As discussed in section 8, Curriculum and instruction, the Ontario curriculum should incorporate a universal approach to reading instruction that includes systematic, explicit instruction in foundational word-reading skills. Schools should supplement this universal approach with evidence-based reading interventions (discussed in section 10, Reading interventions), for students who require more support to learn to read.
These curriculum and intervention approaches are vital elements of an inclusive education system. Even with these measures in place, students with reading difficulties – who are disproportionately students with reading and other disabilities, racialized and Indigenous students, newcomer and multilingual students and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds – may still face barriers to education. The Code requires that schools accommodate these students to the point of undue hardship.
Accommodations for students with reading difficulties fall into two categories:
- Assistive technology (AT) accommodations, including devices like a computer tablet or smartphone, and software such as screen readers
- Non-AT accommodations, including, for example, extra time for tests or assignments and assistive services such as a note-taker.
For this report, Code-related accommodations are distinct from reading interventions, but both are instrumental to facilitating the needs of students with reading difficulties. The primary purpose of accommodations is not to teach students to read, but to provide supports to enable them to meaningfully engage with curriculum material and take part in classroom activities. Accommodations are not a substitute for reading interventions. They can never replace active involvement in the classroom or interventions aimed at teaching and addressing reading and writing skills. Schools must provide accommodations alongside evidence-based curriculum and intervention strategies.
The Ministry of Education (Ministry) states:
The term accommodations refers to the special teaching and assessment strategies, human supports, and/or individualized equipment required by students with special education needs to enable them to learn and demonstrate learning. The provision of accommodations in no way alters the curriculum expectations for the grade level or course.
Accommodations are different than modifications. According to the Ministry:
Modifications are changes made in the grade-level expectations for a subject or course in order to meet a student's learning needs. These changes may involve developing expectations that reflect knowledge and skills required in the curriculum for a different grade level and/or increasing or decreasing the number and/or complexity of the regular grade-level curriculum expectations.
Modifications to grade-level expectations from a lower grade are a form of streaming: they place students below the standard grade level of their peers and can interfere with students’ access to future learning at the same level as their peers.
School boards and schools should take great care not to confuse accommodations with modifications. Accommodations help students meet curriculum outcomes; modifications change curriculum outcomes. Schools should modify to lower grade-level expectations only as a last resort – and only after making every effort to provide interventions and successfully accommodate the student’s learning needs to attain grade-level expectations.
When schools do use modifications, they should limit these to only curriculum expectations the student can not meet with the assistance of interventions and accommodations. Parents (and students, where appropriate) should be fully aware of the modifications and their potential ramifications, and at the same time the school should work to provide evidence-based interventions and suitable accommodations to bring the student to the point where they are meeting grade-level expectations.
This section and others often refer to communications between schools and parents. This is not to exclude students. This report focuses on early reading and the youngest students. Even these young students should be included in processes and communications that concern them.
Key principles when accommodating a reading difficulty
Under the Code, schools have both a procedural and substantive duty to accommodate. They must:
- Have transparent, accessible and effective procedures for developing and delivering accommodations
- Consider students’ individual needs, develop a range of possible accommodation options, and provide the accommodations that best serve students’ needs to the point of undue hardship.
An education provider can claim undue hardship only in very limited cases where there is excessive cost (factoring in outside sources of funding), or significant health and safety risks.
Use transparent and efficient accommodation procedures
Schools must never provide accommodations as a substitute for interventions that provide highly systematic and explicit reading instruction. If students need accommodations, schools should provide them together with interventions. Providing assistive technology without reading interventions is damaging, because students lose the opportunity to learn to read. It is also damaging in a more insidious way: it can mask the student’s reading difficulties.
Appropriate training for the student and/or their teacher may be necessary to successfully implement accommodations. For example, students may need training on software before they can effectively use AT accommodations. As such, schools may need to provide training for educators and students as part of the continuum of substantive accommodation.
Accommodations may not be as effective as anticipated, or students’ needs may change over time. Therefore, once accommodations are appropriately implemented and supported in the classroom, educators should regularly monitor and evaluate them to make sure they are helping to improve the student’s learning experience and performance.
To effectively determine, implement and support accommodations in the classroom, school boards and schools must communicate openly and regularly with students and parents. They must:
- Tell all families that students with disabilities are entitled to accommodation
- Explain how students and parents will be involved in the accommodation process
- Proactively investigate accommodation options if a student is having reading difficulties
- Develop and share clear accommodation plans, including explaining how the student will learn the best way to access and use their accommodations, and implement those plans.
School boards and schools should always provide accommodations as quickly as possible. They should:
- Engage in the accommodation process with the same urgency for all students – and should not rely on parental pressure to move the process along
- Make sure that accommodation does not depend on a professional assessment or be postponed until after one
- Routinely use accessible materials that can interact with assistive devices (such as books available in digital format) for all classes
- Provide interim accommodations immediately, while waiting to develop and implement permanent accommodations
- Establish transition plans to allow a smooth transition when students move to a new teacher, grade or school.
Consider students’ individual needs
Schools must customize accommodations for each student, and carefully monitor them. To decide on the best possible accommodation, schools should consider the student’s individual strengths and needs (including specific tasks that are challenging for the student), the classroom environment’s existing supports, physical or attitudinal barriers, and the range of potential accommodations that could meet the student’s needs. Wherever possible, schools should seek out and implement accommodations that have a strong track record of boosting student performance – either in the student’s own experience or in rigorous study.
Schools should make sure accommodations address students’ intersecting needs (for example, co-existing disabilities), and should evaluate, update and support implementing accommodations regularly, to make sure they meet students’ needs.
Schools must provide accommodations that respect students’ privacy, dignity and individuality. Accommodations should not isolate or stigmatize students.
Students with learning disabilities are at increased risk of bullying, victimization, rejection and social isolation, and there is evidence that children and youth with learning disabilities are significantly more likely to be bullied than their peers. Schools must account for these circumstances when developing respectful accommodations by making sure there are proactive and reactive strategies to address bullying.
Schools have a duty to immediately deal with bullying – and this applies to accommodations. Schools should also consider proactive approaches to prevent bullying and eliminate the stigma that is attached to some accommodations, by educating students and educators about learning differences and explaining that supports and accommodations simply provide equitable access to learning and the curriculum for all students. This can eliminate the stigma that is often attached to certain accommodations. A proactive approach can lessen educators’ fears that providing an accommodation will be stigmatizing, and will support implementing and integrating accommodations into the classroom.
AT for reading difficulties is any device, piece of equipment or system that helps students with disabilities access grade-level curriculum. Access to the curriculum means that students can take in and understand the material being taught in school, understand and complete assignments, and show what they have learned. For this report, we do not consider technological tools that support learning reading skills – like software-based reading programs – to be AT accommodations.
The primary role of AT accommodations is to work around reading and writing challenges. AT accommodations can never replace high-quality reading instruction or evidence-based reading interventions. Whether or not accommodations are provided, schools must always provide: (1) evidence-based classroom reading instruction, and (2) reading interventions for students who require them (see sections 8, Curriculum and instruction, and 10, Reading interventions).
AT accommodations for students with reading difficulties include:
- Audio books and alternate format publications
- Optical character recognition/scanning devices
- Personal listening systems
- Portable devices (laptops/tablets)
- Proofreading programs
- Speech-to-text devices/speech recognition programs
- Talking spell-checkers and electronic dictionaries
- Text-to-speech devices/speech synthesizers/screen readers
- Word prediction programs.
AT accommodations may help students to:
- Access and better understand curriculum
- Effectively and quickly communicate what they know to their teacher, other educators and the class
- Become more self-reliant, confident and independent
- Boost their motivation
- Minimize frustration.
In other words, AT “is used by a student with a disability to complete a learning task independently and at an expected performance level.” Accommodations can also help scaffold students’ learning, “providing just enough assistance to enable [them] to perform at a skill level just beyond what [they] can do on [their] own, then gradually reducing the support as [they begin] to master the skill, and setting the stage for the next challenge.”
Schools must address common barriers to AT accommodations including making sure:
- Students who need AT get it in a timely way
- Students have enough time to learn to use their AT
- Educators, students and families receive adequate training and support to make the accommodation useful and effective
- Students’ concerns about using AT are considered and addressed so students won’t stop using the AT because they think it draws unwanted attention to them
- Educator’s concerns or lack of understanding about AT are addressed, including any misconceptions that technology gives an unfair advantage to some students.
At the time of the inquiry, AT was not widely available at every school and every board. The Auditor General noted in its 2020 annual report:
Overall, we found that the [Ministry] had no broad [information technology (IT)] strategy for curriculum delivery, use of IT by students or administration of IT. In addition, student access to IT varied across the province because each board made its own decisions about equipment acquisition.
The Auditor General found, among other issues:
- The availability of tablets, laptops, computers and applications varied among schools, and school boards generally did not formally assess whether classrooms had adequate, up-to-date and consistently allocated IT resources. For example, at some schools, eight students shared a single computer. At others, each student was assigned their own computer.
- Classroom IT equipment ranged from new and modern, to outdated hardware that could be slow and incompatible with the latest software. Older technology could also adversely affect the learning experience.
If a wide variety of modern AT is available to all students, it may help remove the stigma of using AT as an accommodation.
AT is constantly evolving. It is important that school boards and schools monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of technology they provide, and gather up-to-date information on how best to:
- Standardize a process for selecting and implementing AT
- Match AT to students’ strengths and challenges
- Integrate AT with instruction and curriculum.
Many non-AT accommodations are easy to implement as they need no equipment, little training for the educator or the student, and are in theory easily transferrable from class to class. Some (such as agendas or graphic organizers, chunking, early notice for tests and clarifying instructions) are good classroom practices that can be helpful to all students, and can easily be extended as instructional approaches for the whole class. Extra accommodations for individual students can be built into teachers’ classroom support.
Non-AT accommodations for reading difficulties include:
- Agendas or graphic organizers
- Chunking (assignments broken into smaller tasks)
- Early notice for tests
- More check-ins by the teacher or other educators
- More space for written answers
- More time to complete assignments or tests
- No penalties for spelling errors
- Oral instruction and evaluation
- Quiet area to complete work
- Receiving class notes and other study materials in advance
- Repeating/re-phrasing instructions where needed
- Submitting answers in point form.
Certain classroom practices – such as reading aloud in front of the class and peer editing or marking – are very stressful for many children, but are especially traumatic for students with reading difficulties. While the ability to opt out of these activities is sometimes offered as a non-AT accommodation, educators may want to consider the potential negative impact of these practices on many children.
Some accommodations may raise challenges that require sensitivity and trouble-shooting by administrators and educators. For example, granting a student extra time to complete an assignment during recess or lunch may draw attention to the student or potentially isolate them. Oral evaluations and scribing can require a significant amount of time for the classroom teacher, an educational assistant or other support person.
There is a duty to accommodate despite any challenges. Where an accommodation stigmatizes a student, the school must address the stigma proactively and reactively (as discussed above), and must also consider alternative accommodations. For example, instead of providing more time for tests during lunch or recess, schools can provide tests that examine all pertinent learning goals through fewer questions.
Where students require staff support to be accommodated, teaching staff, schools and school boards must work together to identify:
- If current in-class staff have capacity to provide accommodation support
- What extra staff support is needed to fill gaps in capacity
- How staff support can be provided in a timely way
- What steps they can take to accommodate the student in the interim.
School boards and the Ministry of Education (Ministry) also have a role in providing adequate funding to make sure staffing levels are enough to meet the duty to accommodate.
Modifications for reading difficulties
As noted, modifications are not accommodations. Accommodations enable a student to meet curriculum expectations; modifications alter the curriculum expectations. For example:
- Reading books at grade level with the help of text-to-speech software is an accommodation; changing curriculum expectations and having the student read alternate books at a lower grade level is a modification
- Writing tests that evaluate the same concepts as one’s peers with the assistance of a scribe is an accommodation; changing curriculum expectations and writing tests that evaluate different concepts is a modification.
Schools should not modify curriculum expectations instead of providing reading interventions and accommodations. Schools should only provide modifications, where necessary, after the student has received reading interventions and accommodations. One goal should always be to make sure the student is reading at grade level, so even when modifications are in place, schools should provide more intensive interventions and continue to provide accommodations.
Putting modifications in place for a student is a serious decision that may have life-altering negative consequences. When curriculum expectations are modified to a lower grade level, students often do not catch up to peers or return to the standard curriculum. Students who reach high school without meeting Grade 8 curriculum expectations are likely to be streamed into classes that limit their choices for future education and employment. Given the high stakes, modifications should be used only as a last resort.
Some school boards acknowledged the risks of modifying students’ curriculum outcomes. For example, Hamilton-Wentworth noted that “if teachers modify below grade level, it has lifelong implications for school pathways and future work – even for students with greater needs.” As a result, the board is “focusing the work [of addressing reading difficulties] in Grade 1 because [the board] want[s] to close the gap before there is a gap.”
Thames Valley shared its “modified programming criteria.” This stipulates that before modifying a student’s program, staff must, among other things:
- Consistently implement differentiated instruction and appropriate accommodations
- Use targeted interventions
- Show that a formal assessment and professional services staff support providing the modifications
- Inform parents of “the impact of program modification on pathway planning and credit accumulation.”
When curriculum expectations do need to be modified, the modifications should be as limited as possible. Parents must understand the effect of modification so they can give fully informed consent. As one board explained during an inquiry interview, if there has not been “ongoing communication between school and family” then parents may see “B” grades on report cards without understanding that the student is working at a lower grade level. They will then struggle to understand why, in Grade 8, the transition team recommends that the student take locally developed courses in high school. The board advised that there “should be long discussions with parents about what accommodations have been given,” “showing them what [the] student’s work is like,” and helping them to understand the life-long effects of modifications, before any modifications are implemented.
At the provincial level, the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Education emphasizes the risks of modifications to education providers:
A modified prescribed course may impact the student’s eligibility for post-secondary programs. Before modifying a prescribed course, the program planning team must determine whether the proposed programming is in line with assessment data and whether all other means of supporting the student have been explored, exhausted and documented. Curriculum guides must be consulted regarding instructional strategies, resources, and evaluation procedures which may allow the student to successfully achieve course outcomes with accommodations. The program planning team should consider whether the student is capable of achieving at least 50% in the provincially prescribed course without modification. If a passing mark is possible, the course should not be modified.
The Ministry has not issued a similar caution to boards in Ontario. The OHRC asked the Ministry if it is planning to (1) provide guidance to make sure accommodations/interventions are provided before modifying curriculum expectations; and (2) require that certain procedural steps are followed to make sure modification is used as a last resort. The Ministry responded that it had not made decisions “about future policy changes or guidance to the sector” and indicated that it looks forward to reviewing the OHRC’s inquiry report. The Ministry discussed the principle that “students’ needs are best addressed at the local level,” and stated that “it is expected that school teams are diligent and thoughtful in their use of intervention.”
For a discussion about the importance of standardized provincewide action to protect the rights of students with reading difficulties, see section 13, Systemic issues.
Funding for AT accommodations
The Ministry provides Special Equipment Amount (SEA) funding to school boards to provide accommodation to students with special needs, so they can attend school or access curriculum.
Students with reading difficulties may use SEA funding to access computer software that supports teaching reading skills, tools that provide access to printed text, or training and support to help them use and master these tools.
SEA funding for each board comes in two forms:
- A SEA per-pupil amount (a base amount of $10,000, plus $36.101 multiplied by the board’s average daily enrolment) to buy “all computers, software, robotics, computing-related devices…[plus providing] training to staff and students, equipment set-up, maintenance, and repair”
- SEA claims-based funding (more than the initial $800 per student, payable by the board) for “the purchase of non-computer based equipment” to be used by students with special education needs, including “sensory support, hearing support, vision support…personal care support equipment and physical assists support equipment.”
To use funds from the SEA per-pupil amount, the board must provide the Ministry with a copy of the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) “that provides evidence of the intended use of the equipment in the student’s program signed by the principal,” and proof of purchase.
To use funds from the SEA claims-based funding, the board must provide the Ministry with the IEP and proof of purchase, and also an assessment(s) from an appropriately qualified professional.
Before the 2018–19 school year, Ministry guidelines required an assessment(s) from an appropriately qualified professional for all SEA funds (there was no exclusion for SEA per-pupil funds, as there is now).
Per-pupil SEA funding for computer hardware and software, which is slightly easier to access than claims-based funding, is capped based on board enrolment. Some boards, that need more computer hardware and software than can be purchased with the per-pupil SEA funding, attempt to get overflow funding from the claims-based SEA funding pool. However, the guidelines stipulate that these funds are for “non-computer based equipment.”
Claims-based SEA funds require a recommendation from an “appropriately qualified professional.” These can be a:
- Psychologist or psychological associate
- Speech-language pathologist
- Augmentative communication therapist
- Occupational therapist
- Orthopédagogue (Quebec registered).
It can be extremely hard for families to access the services of these professionals in a timely and affordable way, especially if they live in a remote area. The Ministry should make SEA funds available to students without requiring them to obtain an assessment.
Funding for non-AT accommodations
Most costs arising from non-AT accommodations relate to staffing. For example, students who require a scribe may not always be able to get support from their classroom teacher. They may need classroom assistance from an extra educator, such as an educational assistant.
In its 2018 report “If Inclusion Means Everyone, Why Not Me?” Community Living Ontario reported:
32% of parents [who responded to its survey] reported that their child did not have access to additional support staff when it was needed by their child (e.g. Educational Assistants, etc.). This is comparable to similar statistics reported by People for Education in 2016, which reported that 26% of elementary schools did not have the recommended levels of support available.
In its 2017 annual report, the Auditor General cited a 2016 Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario news release that raised concerns that:
[T]he number of special-education students identified as requiring individualized plans and support has continued to increase and outpace the grants to support special education. At least 14 public boards are struggling with cuts to special education and some are laying off education assistants, who are crucial in assisting teachers to meet the needs of all students.
The Auditor General did not reach a conclusion on whether current funding for education support staff is sufficient, but recommended a “comprehensive external review” of the special needs funding formula to make sure the funds the Ministry provides school boards “are adequately allocated to meet students’ needs,” and that “students with similar needs living in different parts of the province will receive the same amount of services and support.”
Issues with current approaches to accommodating students with reading difficulties in Ontario schools
The inquiry asked stakeholders to share their views on how accommodations for reading difficulties are currently delivered. As noted earlier, 1,425 people responded to the OHRC’s survey for students and parents, and 1,769 responded to the survey for educators and other professionals. The OHRC held public hearings at various locations. Many organizations with expertise in reading difficulties also submitted comments.
Role of accommodations
Although accommodations can play an important role in helping students access the curriculum, they can never replace effective instruction and intervention. In the survey, the OHRC heard from educators and professionals who agreed with the limited role of accommodations. We also heard from organizations like the International Dyslexia Association, Ontario which cautioned that AT accommodations should be used to achieve “mastery and independence,” and technological supports “should not replace appropriate and effective structured literacy and intervention.”
Effectiveness of accommodations
As the Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (OSLA) noted in its submission to the inquiry, accommodations are “essential to prevent or diminish stress, anxiety, low self-image and depression, and to ensure learning across all areas of the curriculum.”
In some cases, accommodations are not effective because they are too hard to use. For example, some students and parents noted that text-to-speech software with a computerized voice can be hard to understand. One parent said that voice-to-text software can be “sloppy in a classroom setting” because it “picks up all noise in the room” and “students are not shown how to use it effectively to communicate in writing.”
Another parent reported that passwords assigned to students for their devices are unchangeable and “are something in the neighbourhood of 18 nonsense characters long,” which is “impractical/obstructionist” for students with reading difficulties. Yet another parent explained their son’s frustration with assistive software accommodations:
[H]is reading is not strong enough to realize that [his assistive software] has made a mistake. Then he has to wait until a parent or teacher reviews it. At that point, he feels stupid and useless and like he is not capable of being successful. It is a constant struggle to get him to try to use a tool when it doesn't work that well.
Accommodations can also be ineffective if students feel they are punitive. For example, we learned from educators and other professionals that teachers struggle with accommodating students with “extra time.” To receive extra time for an assignment or test without missing out on other lessons, students usually have to give up part or all of their recess or lunch, and “feel like they are being punished and are missing out.” As well as loss of social opportunities, several students and parents agreed that losing recess or lunch negatively affected students’ ability to concentrate later in the day.
Some accommodations are ineffective because schools do not take proper steps to develop and customize them to the student. For example, educators and other professionals raised concerns with current planning documents like IEPs that are populated with generic “drop-down menu” accommodations, and Identification, Placement and Review Committees (IPRCs) that “list too many buzzwords and lack detail on what strategies work…[or] have not worked” for the student. The OHRC’s position is that the duty to accommodate requires that the most appropriate accommodation be identified and then provided, short of undue hardship. Schools must examine each student’s individual circumstances, create customized accommodations that truly help them access the curriculum, and evaluate their effectiveness on an ongoing basis.
Standard quality assurance processes – to measure the effectiveness of accommodation planning tools like IEPs – do not exist across all boards. For example, some inquiry boards appear to have IEP standards checklists for teachers and administrators, some for administrators only, and some do not have any. Some boards, like Hamilton-Wentworth, described detailed IEP auditing systems and professional development programs, while others had less formal processes. One board said “there is currently no formal quality assurance process for IEPs,” but instead special education facilitators provide “ongoing training and at the elbow coaching and support” to help teachers create “meaningful IEP’s as well as…provide the most timely and effective accommodation.” All school boards would benefit from a formal review process that measures whether accommodations improve student performance and experience.
To provide more effective accommodations, school officials need to better understand what types of accommodation work and how, for which students with reading difficulties, and in what situations. For example, schools do not currently have a common list of quality-assured AT products that are available in Ontario. Nor do boards have common guidelines for how to critically evaluate their IEPs, or how to monitor student progress once accommodations have been provided in accordance with IEPs. The OHRC believes the Ministry has an important role in providing this type of guidance.
Access to accommodations
We heard about a troubling and widespread lack of access to accommodations. Only 57% of the surveyed educators and other professionals said most or all students who need accommodation receive it.
Eighty per cent of the surveyed students and parents said the school provided accommodation – but half of them had to request it. Some parents described how teachers entirely failed to implement accommodations stipulated in the IEP. Others said that teachers implemented the stipulated accommodations inconsistently, or implemented some but not all of the accommodations.
The OHRC heard about a variety of barriers to access, described in the following sections.
Barriers faced by students with intersecting needs
Under the Code, school boards and schools have a duty to accommodate students according to their individual needs – including when their needs arise because they identify with intersecting Code grounds like disability and race. Yet students with intersecting needs face significant barriers to receiving accommodations.
In the OHRC survey, over 60% students with co-existing disabilities or their parents agreed that barriers to accessing accommodation in school for their non-reading disability interfered with their learning to read. At the OHRC’s Ottawa hearing, one parent said:
It is good and well to put in place programs to help children to learn how to read, but we also have to equip the schools to help children with other issues like ADHD…
Educators and other professionals discussed how some racialized students, and students from lower income backgrounds, also face significant barriers to receiving accommodations. For example, one elementary special education teacher summed it up this way:
…[U]nless [the] parent is powerful, the matter of accommodations doesn't go back to the teachers to be addressed. Rac[iali]zed marginalized students do not report these issues to their families as they are ashamed, internalized racism is an issue and they are afraid of repercussions from teachers. Parents [a]re also afraid of repercussions from teachers. Parents, [Special Education Resource Teachers] and students who are marginalized do not experience success in advocating for accommodations as the professional judgement discourse is a barrier to engagement and advocacy.
One elementary school educator stated that schools with well-funded school-community councils “who can buy laptops will have more students able to use AT such as text-to-speech software than schools in economically struggling communities.” An elementary school teacher who responded to the survey explained that the different treatment experienced by low-income versus more affluent students was so detrimentally pronounced that it had a negative impact on the teacher’s own ability to meet the needs of their students:
[Whether I can facilitate access to accommodation] depends on the class makeup. Since changing schools to a more affluent and rural school I am able to meet the needs of my students as the IEP numbers are lower. In my school that was high transient, low income, high behaviour with 13 IEPs I could not meet the needs of my students. I left that class after five weeks because I just couldn’t do it.
When providing accommodations – or considering whether students may need accommodation – schools must use “an individualized approach that recognizes each student’s unique identity and the fact that each student is uniquely situated to understand their own needs.” Yet the inquiry heard that Ministry funding and other support structures may not adequately take into account the varying needs of schools and students so that all students, regardless of their intersecting, Code-protected needs, have meaningful access to education.
Barriers arising from students’ fear of stigma
In some cases, students will not use accommodations due to perceived stigma.
The OHRC heard from educators and other professionals about how, especially in the higher grades, students “become reluctant to use the tech,” and how staff need to take steps “to help them get over this reluctance.” They reported that students feel “stigmatized” using devices like scanning pens, and that some students refuse to use accommodations like voice recorders because they do not want to “stand out.”
Students and parents also spoke about the isolation and stigma associated with certain accommodations, like using speech-to-text software in front of their peers. Many students stopped using an accommodation because they were too embarrassed by it, or experienced bullying because of it.
Barriers arising from educator attitudes
In some cases, educators’ attitudes create barriers to accommodating students.
Teachers and school staff play a major role in deciding whether a student will receive an accommodation. According to educator/other professional survey respondents, some teachers support accommodations, while others feel that accommodations are “cheating” or a form of “special treatment” that prevent students from learning to read on their own. There can be a “huge variation in approaches from class to class.”
Some students and parents described their struggle to receive accommodations for reading difficulties. Parents described situations where a teacher or school administrator:
- Said accommodations were “cheating”
- Told a child he was “faking it” and mocked him
- Said the school could not provide an assistive computer to a child because “if we give her one, we will have to give all the kids one”
- Said “they couldn’t offer reading supports to children in French Immersion”
- Persisted in having a child participate in peer editing of work, which set “her up for bullying.”
It is unconscionable for an educator to mock a student based on their disability, or to hamper a student’s access to accommodations for their disability. It is also a breach of the Code.
Educators may not always have enough training on the needs of students with reading difficulties, discrimination under the Code, educator and education institution duties to accommodate under the Code, and consequences of Code breaches. It appears that school boards and schools do not always inform students and parents of their rights under the Code, including their right to be free from discrimination and to receive accommodations for reading difficulties. It also appears that boards and schools often do not provide students and parents with clear recourse (for example, a straightforward and meaningful complaint process with appropriate supports to help families address accommodation issues).
Barriers arising from lack of professional learning
It appears that in some cases, teachers fail to accommodate reading difficulties because they do not have sufficient preparation in how to navigate the accommodation process. One teacher noted:
…I think teachers and school personnel are relied on heavily to identify and implement accommodations. Their judgement is influenced by their own lived experience and professional experience, their biases, their understanding of reading pedagogy…their desire to help or intervene…the availability of resources at their school and in their community…pressures…based on the results of standardized assessments…parental negotiations and advocacy, or the lack thereof. Teachers need to have a role, but they need specific training in order to make sure they understand their role.
The inquiry found a particular concern around lack of educator training for AT accommodations. Educators noted that they needed AT support from specialized staff. Students and parents echoed the call for support. One parent said their child “received an iPad without any instruction and the teachers did not know how to use it [and h]e did not get any training until 1.5 years later.” Another parent said the school did not provide training for parents on how to use students’ assistive software. Yet another parent said that their child’s “[t]eacher was overwhelmed and did not know how to accommodate” using AT, so when the assistive device arrived “it was locked in a cupboard for six months.”
Staff training on AT requires sufficient financial resources. As the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association noted in its inquiry submission, “staff training requirements for AT [are] intensive and costly.”
Ontario boards each develop their own unique approach to training. Thames Valley indicated that “AT Teachers on Special Assignment provide initial and ongoing training to both students and staff in the use of AT,” and “parents can sit in on SEA training.” Peel provides AT training through a “third-party company” to students using SEA devices, and also employs AT resource teachers who “collaborate with teachers on the use of [AT] to support all students in the classroom.”
Simcoe Muskoka Catholic shared that it employs three AT trainers who travel to schools to deliver training to students, teachers, and in some cases, parents. Lakehead said it has a full-time Student Support Professional (SSP) responsible for SEA training, and training is also provided to every student receiving SEA technology, teachers and support staff. Ottawa-Carlton reported having six itinerant teachers of AT (at the board level), with the support of an educational assistant. London Catholic employs a teacher as the SEA Trainer who works with students (individually, in groups, or as a class). This teacher also provides “a monthly training session in the evenings for parents and caregivers to ensure the circle of care is informed and able to support the student’s use of [AT].”
Despite these approaches across the different boards, family and school staff responding to the OHRC survey identified many problems and barriers accessing adequate training and support for AT.
At the time of the inquiry, boards were not consistent in how they shared information about the range of AT options that are available, and the advantages and drawbacks of each. Simcoe Muskoka Catholic produces a memo called “SEA Technology Options” that lists platforms currently supported by the board, with advantages and limitations of each option. Other boards do not appear to provide this information. Given educators’ reports of potentially limited experience with AT, a list may not be sufficient to support knowledge and decision-making for AT.
The inquiry found that educators do not appear to receive enough training and resources on the range of available AT accommodations, and on which accommodations tend to work best in which situations. Educators do not appear to currently have standardized guidelines and protocols for implementing accommodations. They also do not appear to receive ongoing and timely access to training on the AT devices ultimately chosen, and to AT support staff. There do not appear to be standardized guidelines and protocols for AT training, including who should provide the training, how often, what topics it should cover, and who should attend the training.
As long as educators receive inadequate training and support in accommodation processes and tools, they will be unable to offer optimal accommodations to students. This is especially the case with AT accommodations, which can be more complex.
Barriers arising from lack of student training
It appears that some accommodations fail because students have not been explicitly and adequately taught and supported to use the tools successfully. Students often give up on accommodation strategies and AT if they do not feel that using them increases their success.
Educators and other professionals highlighted that for accommodations to be successful, students need training on how to optimize them. Students and parents echoed the call for students to be trained in how to use AT applications effectively, and in building typing skills. They spoke about long delays in waiting for such training.
The inquiry found that while training and support for students and parents can help students effectively use their AT at school and home, schools and boards do not always provide such training. School boards and schools have not met their duty to accommodate if they provide tools that students cannot use due to lack of effective training and support.
Barriers arising from transitions
Students often lose access to their accommodations at times of transition, whether it is a new teacher, change in classroom or grade, new school or different jurisdiction. Each of these transition points creates stress and hardship for families because the system does not provide for a seamless transfer of information about accommodation needs.
Some students receive IEP accommodations consistently from one teacher, but not from others. For example, educators and other professionals reported that supply staff may not be aware of students’ accommodations. We also heard that when students transfer from one school board to another, their Ontario Student Record (OSR) may not be immediately available to the new board. This may hamper the new board’s ability to provide timely accommodations.
In their survey responses, students and parents shared similar concerns about transitions. One parent said that accommodation “varies by class and teacher and subject.” Another parent noted the burdens on their child, as “accommodations had to constantly be requested from year to year and teacher to teacher.” One parent explained:
[E]very September/October I need to go in and remind teachers of my son’s accommodations because they aren’t being implemented. For example, my son failed his first two math tests, and I realized that my son was expected to take extensive notes off the board which was impossible for him and as a result he had incomplete notes which he was expected to study from.
The Code requirement to accommodate is not limited to a student’s classroom teacher. All teachers and staff need to be informed of the student’s accommodation needs. It is troubling, then, that the inquiry found that school boards and schools do not have a standard system where every educator who works with a student in a given year is made aware of their accommodation needs, and accommodations from one year are made known to educators for the following year. It is also troubling that OSRs are not always immediately available to a student’s new board. In summary, the inquiry found that the Ministry does not foster optimal coordination between school boards, nor do school boards between schools, or schools between teachers.
Barriers arising from lack of resources
A widespread lack of human and material resources severely limits student access to accommodation.
In their survey responses, many educators and other professionals spoke of teachers being overworked and overwhelmed. One educator talked about having to take a triage approach: helping students with the highest needs first and then “if we can get to students whose needs are not as high, we will.” Many respondents spoke about the need for smaller class sizes, so teachers can pay more attention to each of their students. They also discussed the need for more education workers, like learning support teachers and educational assistants, to help with in-class accommodations such as scribing. One educator noted:
There are many students in each class with pretty extensive accommodations. How does one person scribe for six kids? At my school there are no [educational assistants] available for general classrooms beyond kindergarten.
Educators and other professionals also highlighted the need for more resources to support accommodations. For example, one teacher spoke about waiting several months for laptops ordered through SEA claims (and then even longer for training on how to use them). Another teacher said:
I just implement accommodations and scrounge and buy what I need to ensure my students are getting what they need....I spent countless dollars trying to find and make books that students could use their phonological skills to read as opposed to just levelled books filled with sight words, because the school has no money to purchase anything. I had to fight for technology for students to use their Lexia accounts. I had zero when school started even though I should have had five tablets. It took until December to get iPads from the resource room. In February I finally got tablets.
These and other educator respondents’ comments show that educators may be working in conditions that make it challenging or impossible to meet each student’s education needs.
In its inquiry submission, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) discussed resource constraints that limit accommodation options for students with reading difficulties. OECTA suggested that the special education system is stretched too thin, with a ratio of 38 students receiving special education support to one special education teacher in elementary schools, and a ratio of 77:1 in secondary schools. It noted that “more than 80 per cent of school boards are spending more on special education than they are allotted by the government.” It cited pressures caused by the provincial government’s elimination of the Local Priorities Fund, which led to “the loss of 335 teaching positions in Catholic schools, many of which were dedicated to assist students with special education needs.”
OECTA also discussed resource constraints. For example, it highlighted that many elementary schools no longer have teacher-librarians, and “[a]mong schools where the position still exists, teacher-librarians are more frequently being required to cover other teachers’ planning time and maintain the library, rather than providing additional literacy supports to the school.” It also highlighted that although AT can be helpful, “the government must provide long-term, sustainable investments in technology and training, to ensure students have the required supports.”
Students and parents also addressed resource shortages. For example, some parents purchased assistive computers for their children’s in-school use to circumvent long wait times for school-funded computers. Some parents reported that their child’s school-funded computer – which was supposed to be a dedicated resource – was ultimately shared among various children in the class. One parent reported that wi-fi access was spotty in their child’s school and multiple students had to share the same laptop charger, rendering their child’s laptop “useless” or “dead” most of the time.
Students and parents also raised concerns about a lack of curriculum resources that are compatible with AT. Some teachers do not provide digitized worksheets, assignments or tests. Some textbooks are not available in a digital format compatible with text-to-speech software.
The Ministry of Education (Ministry), school boards and schools must meet the duty to accommodate by providing necessary human and material resources to support accommodations unless they can establish that this would constitute undue hardship.
It does not appear that the Ministry has successfully taken steps to make sure the funds it provides school boards adequately meet students’ needs, and that students with similar needs across Ontario receive similar levels of support. At the time of the inquiry, the Ministry had not yet made sure that textbooks and other materials on the Trillium list are available in digital format compatible with text-to-speech software.
The inquiry found that schools do not always ensure that students who need AT resources as an accommodation have access when needed, and that sufficient AT is available so students do not have to share AT in a way that limits their access to accommodation. Further, schools do not always make sure that educators provide digitized worksheets, assignments and tests to all students who need them as an accommodation – before or when distributing the paper version.
Barriers arising from school administration
School administrations sometimes fail to facilitate the accommodation process.
For example, one elementary school educator said that at “our school, if our accommodations are not effective, we are often either made to feel as though it is a failure on our part, or as though it’s a shame but there’s nothing we can do.” A high-school teacher who responded to the inquiry survey said:
…[W]hile teachers are often the ones working with the student, their observations and conversations are weighed against the admin[istration’s] and/or the school's ability to afford accommodations…When asking about [a] student who should have received some support, I was told [they could not receive support] because they were "passing the course"...with a 55.
Student and parent survey respondents also shared a concern that schools provided accommodation sparsely, and not in a way that meets individual students’ needs. Other parents raised concerns about how their children were provided accommodations for EQAO testing but not for everyday classroom activities.
Educator/other professional survey respondents shared that failures in the accommodation process are sometimes caused by ineffective bureaucracy within the school system. A speech-language pathologist described a particularly onerous system at her school board, where students who need AT must seek Ministry funding through an SEA claim. Her board mandates that students receive an assessment and formal identification from a specialist to qualify for the funding (the Ministry requires professional assessments for SEA claims-based funding but not for SEA per-pupil funding; it is not clear what type of SEA claim this person was discussing). She said that sometimes, in the board’s view, the assessment does not provide enough data to support an identification of the student, so the student must get a second professional assessment. After this, specialist board staff (not in-school staff) must prepare the application for SEA funding. They must seek certain internal approvals for the application and then send it to other staff for processing and transmission to the Ministry. She observed:
There are further steps but by the time we are all done I think that computer has been paid for several times over by the salaries of the multiple professionals involved. Is there not a more efficient system whereby we can trust schools to ask for computers for the students who need them most?
Under the Code, schools and school boards have a procedural as well as a substantive duty to accommodate. School boards and schools are not meeting their procedural duty if they have inefficient accommodation processes that excessively delay providing accommodation and are hard to navigate. Boards are legally required to make sure their policies and procedures facilitate the timely delivery of effective accommodations.
The inquiry found that students with reading difficulties face unnecessary barriers to certain accommodation funds and services. Some schools use complicated accommodation processes, including multiple staff approvals, and multiple steps for processing SEA equipment claims.
The inquiry found that school boards may not provide accommodation for students with reading difficulties who are receiving passing grades or perceived to be doing “well enough,” even though they could do better with these supports. The inquiry also found that accommodations offered for EQAO testing are not always extended to the student’s everyday school experience. This is not consistent with principles of accommodation, as accommodation should be provided to allow the student to reach their individual full potential.
Barriers in French Immersion programs
The OHRC heard that some schools refuse to provide accommodations for students with reading difficulties in French Immersion programs. For example, one parent noted that she “asked for testing and reading supports” but was told that her daughter “needed to leave the French Immersion stream as there are no special [education] accommodations in French Immersion.” Another parent explained that the school “wouldn’t accommodate or support my child unless I transferred him to the English stream.”
Schools cannot refuse to provide accommodations simply because a child is in a French Immersion program. It is the OHRC’s position that under the Code, schools have a duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship, regardless of whether students study in French or English.
Barriers arising from school reliance on student and parent advocacy
Schools and school boards deliver accommodations unevenly, depending on how much parents (or the students themselves) advocate for those accommodations. While recognizing that accommodation is a cooperative process, families shared experiences about being forced to repeatedly push to secure the accommodations that the school should have been aware of from student records.
Educators and other professionals acknowledged that parental advocacy and student self-advocacy helped secure accommodations, and consistently said that students who advocate for themselves and/or have a parent who advocates for them are more likely to receive accommodations.
Many students and parents agreed. For example, parents spoke about having to:
- Regularly remind teachers to provide accommodations
- Meet with teachers before semesters “to respectfully inform staff of the learning style required and the accommodations”
- Call their trustee to speed up receipt of accommodations
- Meet with a trustee to get an assistive computer fixed after it had been broken for most of the school year
- Hire a lawyer to advocate for accommodation.
Many student and parent respondents also raised concerns that students were called on to self-advocate despite educators having notice of existing accommodations. For example, one parent said that their daughter’s teacher rarely provides her IEP-stipulated accommodation of extra time, and “she will not ask for it as she does not want to appear ‘difficult’ or ‘different’ from her peers.” Another parent reported that some of their son’s teachers said “they would help if he would ask, however a frustrated eight-year-old boy who doesn’t know what to ask for isn’t going to get the help he needs.”
One parent said that their child “went to every teacher at the beginning of the semester and told them” about his accommodations, but found the process to be “humiliating” and wanted the teachers to simply review his IEP. Another parent noted:
The expectation for the special needs student is that it's an "advocacy skill" to initiate and speak up for what they need – a skill that other students aren't expected to [have]. If mine has to ask for alternative format, why don't the other students have to line up at a photocopier to make copies of the handouts they need, or race to the school and public libraries to sign out the one or two copies of the novel AFTER it gets assigned as a task, or go and pay out of pocket for the book from a book store?
Some educator/other professional survey respondents agreed that too much responsibility is being placed on students and parents to advocate for accommodations. A psychologist noted:
There is a burden on parents to advocate for this for their kids. Though parents supporting their kids is certainly positive, it should not be a requirement so kids can receive accommodations. Those students whose parents can [not] or do not advocate lose out. Student self-advocacy is necessary before they can reasonably be expected to have the skills to [self-advocate].
Students and parents also noted the unfairness of a system that relies on student and parent advocacy. One parent commented that the “system is very daunting to navigate,” and questioned how parents can “ask for supports if no one tells us what is available?” Another parent said students “often do not know what they need to learn effectively so the onus should not be on them or their parents to demand proper supports.” Even a parent who said that they “work in education and understand the system,” and advocated for their child “from day one” to receive timely accommodation, said “it is still difficult to get the required supports.”
A system that relies on advocacy to start off the accommodation process is manifestly unfair and inequitable. Not all students and parents can advocate equally for accommodations or arrange for their own accommodations. For example, families who are racialized, Indigenous, live with disabilities, are newcomers, or lack fluency in English or French may not be in the same position to seek accommodations, or they may face extra barriers when seeking accommodation. The system is daunting for many families to learn what to ask for, find free time during the day to meet with school staff, and then advocate vigorously during that meeting and beyond. This system also ignores the simple fact that all students are entitled to receive accommodations based on their needs, regardless of the intensity of their parents’ – or their own – advocacy.
Timeliness of accommodations
In many cases, students wait a long time to receive accommodations. Only 38% of the surveyed educators and other professionals said most or all students who begin receiving accommodation received it in a timely way, and only 48% of student and parent respondents said they received timely accommodation.
Many educators and other professionals shared their concern that accommodations are often provided too late. One respondent said few students “get what they need before a crisis is reached in some form or another.”
Assessments, diagnoses and delays
In many cases, schools refuse to provide accommodations until students have gone through the time-consuming (and sometimes costly) process of obtaining one or more assessments and diagnoses.
Sometimes the delay is due to restrictions imposed by the Ministry. As noted earlier, the Ministry requires professional assessments for SEA claims-based funding.
Sometimes the delay comes at the board or school level. Many families reported that at their boards or schools, a psychoeducational assessment or an IPRC was a prerequisite for obtaining accommodation. Some students and parents spoke about how accommodation was delayed until they received a psychoeducational assessment. One parent explained:
We asked for a [psychoeducational] assessment when our son was in Grade 3 and w[ere] told our school only got about three a year, our son was not high on the priority list so we would not get one until he was in at least Grade 4 but probably Grade 5 so we privately paid for one, this is what allowed for the creation of an IEP which in turn got our son the accommodation he needed.
Fifty per cent of educator/other professional survey respondents believe that psychoeducational assessments should never be mandatory to receive accommodations. One respondent said that accommodations do not change the content of what the student learns, so psychoeducational assessments are simply not necessary. Other respondents said that these assessments might sometimes be useful to “determine how to support a child or what is the root of the difficulty,” but to avoid delays, interim accommodations should be provided before the evaluation and can then be adapted once the evaluation is completed.
Another respondent said that teachers “can recognize issues with students’ learning, and can implement accommodations to promote the students’ successes,” and generally have access to much contextual information that a “psychologist will not likely have.” A different respondent said that while “[m]any schools are requesting that an assessment be completed before providing accommodations, psychologists at [our school board] are trying to change this mindset so that earlier interventions and support can be implemented.”
Given these concerns, it is troubling that IPRCs can also act as a roadblock to receiving accommodations, and over half of educator/other professional survey respondents believe that IPRCs should never be required to receive accommodation. One respondent said:
IPRCs pose another bureaucratic roadblock to a long process to receive support. And IPRCs only occur after [a] psychoeducational assessment is completed and the student qualifies for an exceptionality. It is unfair to deny accommodations for the other students who don't qualify for an exceptionality but still need the help.
Some boards reported that they do not require psychoeducational assessments or IPRC identification to deliver an accommodation. For example, Ottawa-Carleton said:
Accommodation[s] for reading disabilities or suspected reading disabilities are provided for students who are reading at least one year below grade level based on informal assessments, PM Benchmarks, and/or screening tools. A psychoeducational assessment is not required for accommodations, neither is an IPRC identification.
Under the Code, a formal diagnosis with an exceptionality is not required to receive accommodation. Any requirement that students have a psychoeducational assessment before receiving accommodations is troubling because it causes serious delay and perpetuates a two-tiered education system. The evidence indicates that students whose parents can afford costly, private psychoeducational assessments gain access to an IEP and accommodations faster than children of parents who cannot afford a private assessment. Without a private assessment, children may wait a long time for an assessment, or may not be considered for an assessment at all.
The inquiry found that the Ministry, boards and schools all appear to use professional assessments as a prerequisite for receiving certain accommodations. This means that students face delays – sometimes extreme – in receiving the accommodations they need.
The Grade 3 threshold and delays
Many students and parents also spoke about being made to wait for accommodations until around Grade 3. Many parents said that despite raising concerns about their child’s reading challenges early on, they were told not to worry about it until around Grade 3. One parent said their child “was flagged in JK” but did not receive supports or accommodations until Grade 3. Another parent said their child received accommodations “too late” in Grade 4, and in the interim lost “the spark to learn” and developed “a high anxiety of going to school.”
Delays in the accommodation process are very damaging to children. For example, one parent said it took “months” for their daughter to receive accommodations, and she “basically shut down in the classroom while we waited,” becoming “incredibly anxious and very down.” Another parent said:
[Accommodations] helped [my daughter] when [they were] eventually put into place. It shouldn't have taken over three years to get them into place. The wait to fail system damaged my daughter, I feel a piece of her is broken forever.
The inquiry found that schools often fail to provide accommodations until around Grade 3. The Ministry and boards do not appear to have sent out consistent messaging to counter this practice.
This practice of delaying accommodation is not in keeping with the Code. Under the Code, accommodation must be timely, because accommodation delayed is accommodation denied.
Lack of transparency and accountability for accommodations
Once accommodations are in place, some students and parents remain concerned that schools do not update them on how those accommodations are progressing. One parent noted:
There is absolutely no feedback given outside of report cards etc. as to the efficacy of the IEP. This is the first year the IEP has been implemented and I believe there should be closer monitoring as to how it's working.
Educators and other professionals emphasized the value of keeping open lines of communication with parents, to make sure accommodations are delivered in an effective and transparent way. Some said communication could happen through the IPRC, IEP, or a dedicated document created specifically to outline accommodations and shared with all relevant staff.
IEPs do not currently track all accommodations. Not all students who receive accommodations have IEPs. Not all students who receive accommodations and have IEPs have their accommodations listed on their IEP.
Some educators and other professionals raised concerns about a lack of accountability for accommodations. For example, they said that accommodations simply being listed on an IEP “doesn’t mean they are appropriate or happening,” and parent advocacy is often needed to determine what is being provided.
If a student regularly requires accommodations (including specialized equipment) for instruction or assessment, the accommodations should be included in an IEP. An IEP can be created without an IPRC. If properly followed, the IEP process has the potential to be robust, is provided for by regulation, and can be audited (see section 4, Context for the inquiry). Yet the inquiry found that accommodations are not always included in an IEP. Some appear to be fairly ad hoc and informal.
While recording the accommodation in an IEP helps keep a record of the accommodation and in the right circumstances can promote accountability, it is not enough to make sure the accommodation will be successful. In its inquiry submission, the Toronto Family Network noted:
[W]hat is most important regarding any and all accommodations is not … whether or not they are written on the IEP but whether or not they are being implemented efficiently, effectively, regularly and consistently across all teachers, all curriculum areas, and developmental areas (social, emotional, psychological).
To make sure the student’s evolving needs are met, the duty to accommodate requires open communication – and partnership – with families. The duty to accommodate requires educators and administrators to proactively monitor accommodations to make sure any concerns that have surfaced or needs that have changed are addressed in a timely way. Yet the inquiry found that that students and parents do not always receive regular reports on whether accommodations are successfully allowing students to access the curriculum.
Students and parents should give input into the IEP, both at the time it is created and on an ongoing basis. This does not appear to be happening in at least some cases.
The inquiry found that IEPs as currently prepared are not always thorough, individualized or useful. There does not appear to be a practice of including a description of accommodation strategies that were tried but were unsuccessful, so that future educators take care not to repeat ineffective accommodations. There does not appear to be an expectation to include a timetable for evaluating, monitoring and communicating the effectiveness of the listed accommodations in helping the student reach their learning expectations. There does not appear to be a mandate for schools to regularly examine (for example, once every reporting period) whether listed accommodations are helping the student meet the learning goals and expectations laid out in the IEP.
All educators (including occasional teachers, commonly known as supply teachers) who support a student do not always have easy access to the student’s IEP, which means that it cannot be applied consistently by all educators who interact with the student. The inquiry found that there does not appear to currently be a system where educators maintain ongoing communication about the status of accommodations with the student, their parents, other teachers, and other professionals and support staff involved with the student.
School boards are inappropriately using modifications for students with reading difficulties, in many cases in place of accommodations and interventions. Some boards do not appear to have safeguards in place to make sure modification is used only as a last resort. And many students and parents do not fully understand the potential negative consequences of modifying curriculum expectations for the student’s educational trajectory.
Thirty-eight per cent of educator/other professional survey respondents said that based on what they have observed in the education system, “currently…the learning expectations of students with reading disabilities [are] modified” often or always. Only 30% of respondents said that “before modifying their learning expectations…students with reading disabilities receive reading interventions” often or always. Fifty-six per cent of respondents said that “before modifying their learning expectations…students with reading disabilities receive accommodations” often or always.
Some educators and other professionals said there is system-wide confusion about accommodation and modification. A psychologist said: “I’m not convinced that most teachers understand the difference between accommodations and modifications.” Other survey respondents said that some teachers conflate decoding with comprehension and inappropriately modify expectations for a student who only has issues with decoding.
Some educators and other professional respondents said that modifications are provided only in limited circumstances. One teacher said they are provided only if the student’s “reading is [two] years below grade level based on [an academic achievement] assessment.” Another teacher said that if “the student is [three or more] years behind in their reading level, we modify language and maybe math [and if] more severe, other subjects may also be modified as needed.”
These and similar practices are concerning, because modifications should be used only as a last resort. Students with reading difficulties may be two or more years behind in reading and not need modifications. Both interventions and accommodations need to be implemented to allow the student to fully take part in grade-level curriculum. Poor decoding and word-reading skills are the definition of reading disabilities. Measures of these skills being behind should not lead to modifications. Rather, this is precisely when accommodations should bridge the gap to allow full participation in grade-level curriculum across subject areas.
It is also important to note that the more extreme step of grade retention (sometimes called “holding students back a grade”) is not a solution to learning difficulties – including reading disabilities. The evidence is overwhelming that grade retention has negative social and educational consequences.
The OHRC asked school boards if they are using modification as a last resort only after all accommodation options and reading interventions have been fully exhausted. Several inquiry boards admitted that modifications are not always a last resort. For example, one board stated:
Typically accommodations are provided prior to modifications. In some cases students who transfer in from other boards and have modifications on their IEP, those modifications are adhered to until our teachers are able to perform their own diagnostic assessments. In some cases, a teacher may modify the number or complexity of grade-level expectations while gathering baseline information while classroom teams work in collaboration with school and system teams.
Reading interventions are not always provided to students before creating modified curriculum expectations particularly around expectations for decoding or reading fluency.
Another board said it has seen programs being modified “too quickly” and acknowledged that “modifying is a serious step…as soon as you modify you are building in gaps.” The board reported that it has challenged schools to take a hard look at using modification “because it has a significant impact on pathways for students.” The board has “been very clear to schools with intensive [professional development] that there should not be any consideration for modifying until all accommodations [are] exhausted.”
Another board had a similar view, acknowledging that “if teachers modify below grade level, it has lifelong implications for school pathways and future work.” The board reported “trying to make educators understand that if they modify early on, [students] don’t ever get caught up.”
In 2021, an Education Standards Development Committee (formed under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA)) prepared an initial report that discussed the harmful effects of modifications. The ESD Committee stated that students should not prematurely be removed from accessing age-appropriate curriculum and/or the regular classroom based only on a diagnosis or identification. It noted that this narrows student pathways, creates barriers to accessing credit-bearing courses and impacts post-secondary options. The ESD Committee also noted the intersectional effects of this:
Current research…provides evidence that racialized minority students are disproportionately segregated in special education classrooms with fewer pathways remaining open to them over the duration of their school careers. Moreover, students with disabilities from racialized cultural minorities are overrepresented in segregated special education classes and disadvantaged through streaming processes.
Educators and other professionals acknowledged how the inappropriate use of modifications can limit students’ future opportunities. One teacher noted:
Too often, teachers just modify, keeping students at [Grade 1]. They don't expose students to the language, vocabulary, syntax and literature at grade level, so the students fall further behind. Students should be using AT to access grade level text while simultaneously receiving remedial reading instruction. When we keep them modified forever at [Grade 1 or 2], then we cut off their chances for post-secondary, or even for applied or academic in high school one day.
Another educator highlighted that these modifications sometimes happen without families understanding the long-term effect on the student:
This is a travesty because these students' parents are not told that they cannot obtain a Graduation Diploma out of high school if they are modified there. Most students with [learning disabilities] have average IQ…which means they should NOT have modified IEPs rather simply accommodations. What happens is many schools want to give good marks to these kids for their self-esteem, so they include a modified curriculum in the IEP. It's not modified to a different grade either, just modified.
One inquiry board explained what can happen when schools fail to clearly explain to parents the nature and effect of modifications:
…all parents will see [is a] “modified” statement on [the] IEP which [the parents] may or may not…understand…[so] parents of a Grade 8 student [might] see a B on [the] report card, [and] they don’t understand why the transition team is recommending [the] student take locally developed courses in high school…[because] they don’t realize [their] child is getting a B but working at a Grade 4 level.
Parents also voiced concerns about program modifications. For example, at the OHRC’s London hearing, one parent shared her experience of agreeing to her children entering a modified program without any awareness of its possible effects. She described attending IPRC meetings about her children’s reading disabilities, where school staff recommended placing her children on modified programs. She agreed, but soon discovered how her children’s “pathway” of learning could be changed and their ability to attend post-secondary education could be compromised. She expressed shock that no one at the meeting told her that modifications were a “last resort” and “would affect what courses they could take in high school.” She also said:
It would have been so helpful to know the effects of a modified IEP before the meeting so we could have thought it through. I’m not saying modification isn’t needed, but it shouldn’t be added before we are able to see if accommodations alone are enough. There should be information given to parents explicitly explaining this and it should have to be signed by everyone involved so parents are fully aware and the school has explained to the parents what this does to a child’s learning pathway.
In its interview with the OHRC, one board cautioned that “we have to be careful that we’re not modifying for our convenience as teachers” – to alleviate “the overall worry about what goes on a report card,” and because at times it can be “difficult to have difficult conversations with parents.” At the same time and as noted earlier, teachers may be placed in very difficult positions with inadequate resources to successfully accommodate students’ learning needs. Teachers may turn to modification because it feels like a last resort in a system that is not adequately supporting school staff to successfully implement accommodations and interventions or gain access to AT.
Students and parents raised concerns about the overuse of modifications. One parent said they worry modifications “will not help the situation.” Another parent said a teacher “lowered the level” of their child’s work contrary to recommendations in the IEP and only “stopped after complaint.” One parent said that because of modified expectations, the school “did nothing” to teach their child to read and “bring him up to grade level,” and he has remained at the same writing level for four years.
In their survey responses, educators and other professionals said that modifications are beneficial in some cases. One person raised concerns that some necessary modifications may not be provided because “sometimes parents object to modifying [the] program,” or because the teachers find modifications “really hard to do – it’s basically making two or three versions of all assignments and rubrics [and] many teachers don’t understand how to do this or simply don’t have time,” or because “[t]eachers and staff are encouraged not to modify as this makes more work during reporting, and issues with students going from grade to grade.”
Because modifications limit students’ future opportunities, schools should not offer them until evidence-based reading instruction and reading interventions have been delivered, and multiple accommodations have been implemented, evaluated and adjusted. Even then, students and parents (and educators) must clearly understand the implications of the student embarking on a modified program, and have the right to choose not to modify.
The inquiry found that most if not all boards lack protocols to make sure multiple interventions and accommodations are provided before schools modify curriculum expectations. Most if not all boards lack procedures and protections to make sure modification is used as a last resort. The Ministry does not appear to have offered any guidance to boards on these points.
Although the inquiry focused on modification in the context of students with reading difficulties, it also heard that modifications are often inappropriately used for students with other disabilities, with the same negative consequences. The inquiry’s recommendations with respect to modifications apply generally to all students.
The OHRC makes the following recommendations:
Develop standards for educator professional learning on accommodations and modifications
86. The Ministry of Education (Ministry) should work with external expert(s) to revise its program planning and professional development policy documents to address:
- Key steps for accommodating a reading difficulty, including:
- Provide accommodations at the same time as reading interventions, where appropriate
- Consider students’ individual needs (including intersectional needs), develop a range of possible accommodation options, and provide the accommodations that best serve students’ needs without causing undue hardship
- Seek out accommodations that have a strong track record of boosting student performance and experience
- Support accommodations with comprehensive, sustained and job-embedded professional development
- Provide accommodations as quickly as possible, provide interim accommodations where it will take time to develop permanent ones, and make sure accommodation supports are maintained during transition periods
- Work with students and their families to establish students’ accommodation needs, and monitor accommodations for any necessary changes.
- Communicate openly and regularly with students, parents and other education staff throughout the accommodation process
- Regularly evaluate the impact of accommodations to make sure they are helping to improve the students’ learning experience and performance
- Take a proactive approach to prevent bullying and eliminate the stigma that is attached to some accommodations, by educating students and teachers about learning differences and explaining that supports and accommodations simply provide equitable access to learning and the curriculum for all students.
- Examples of assistive technology (AT) and non-AT accommodations that support students with reading difficulties and situations where each may be appropriate
- The limited role of modifications as a “last resort” including that:
- Students with reading difficulties should first receive evidence-based classroom reading instruction, reading interventions and accommodations to allow them to meet grade-level expectations. If the student is not responding to initial interventions and accommodations, then more intensive interventions and further accommodations should be offered
- Only when these have been exhausted and the student is still unable to meet grade-level expectations with accommodations (as assessed using evidence-based assessments), modification to a lower grade-level expectation for the specific expectation(s) the student cannot meet may be considered
- Before modifying to a lower grade-level expectation, parents – and students, where appropriate – must be informed that a modification to a lower grade-level expectation has the potential to affect the student’s ability to “catch up” to their grade-level peers, access future course options, and access post-secondary school options
- Once a student’s curriculum expectations have been modified, school boards should continue to consider whether further interventions or accommodations may allow the student to be brought up to grade level.
87. The Ministry should develop customizable materials to support school boards in delivering professional learning on the revisions to the program planning and professional development policy.
88. On a yearly basis, school boards should provide teachers with comprehensive, sustained and job-embedded professional development on the revisions to the program planning and professional development policy, and include this professional development in their new teacher induction program.
89. The Ontario College of Teachers should require pre-service education to address revisions to the program planning and professional development policy, and make sure relevant Additional Qualifications courses [including Inclusive Classrooms, Language, Principal’s Development Course and Principal’s Qualification, Reading, Special Education, Teaching Students with Communication Needs (Learning Disabilities), and Use and Knowledge of Assistive Technology], address this training need.
Improve access to accommodations
90. The Ministry should evaluate existing funding structures and levels to make sure adequate resources are provided to boards to provide timely and appropriate accommodations to all students who need them. The Ministry should provide teachers and other educators with comprehensive, sustained and job-embedded training on accommodation. Boards should support the Ministry’s evaluation by tracking and reporting on what necessary accommodations or accommodation supports, including training, cannot be provided due to resource constraints.
91. The Ministry should develop a broad, province-wide information technology (IT) strategy for curriculum delivery, with a focus on equitable access to AT for students with reading difficulties.
92. The Ministry should create and make public examples of AT products that are available in Ontario, along with a description of how and when each product can be used. The Ministry should publish guidelines and protocols for comprehensive, sustained and job-embedded AT training, including who should provide the training, how often, what topics the training should cover, and who should attend the training.
93. The Ministry should make sure that every resource on the Trillium List is available in digital form and is compatible with AT.
94. The Ministry should eliminate the current requirement that Special Equipment Amount (SEA) claims-based funds require a professional assessment.
95. School boards should simplify the process for AT accommodations by removing any requirements for psychoeducational assessments and/or an Identification, Placement and Review committee (IPRC), and by minimizing the number of required staff approvals.
96. School boards should mandate that all classroom assignments, handouts and tests must be available electronically (in a format compatible with AT) at or before the time they are distributed to the class.
97. School boards should have sufficient knowledgeable and trained staff to provide comprehensive, sustained and job-embedded AT training and support for teachers and other educators, and also to provide training for students, and where requested, parents.
98. School boards should make sure the student’s Ontario Student Record (OSR) is immediately transferred when a student moves from one school board to another.
99. School boards should communicate effectively to students and parents, through multiple platforms and forums, about the right to receive accommodation including: 
- That students with disabilities are entitled to accommodation (including at any grade level and in both French and English-language programs)
- That accommodations for students with reading difficulties should be provided alongside evidence-based interventions
- How students and parents can be involved in the accommodation process.
100. Teachers and educational assistants should proactively identify students who need accommodation, not just when parents or students advocate for it. Students should not be expected to self-advocate to receive accommodations.
101. Where the best accommodation option short of undue hardship is unknown or unavailable because of a lack of information or resources, teachers, educational assistants and schools should provide interim accommodation immediately.
Improve accountability around accommodations and modifications
102. The Ministry of Education (Ministry) should include examples of appropriate accommodation timelines in an Education Accessibility Standard, its Individual Education Plan (IEP) guide and/or an update to Special Education in Ontario, Kindergarten to Grade 12, 2017, Draft. These timelines should include maximum times between:
- The request for accommodation and follow-up meeting with the parent (and student, where appropriate)
- The request for accommodation and its start
- The start of accommodation and a progress update to the parent (and student, where appropriate)
- All future progress updates.
103. School boards should provide students and parents with a straightforward and meaningful complaint process for accommodations, and should refer to it in their Special Education Plans and in all special education guides for parents.
104. The Ministry should mandate that an IEP be developed for every student who regularly needs accommodation (including specialized equipment) for instruction or assessment.
105. Boards should create a checklist of key accommodation-related items teachers and administrators should consider when developing IEPs, including “information obtained from consultations with parents and psychologists and other professionals, strategies and accommodations tried by previous teachers, the results of educational diagnostic tests, and minutes of in-school support team meetings.”
106. Boards should develop and mandate use of a board-wide electronic management system for IEPs. Schools should make sure that every educator (including every supply teacher) who works with the student has access to their IEP.
107. Boards should mandate that schools examine, at least every reporting period, whether accommodations are helping the student meet the learning goals and expectations laid out in the IEP.
108. Teachers, educational assistants and schools should make a plan, including a timetable, for gathering student and parent input on accommodations, and for evaluating, monitoring and communicating the effectiveness of the accommodations in helping the student reach their learning expectations. This plan should be shared with the student and parents.
109. Boards should make sure that parents provide informed consent to modifying a student’s curriculum expectations (including making sure they understand the effects on the student’s academic progress, future course options and job opportunities).
110. Boards should publicly report every year on what percentage of students have had their curriculum expectations modified and how.
 As noted in OHRC, Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities, supra note 7 at 83:
“Education providers have a legal duty to accommodate students with disabilities to the point of undue hardship. Some degree of hardship may be expected – it is only if the hardship is “undue” that the accommodation will not need to be provided.” (citing to: Central Okanagan School District No 23 v Renaud,  2 SCR 970 at para 984).
 Ontario Ministry of Education, Special Education in Ontario, supra note 198 at part E.
 See OHRC, Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities, supra note 7; also see OHRC, Policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability, supra note 1.
 The inquiry heard this from a concerned educator – in particular related to EQAO testing, as the use of AT for EQAO testing does not lead to an accurate representation of the effectiveness of reading instruction. See also: IDA, Lifting the Curtain on EQAO Scores, supra note 59 at 12.
 For a discussion of factors related specifically to AT accommodations, see David Mitchell & Dean Sutherland, What Really Works in Special and Inclusive Education: Using Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies, 3rd ed (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2020) at 313–325 [Mitchell & Sutherland, What Really Works].
 More research is needed to determine the value and potential drawbacks of each type of accommodation for reading disabilities. Some accommodations – such as providing extra time for tests and assignments – are widely implemented and evidence-based. See for example Christina Schneider et al, “Testing Accommodations for Students with Dyslexia: Key Opportunities to Understand Student Thinking” (last visited 31 January 2022), online (pdf): National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment nciea.org/sites/default/files/publications/Testing-Accommodations-for-Students-with-Dyslexia.pdf. Academic studies have also concluded that accommodations that involve presenting some or all material to students in an auditory way (read-aloud accommodations) are valuable for students with reading disabilities. See for example:
- Michelle Giusto & Linnea C Ehri, “Effectiveness of a Partial Read-Aloud Test Accommodation to Assess Reading Comprehension in Students with a Reading Disability” (Dissertation for the Doctor of Philosophy at the City University of New York, 2015), online (pdf): CUNY Academic Works https://academicworks.cuny.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1958&context=gc_etds
- Jack M Fletcher et al., “Effects of accommodations on high-stakes testing for students with reading disabilities” (2006) 72:2 Exceptional Children 136, online: Research Gate https://www.researchgate.net/publication/284680614_Effects_of_Accommodations_on_High-Stakes_Testing_for_Students_with_Reading_Disabilities
- Allison G Gandhi et al, “Enhancing Accessibility for Students with Decoding Difficulties on Large-Scale Reading Assessments” (2018) 51:6 J of Learn Disabil 540, online: Research Gate https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317595851_Enhancing_Accessibility_for_Students_With_Decoding_Difficulties_on_Large-Scale_Reading_Assessments.
 Integra, “A Handbook on Learning Disabilities,” supra note 94 at 23.
 Malgorzata & da Cosa, supra note 95.
 Technology alone does not lead to good outcomes in student writing. For example, studies have shown variable results in the effects of word processing on writing. One analysis noted: “In summary, word processing had a moderate impact on the writing of students in Grades 4–12, but there was also considerable variability from one study to the next.” S Graham & D Perin, “A meta-analysis of writing instruction for adolescent students” (2007) 99:3 Journal of educational psychology 445 at 464, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0622.214.171.1245.
 Kristin Stanberry & Marshall H Raskind, “Assistive Technology for Kids with Learning Disabilities: An Overview” (2009) at What is assistive technology for LD?, online: Reading Rockets readingrockets.org/article/assistive-technology-kids-learning-disabilities-overview. See also: Karen Erickson, “Reading and Assistive Technology: Why the Reader’s Profile Matters” (2013) 38:4 Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Technology and Dyslexia Part 1 at 11, online (pdf): IDA Florida fl.dyslexiaida.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/33/2017/09/Technology-and-Dyslexia-Part-1-by-Jennifer-Topple-Kim-Pastavridis-on-09-23-2017.pdf.
 David H Roose et al, “Theme Editors’ Introduction: Technology and Dyslexia – Part 1” (2013) 38:4 Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Technology and Dyslexia Part 1 at 7, online (pdf): IDA Florida fl.dyslexiaida.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/33/2017/09/Technology-and-Dyslexia-Part-1-by-Jennifer-Topple-Kim-Pastavridis-on-09-23-2017.pdf.
 Marla J Lohmann et al, “Using Assistive Technology Tools to Support Learning in the Inclusive Preschool Classroom” (2019) 8:2 The Journal of Special Education Apprenticeship 1. See also Idor Svensson et al, “Effects of assistive technology for students with reading and writing disabilities” (2021) 16:2 Disabil Rehabil Assist Technol 196, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17483107.2019.1646821.
 Annual Follow-Up on Value for Money Audits: 1.12 School Boards – IT Systems and Technology in the Classroom (2020) at 181–82, online (pdf): Office of the Auditor General www.auditor.on.ca/en/content/annualreports/arreports/en20/FU_112en20.pdf. [Auditor General, 2020 Follow-up on Value for Money Audit: IT Systems].
 Full criteria are:
- Instruction has been differentiated and appropriate accommodations have been consistently implemented
- Targeted interventions to close skills gaps have been ongoing and progress has been documented
- Formal assessment has been completed to investigate academic achievement (i.e. WIAT) and results have been considered with respect to language skills and thinking and reasoning skills
- Learning Coordinator supports discussion at a Program Development Team ( PDT) meeting when modified programming is being considered
- Recommendation for modified program is supported by TVDSB professional services staff (i.e. Psychology Services, Speech and Language Services)
- Parents are informed of the impact of program modification on pathway planning and credit accumulation
- Decisions regarding program modification are documented in the Program Development Team (PDT) meeting summary.
 Department of Education: Service Delivery Model for Students with Exceptionalities, Professional Learning Package, Fall 2011 (2011), online (pdf): Government of Newfoundland and Labrador gov.nl.ca/education/files/k12_studentsupportservices_publications_service_delivery_model.pdf.
 See Special Education Funding Guidelines: Special Equipment Amount (SEA) 2020-21 (2020), online (pdf): Ontario Ministry of Education http://edu.gov.on.ca/eng/funding/2021/2020-21-sea-guidelines-en.pdf [Ontario Ministry of Education, SEA Guidelines 2020-21].
- The Ontario Ministry of Education clarifies that school boards may purchase software that increases access to the Ontario curriculum to support students with special education needs, through the SEA Per-Pupil Amount. This can include reading intervention software.
 Ontario Ministry of Education, SEA Guidelines 2020-21, supra note 1107 at 4.
 See Special Education Funding Guidelines: Special Equipment Amount (SEA), 2017-18 (2017), online (pdf): Ontario Ministry of Education edu.gov.on.ca/eng/funding/1718/2017_18_sea_guidelines_en.pdf. Compare with: Special Education Funding Guidelines: Special Equipment Amount (SEA), 2018-19 (2018), online (pdf): Ontario Ministry of Education edu.gov.on.ca/eng/funding/1819/2018-19-sea-guidelines-en.pdf.
 Ontario Ministry of Education, SEA Guidelines 2020-21, supra note 1107 at 2.
 ARCH, If Inclusion Means Everyone, WHY NOT ME?, supra note 17.
 Auditor General, 2017 Annual Report, supra note 183, at s. 3.08, 439.
 Ibid, at s. 3.08, 441.
 See, for example, the State of Minnesota’s resource on assistive technology: “Types of Assistive Technology” (last visited 31 January 2022), online: Minnesota http://mn.gov/admin/at/getting-started/understanding-at/types/ [Minnesota, “Types of Assistive Technology].
 18% said all; 39% said most; 30% said some; 6% said few.
 40% said the school provided accommodation, another 40% said the school provided accommodation but only after the family requested it, and 9% of respondents said the school did not provide accommodation even though the family requested it.
 19% somewhat agreed.
 See OHRC, Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities, supra note 7 at 28.
 OECTA cited: What Makes a School? Annual Report on Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools 2019 (2019), online: People for Education peopleforeducation.ca/report/2019-annual-report-on-schools-what-makes-a-school/; Michelle McQuigge, “Ontario students with special needs increasingly asked to stay home: report” The Globe and Mail (26 June 2018); Kristin Rushowy & Rob Ferguson, “Special ed cuts to hit most Ontario boards” Toronto Star (12 March 2015).
 In Kahn v Upper Grand District School Board, 2019 HRTO 1137, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) considered the case of a student with autism, who was enrolled in a French immersion program but was offered accommodation in an English program against the parent’s wishes. The HRTO found the school board’s accommodation to be reasonable. However, it is notable that the HRTO also stated at para 264 that “accommodation without undue hardship at the French Immersion school could no longer be provided by the respondent.” [emphasis added].
 This is consistent with ARCH, If Inclusion Means Everyone, WHY NOT ME?, supra note 17 at 18, which found: “A theme that emerged from the interviews was parents having to take on a leadership role in the relationship with schools. Parents who had good relationships with their child’s school, as well as parents in conflict with the school, discussed how it was often up to them to initiate communication and information sharing. Further, parents discussed how often the onus was on them to request meetings regarding academic accommodations and the development of IEPs.”
 9% said all; 29% said most; 35% said some; 15% said few.
 4% said always; 35% said sometimes; 50% said never. When educator survey respondents were asked if a psychoeducational assessment is typically required now, 6% said always; 38% said sometimes; 32% said never. When student survey respondents were asked if psychoeducational assessments were required to receive their accommodations, 72% said yes and 21% said no.
 7% said always; 26% said sometimes; 57% said never. When educator survey respondents were asked if an IPRC is typically required now, 7% said always; 31% said sometimes; 37% said never. When student survey respondents were asked if an IPRC was required to receive their accommodation, 52% said yes and 33% said no.
 When educators and other professionals were asked whether accommodations are included on IEPs, 45% said always; 40% said sometimes; 2% said never. When asked if accommodations SHOULD be identified in a student’s IEP, 69% said always; 23% said sometimes; 3% said never.
 “Students of any age or ability must be directly involved in providing input into the development of their Individual Education Plan (IEP)…”: see Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, We Have Something to Say: Young people and their families speak out about special needs and change (2016) at 79, rec. 8, online (pdf): Ontario Child Advocate Archive ocaarchives.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/we-have-something-to-say-report-en.pdf [Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, We Have Something to Say].
 See Auditor General, 2008 Annual Report, supra note 183 at s. 3.14, 374: “encourage school boards to ensure that information useful in preparing IEPs – such as summaries of information obtained from consultations with parents and psychologists and other professionals, strategies and accommodations tried by previous teachers, the results of educational diagnostic tests, and minutes of in-school support team meetings – is available to and used by the preparers.”
 “[A school principal must establish] a plan, including a timetable, for evaluating and monitoring the student’s progress towards achieving his or her learning expectations”: Ontario Ministry of Education, Special Education in Ontario, supra note 198 at E59. The guide also notes at E74 that a school principal “ensures that a student’s IEP is implemented and that, as part of implementation, the student’s achievement of the learning expectations is evaluated at least once every reporting period in which a Provincial Report Card is issued, and that the expectations are reviewed and updated at the beginning of every reporting period….” The guide further explains at E59 that an IEP checklist includes “[r]eporting dates for evaluations and an indication of the way in which student progress will be reported to parents.”
 There are three reporting periods in elementary schools (ending with the issuance of an Elementary Progress Report Card between October 20 and November 20, an Elementary Provincial Report card between January 20 and February 20 and an Elementary Provincial Report card towards the end of June). In a normal school year, there are two reporting periods for secondary school semester courses, and three reporting periods for secondary non-semester courses (due to COVID, some schools have moved to a quad-mester system with four reporting periods). For more information see Ontario Ministry of Education, Growing Success, supra note 941 at 54.
 For example: whether it continues to be used, whether it is helping the student reach learning expectations, what additional accommodations might be considered.
 [The teacher is responsible for] “reviews and updates [to] learning expectations at the beginning of each reporting period; [and] maintains ongoing communication with the student’s parents, other teachers, and other professionals and support staff involved with the student.” See Ontario Ministry of Education, Special Education in Ontario, supra note 198 at E75.
 8% said always; 30% said often; 51% said sometimes and 3% said never.
 11% said always; 19% said often; 44% said sometimes; 5% said never.
 24% said always; 32% said often; 27% said sometimes; 1% said never.
 C S Murray et al, “First-grade student retention within a 3-tier reading framework” (2010) 26:1 Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties 26, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10573560903396934; A P Huddleston, “Achievement at whose expense? A literature review of test-based grade retention policies in U.S. schools” (2014) 22:18 Education Policy Analysis Archives 1, DOI: https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.v22n18.2014; A L Reschly & S L Christenson “Grade retention: Historical perspectives and new research” (2013) 51:3 Journal of School Psychology 319; S E Moser & S G West, “Trajectories of math and reading achievement in low-achieving children in elementary school: Effects of early and later retention in grade 1” (2012) 104:3 Journal of Educational Psychology 603; M Abbott et al., “The combined effects of grade retention and targeted small group intervention on students' literacy outcomes” (2010) 26:1 Reading & Writing Quarterly 4; J N Hughes et al., “Effect of early grade retention on school completion: A prospective study” (2018) 110:7 Journal of Educational Psychology 974, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000243; L J Bowman-Perrott, “Introduction to grade retention among struggling readers” (2010) 26:1 Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties 1; H McGrath, “To repeat or not to repeat?” (2006) 26:2 Words 39, online (pdf): St Ambrose Primary School Pottsville http://successprimary.wa.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/To-repeat-or-not-to-repeat-article.pdf
 SO 2005, c 11.
 K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, Development of proposed K-12 education standards, supra note 969 at Barrier area narratives and recommendations: s. 3.
 Ibid, at Barrier area narratives and recommendations: s. 6, rec. 64:
As a part of efforts to educate the entire school community about inclusion of students and school community members with disabilities, all school boards will develop and implement workshops to educate on and address bullying and cyberbullying in schools and the impacts that they can have on students’ physical and mental health. These workshops need to be informed and facilitated by young persons with disabilities. The workshops are to be presented to all members of the school community.
 The Ministry can build upon its existing expertise to do this work. For example, see Ontario Ministry of Education, Policy/Program Memorandum No 151: Professional Activity Days devoted to provincial education priorities (18 August 2021), online (pdf): Government of Ontario https://ontario.ca/document/education-ontario-policy-and-program-direction/policyprogram-memorandum-151: “With the help of experts in identified topics, the ministry has developed customizable materials to support school boards in delivering professional learning to teachers. School boards are encouraged to adapt these materials for specific audiences and purposes, depending on the local context. These materials, as well as resources such as School Mental Health Ontario’s Mentally Healthy Return to School Toolkit, are available in the ministry’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).”
 OHRC recommendations to the Ontario College of Teachers, arising from its Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities, supra note 7, included that the Government of Ontario should:
13. Work with the Ontario College of Teachers to review all aspects of the curriculum for teachers’ colleges to ensure that prospective teachers and administrators have sufficient and practical instruction on disability issues (including specific training on common disabilities such as autism, ADHD, learning disabilities including dyslexia, mental health disabilities, etc.), the requirements of the Code, and UDL.
14. Work with the Ontario College of Teachers to provide regular and ongoing mandatory professional development opportunities for all teachers and administrators on how to fulfil their human rights obligations.
 For related recommendations, that the Ontario College of Teachers (i) “revise the guideline for accreditation of faculties of education” to “add more credits on teaching students with disabilities in the pre-service program,” (ii) “add training on the duty to accommodate all students with disabilities,” and (iii) create and distribute a professional advisory to certified teachers on accommodating students with disabilities, see: K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, Development of proposed K-12 education standards, supra note 969 at Barrier area narratives and recommendations: s. 5, rec 53.7 and 53.8.
 The OHRC has previously recommended that the Ontario Ministry of Education should “Evaluate existing funding structures and levels to ensure adequate resources are provided to school boards to meet the identified needs of all primary and secondary students with disabilities, provide timely and appropriate accommodation, and provide effective and current training for teachers and staff” (OHRC, Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities, supra note 7 at appendix 1, rec 11.) The Auditor General in 2017 recommended that the Ministry should “conduct a comprehensive external review of the funding formula, including all grant components and benchmarks, as recommended by the Education Equity Funding Task Force in 2002 [and] regularly review the formula and update all benchmarks to reflect the province’s changing demographics and socio-economic conditions” (Auditor General, 2017 Annual Report, supra note 183 at s. 3.08, 441). For a related recommendation, that the Ministry provide sufficient long-term funding through its Grants for Student Needs (GSN) program to support boards in getting AT, hardware and software to improve accessibility, see: K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, Development of proposed K-12 education standards, supra note 969 at Barrier area narratives and recommendations: s. 4, rec 36.
 Reporting can be completed through a new or existing process. For example, boards are required to “report on the provision by the board of special education programs and special education services” every two years; RRO 1990, Reg 306, s3.
 Auditor General, 2020 Follow-up on Value for Money Audit: IT Systems, supra note 1103 at 181–82; see also Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, We Have Something to Say, supra note 1129 at 78: “The government of Ontario must ensure that all children who need it can get timely access to effective assistive learning technology and that this technology be kept in good repair and up to date.”
 See for example Minnesota, “Types of Assistive Technology,” supra note 1117. For detailed recommendations about how the Ontario Ministry of Education and boards can develop procurement procedures to meet accessible, barrier-free standards, see: Education Standards Development Committee, Development of proposed K-12 education standards, supra note 969 at Barrier area narratives and recommendations: s. 3, rec 11 & s. 4, rec 38.2.
 For further discussion of AT training see: Education Standards Development Committee, Development of proposed K-12 education standards, supra note 969 at Barrier area narratives and recommendations: s. 2, rec 8.
 Under section 15 of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Reg. 191/11 (Integrated Accessibility Standards), institutions governed by the Education Act must provide educational or training resources or materials in “accessible or conversion ready electronic format”. The service provider cannot attempt to receive an exemption from this requirement by arguing that it would cause undue hardship.
 The OHRC has previously called upon boards to “Provide timely and effective accommodation (e.g. by providing early assessment, early intervention or interim accommodation while waiting for a professional assessment), and refrain from obstructing or delaying the accommodation process by rigidly insisting on formalities, unnecessary professional assessments, or diagnosis information.” See: OHRC, Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities, supra note 7 at appendix A, rec 17.
 For more details of how boards can develop AT training and create a “Digital and Technology Action Plan” to remove digital barriers, see: Education Standards Development Committee, Development of proposed K-12 education standards, supra note 969 at Barrier area narratives and recommendations: s. 4, rec 32-35.
 For a related recommendation, that the “District School Boards shall… ensure that students with a disability who move from school board to school board, or school to school, have the right to an individual education plan with same or comparable programs, services and accommodations…” see: Education Standards Development Committee, Development of proposed K-12 education standards, supra note 969 at Barrier area narratives and recommendations: s. 5, rec 49.17.
 See also: OHRC, Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities, supra note 7 at appendix A, rec 16.
 See: Education Standards Development Committee, Development of proposed K-12 education standards, supra note 969 at Barrier area narratives and recommendations: s. 3, rec 24: “The ministry and Boards require current and newly developed special programs, for example, French Immersion and Extended French, be open, fully accessible and barrier free for students with disabilities and that the programs be reviewed, monitored and developed utilizing open, transparent processes that provide for timely communication, accessibility and participation by students with disabilities.”
 For a similar recommendation, that “no proposed services, supports or accommodations that the school board is prepared to offer shall be withheld from a student pending a review,” see: Education Standards Development Committee, Development of proposed K-12 education standards, supra note 969 at Barrier area narratives and recommendations: s. 5, rec 49.15.
- See Auditor General, 2008 Annual Report, supra note 183 at s. 3.14, 379: “To help ensure that students with special education needs receive timely support as outlined in their Individual Education Plans (IEPs), the Ministry of Education should compare procedures and practices at a sample of school boards where the IEP deadlines are routinely met with those where they are usually not met, and include examples of timelines and effective practices in the IEP guide.”
 The Ontario Ministry of Education’s Special Education in Ontario guide currently states: “If a student regularly requires accommodations (including specialized equipment) for instructional or assessment purposes, it is advisable to develop an IEP: (supra note 198 at E11).
 In 2008, the Auditor General called on the Ministry of Education to “encourage school boards to ensure that information useful in preparing IEPs – such as summaries of information obtained from consultations with parents and psychologists and other professionals, strategies and accommodations tried by previous teachers, the results of educational diagnostic tests, and minutes of in-school support team meetings – is available to and used by the preparers” (Auditor General, 2008 Annual Report, supra note 183 at s. 3.14, 374). See also: Education Standards Development Committee, Development of proposed K-12 education standards, supra note 969 at Barrier area narratives and recommendations: s. 5, “Individual education plans recommendations.”
 “While the ministry does not mandate a particular management system for the IEP, most boards use an electronic management system.” See Ontario Ministry of Education, Special Education in Ontario, supra note 198 at E1.
 [Principals must instruct] the staff member assigned to coordinate the development and implementation of the IEP…[to] ensure that everyone involved in providing programs and services for the student is aware of the IEP’s contents. See Ontario Ministry of Education, Special Education in Ontario, supra note 198 at E59.
 There are three reporting periods in elementary schools (ending with the issuance of an Elementary Progress Report Card between October 20 and November 20, an Elementary Provincial Report card between January 20 and February 20, and an Elementary Provincial Report card towards the end of June). There are two reporting periods for secondary school semester courses and three reporting periods for secondary non-semester courses. For more information, see Ontario Ministry of Education, Growing Success, supra note 941 at 54.
- See Auditor General, 2008 Annual Report, supra note 183 at s. 3.14, 378: “school boards should ensure that schools set measurable learning goals and measurable learning expectations in IEPs.”
 [The teacher is responsible for] “reviews and updates learning expectations at the beginning of each reporting period; [and] maintains ongoing communication with the student’s parents, other teachers, and other professionals and support staff involved with the student.” See Ontario Ministry of Education, Special Education in Ontario, supra note 198 at E75.
 See Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, We Have Something to Say, supra note 1129 at 79: “Students of any age or ability must be directly involved in providing input into the development of their Individual Education Plan (IEP)…”
 Educators and schools can build upon, and improve upon, existing processes. According to the Ministry’s Special Education in Ontario guide: a school principal must establish “a plan, including a timetable, for evaluating and monitoring the student’s progress towards achieving his or her learning expectations” (Ontario Ministry of Education, Special Education in Ontario, supra note 198 at E75); a school principal must ensure “that a student’s IEP is implemented and that, as part of implementation, the student’s achievement of the learning expectations is evaluated at least once every reporting period in which a Provincial Report Card is issued, and that the expectations are reviewed and updated at the beginning of every reporting period…” (ibid at E74); and an IEP checklist should be used and should include “[r]eporting dates for evaluations and an indication of the way in which student progress will be reported to parents” (ibid, at E59). For a discussion of how individual education plans can be improved, see Education Standards Development Committee, Development of proposed K-12 education standards, supra note 969 at Barrier area narratives and recommendations: s. 5, “Individual education plans recommendations.”