Yesterday I received a message from a teacher in Northern British Columbia that brought me to tears. She wrote to me asking for help with one of her students, who is significantly behind her peers in reading. This family has a history of dyslexia, so that means there is a 50% chance this child will have it too. This child has almost finished the second grade and does not know the sounds that each letter of the alphabet makes. Also, this child does not know how to rhyme words. This child has attended school and has received small group reading interventions. Despite all the teacher’s best efforts based on her training, this is a child that is falling through the cracks.
This poor teacher is at a loss for what to do next, she said:
“The reality is that we don’t have any support in the classroom. It is me. One teacher. The same in the next grade and the next. Psych Ed does not usually happen before the end of grade 3, despite the dire need for it. We have so few spaces available for testing that she may not be tested until grade 4.”
Reading this upset me for many reasons. First, I could feel the teacher’s pain and frustration because I know she is doing the absolute best for this student, and she is willing to do anything she can to help. Second, this child is likely going to have to wait until grade 4 for a diagnosis of a reading disability such as dyslexia. The problem with this delay is that the student’s reading level will likely never catch up to their peers. The damage that will result from this could be catastrophic, including poor self-esteem, dropping out of school, substance abuse, delinquent behaviour, and problems finding meaningful employment as an adult.
Unfortunately, as I said before, this child is living in rural Northern British Columbia, where they do not have equal access to education as their urban peers. The school district does not have the same supports in place as districts larger districts have and the support they do have are spread over a larger geographical location. If this child’s parents had the means to pay for a private diagnosis and intervention, they would have a hard time finding these services in their location.
Based on the description of these child’s symptoms, they would likely need intensive, daily interventions from a highly trained individual familiar with the science of teaching reading in a structured literacy approach. Currently, the majority of British Columbia’s teachers have not been trained in structured literacy instruction. This child is already nearing the end of the period where interventions are most effective.
It is not fair that even though this child is only in grade two, I can tell you that they have lower chances of success in life than their peers. I say this because reading is an essential skill for an individual to have to be a contributing member to society.
The province of British Columbia needs to step up for this child and make a down payment on getting this child’s future right. There is a screening measure that costs $10.00 per student that, with short training, their teacher could administer. This measure would identify the student’s needs and provide the teacher with the information they need to deliver targeted interventions for this student. While this would not completely fix the problem for this student, it would be a start for a better future. The $10.00 spent now would save the government, thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars in the future. Most importantly, it would give this child a better chance of success in life.
Unfortunately, this story is far from unique, and the government MUST make this commitment to all students in the primary grades who are struggling with learning how to read. This change needs to be made NOW!