. Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement (OSELA). Retrieved March 6, 2022, from

[8] Clay, Marie. (2019) An Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement, Fourth Edition. The Marie Clay Literacy Trust

[9] See table at the end of this statement for a detailed ranking of scientific evidence regarding effectiveness of Reading Recovery in comparison to other interventions included in the Right to Read report produced by the What Works Clearinghouse

[10] Canadian Institute of Reading Recovery, National Data Report (2018-19):

[11] Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2022). Right to Read Executive Summary. Government of Ontario

[12] Clay, M. M. (1991). Reading Recovery surprises. In D. DeFord, C. A. Lyons, & G. S. Pinnell (Eds.), Bridges to literacy (pp. 55-74). Heinemann.