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How to Effectively Use SEAs to Improve Student Literacy Rates

Updated: Nov 1, 2022

By Shawna Audet


In 2016, the average BC public school special education budget "covered just 58 per cent of what school districts ultimately spent on special education" (Rosworski, 1). When there is not a direct link between needs and funding, there will be a shortfall in services. My work as a private reading remediation teacher and as a public-school teacher in a regular classroom gives me a unique perspective on this situation. I see the impact of the lack of funding given to high incidence categories from multiple perspectives. I know that there are administrators who cut their special needs programs – not because they want to do so – but because they feel that they must balance the budget. I know that there are students who suffer from reading failure who are sitting in regular classroom where they are “included” but not supported because they are not being given access to a proper reading remediation programs. The parents of these children are desperate to find help for their children that will result in the children being ability to overcome their disability.


Statistically speaking, in districts where proper reading systems are not in place, there will be a reading failure rate of 30% (Shaywitz). In districts where proper reading systems are in place, that number falls to 5%. One of the negative impacts of not providing funding to the high incidence category some school districts are not providing proven reading interventions to students who need them. Economic disparity results because the high incidence students who are suffering from reading failure (but come from wealthy families) can get help privately. I get two or three calls a week from parents who are looking for private help for a child suffering from reading failure. These parents are usually referred to me by the person who did their psych. ed assessment. They come from all over the province. Parents tell me that the schools are not offering reading remediation programs, so they have to take matters into their own hands. These parents pay several thousand dollars for the psych-ed assessment and then pay me about $6500.00 to provide their child with the proven one-on-one reading intervention that solves their child’s reading and writing challenges. Families who can’t afford go this route have very few options.


Another impact of not providing funding to high incidence categories is that administrators may try to spread the precious few supports that they have too thin. For example, a special education teacher may be asked to work with groups that are too large or too diverse to be effective. Parents of children with low incidence designations know that their child generates funding and they sometimes express frustration because they think that the funding should be attached to their child. There is a trend among parents of autistic kids to pull their kids out of the public school system and move to homeschooling. These parents get access to their child’s funding and they spend it on private tutors. Once again, this creates economic disparity because only the wealthy can afford to go this route.


I act as a reading consultant to a private school in my area at which administrators are committed to offering a proven reading remediation program to all students who need one, regardless of whether they have an I.E.P. or not. This school faced the same budget constraints as all other B.C. schools, but they didn’t let that stop them from reaching their goal. They teamed up with their local literacy team and secured a grant. They used the grant funds to hire me to train 15 of their teaching assistants and several parent helpers so that they are now qualified to give a proven reading remediation program. This was a brilliant move because the number of students who are currently struggling with reading/writing failure is now less than the number of trained adults who are available to help them. We are still in the phase where we are providing the SEAs with the support that they need so that they can feel confident in their practice, but the school literacy rates are already climbing.


The results are positive for all learning partners. The special education teacher is no longer overwhelmed by her caseload. The SEAs feel that they are doing work that is more meaningful because they are helping to move a student’s learning forward, rather than simply allow them to access their learning by reading to them or typing for them. There are no cracks in the system into which struggling readers can fall. Students are given the full reading remediation program, which takes between 100-130 hours to complete. It is a huge time investment, but the administrators realize that the 100 hours are well worth it because it means that the students will overcome their reading/writing difficulties and they will no long need additional support from the school’s special needs services.


The school’s SEAs and parent helpers are trained to use the Dyslexia Training Institute’s Reading Remediation program. Distance Learning students have access to the D.L. teacher who is trained to give the Dyslexia Training Institute’s reading remediation program. This school is doing an outstanding job of helping students who need literacy support. Instead of continuing to operate in a silo, the brave administers of this school partnered with their local literacy group to overcome the funding obstacle. This outside the box thinking is exactly what school districts need to be so that they can properly meet the needs of all students.


Works Cited


Rozworski, M. (2018, September 30). BC's Inclusive Education Funding Gap. BCTF Research Report. British Columbia Teachers' Federation. Retrieved February 27, 2022, from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED592575


Sandman-Hurley, Kelli. “Home.” Dyslexia Training Institute, 2021, https://www.dyslexiatraininginstitute.org/index.html.


Shaywitz, S.E. (2004). Overcoming Dyslexia: A new and complete science-based Program for Reading Problems at any level. New York: A.A. Knopf.



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