Evidence based literacy instruction, identification & intervention for ACT Students

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To the Speaker and Members of the Legislative Assembly for the Australian Capital Territory

This petition of certain residents of the Australian Capital Territory draws to the attention of the Assembly that:  

on the 21st of August 2012, an official Dyslexia Petition No.138 including 625 signatures was tabled at the ACT Legislative Assembly. As a result, former ACT Education Minister, Dr Chris Bourke MLA set up a Taskforce on Students with Learning Difficulties.

Recommendations from the Taskforce were provided to the ACT Education Minister at the time, Ms Joy Burch MLA in a report published in June 2013:

All recommendations were agreed upon by the former ACT Education Minister Ms Joy Burch MLA and the implementation of the recommendations commenced. But disappointingly, the actions to implement the recommendations were short lived.

In 2018 appropriate evidence based literacy instruction, identification and interventions are still greatly lacking for students with difficulties in learning to read, including dyslexia (a specific learning difficulty) in many ACT schools.

Your petitioners, including members of the community Facebook group, Dyslexia Information for the Canberra Region, and supported by the Not-for-Profit organisation Code Read Dyslexia Network Australia, therefore, request the Assembly to:

bring to the attention of the ACT Minister for Education, Ms Yvette Berry MLA and Shadow ACT Minister for Education, Ms Elizabeth Lee MLA, so they may introduce, debate and pass relevant laws, or request the Executive or officials to act under existing law and policy (as the case may be) to recognise that students with difficulties learning to read, including those with dyslexia, are still disadvantaged in ACT Schools and that they require the following changes to address the current disadvantage or discrimination these students currently endure:

1.   Implementation of evidence-based literacy instruction in all ACT Schools which is essential to provide ALL students with the very best opportunity to learn to read whilst attending school.  Explicit, systematic synthetic phonics instruction as part of the Five Keys to reading (Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary & Comprehension) has been proven to be the most effective. Additionally when a student requires intensive instruction then evidence based Tier 2 or Tier 3 intervention is also essential. Please click on the following links to read about evidence-based literacy instruction and interventions, here, here, here and here.

2.   To provide the very best opportunity for emergent readers to learn to read, decodable readers are a valuable and often necessary tool and a beneficial resource to support Teachers using explicit systematic synthetic phonics instruction in the classroom. Decodable readers are books that contain phonetic code that beginning readers have already been taught. All ACT schools need access to decodable readers. Please click on the links here and here for more information about decodable books.

3.   Early identification of students with reading difficulties is crucial, therefore we implore you to introduce the National Year 1 Literacy & Numeracy Check in all ACT Schools.  Current identification tools used by ACT teachers are not sufficient to identify students who are having difficulty with phonics (the building blocks of the English language). Please click on the link to access more information about the proposed National Year 1 Literacy Check (aka Phonics Check).

4.   Every ACT school requires appropriate access to Educational Psychologists and Literacy Specialists qualified in evidence based literacy instruction.  Students require the support of Educational Psychologists and Literacy specialists within their schools. Educational Psychologists are not only able to complete a thorough educational assessment but they are imperative when supporting the mental health needs of students.  Anxiety is often a common condition experienced by students with dyslexia.   Additionally, qualified literacy specialists are necessary to deliver quality Tier 2 and Tier 3 evidence based literacy support that students may need at school.

5.   All students identified as having ongoing difficulties with learning to read, including those with dyslexia, need to be provided with an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) including smart goals.  The ILP must provide the student with appropriate support structures that allow them to learn on a level playing field with their peers. The ILP needs to include, evidence based literacy instruction requirements and interventions, and reasonable adjustments such as access to assistive technology, use of a reader, scribe and extra time during examinations.  Additionally when the school is unable to provide a student with the appropriate literacy instruction and support then an external qualified professional provider that uses evidence based approaches such as a Speech Pathologist or literacy specialist should be permitted to attend the school to provide the necessary additional tuition to the student during school hours.

6.   Finally, we ask the Education Minister to engage with local Universities to discuss and request the implementation of evidence based instruction be provided during preservice Teacher training courses.  Evidence based literacy instruction must include training in systematic synthetic phonics instruction as part of the Five Keys to reading (Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary & Comprehension).  Additionally, preservice teachers need to be provided with University instruction on supporting students with specific learning difficulties, including dyslexia. Existing qualified ACT Primary School and Literacy Teachers should also be provided with professional learning to teach students to read, using systematic synthetic phonics as part of the Five Keys to reading (Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary & Comprehension) and supporting students with specific learning difficulties, including dyslexia.  The current awareness style training course OLT Understanding Dyslexia and Significant Difficulties in Reading available through the ACT Education Directorate does not appear to be enough on its own.  Training in Evidence based reading instruction should be a mandatory requirement for teacher professional learning.