Education Canada Magazine

EdCan Network, Promising Practices

The Signal: Increased focus on closing the gaps for students with learning disabilities

A Slew of Signals

Participant reflections on signals of change

Participants at the 2016 EdCan Network Regional Exchanges discussed more signals of change than we could possibly cover — but we wanted to share a sense of their range and significance. We invited a number of participants to write a short piece reflecting on one of the signals they brought to the Exchange. Some appear below; others are published on the EdCan Network website.


In 2016, the Ontario Ministry of Education launched the Learning Disabilities Pilot Projects. The goal of these projects is to provide better support for students with Learning Disabilities. Working with eight publicly funded school boards, the Ministry is running three-year intensive reading pilot projects. All eight school boards are using the Empower Reading Program, an evidence-based reading remediation program developed by the Hospital for Sick Children. In addition to addressing reading, school boards are also tasked with looking at ways to support the social-emotional functioning of students with learning disabilities and access to assistive technology.

So what?

Focused reading instruction takes place in the primary grades. As the system moves from “learn to read” to “read to learn,” students who struggle with reading after Grade 3 often receive little support or remediation to improve their skills. While some reading remediation programming does exist for older students, it is not widely available across the province, and varies greatly from school board to school board. As students get older, and fall farther behind their peers, positive academic and social-emotional outcomes become harder to achieve.

During the 2015-2016 school year, the Ontario Ministry of Education conducted a Consultation into the Provincial and Demonstration Schools, which are run by the Ministry and support students who are Deaf or hard of hearing, blind, Deaf/blind or have severe learning disabilities. At the time of the Consultation, many feared that the government was looking to close these schools. As a result of the findings, these schools remain open, and this pilot project was created to take some of the best practices of the demonstration schools, and reach more students through implementation at the school board level. As an educator who was working at a Demonstration School at the time of the Consultations, and who believes ardently that we must do what we can to find a way to support all students, the pilot projects represent a recognition that change is needed if we are to truly commit to teaching all students.

What now?

Moving forward, school boards can build upon the proven success of research-based reading remediation programs, such as Empower, and begin to implement them widely. We can recognize the emotional toll that learning challenges can place on a student, and develop social-emotional supports. All educators can refuse to accept the premise that a student with a learning disability may never learn to read well, and seek out ways to support all students to achieve success.


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Photos: Max Cooke and Yolande Nantel

First published in Education Canada, March 2018

Meet the Expert

Candide Dovey


Candide is an educator, presenter and (very) amateur rock climber who specializes in Special Education, Literacy and Technology. She is passionate about the power of inquiry, growth mindset and empath...

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