How to Advocate for Dyslexia: Ideas and Templates

In the past weeks, I have spoken with advocates from Chicago to Connecticut who either need help getting started in advocacy or who are looking to take their advocacy to the next level. Since there is such a hunger for this kind of information, I thought I would just compile some of the ideas, advice and templates I have been sharing. Please remember that I have dyslexia and that you will want to spell check all of these before you send them on. If I took time to make sure everything I posted was perfect, I would never post anything.


Often, the hardest part of advocating is knowing how to start. Challenging a system can feel daunting and we can feel like we do not have what it takes to advocate. We too often tell ourselves, “I am just a mom” or “There is no way I can make any change.” That is not true. You, armed with your story, your computer and your willpower can move mountains. Trust me. Seasoned advocates know that the work is rarely well organized or done according to a master plan. It can be done in fits and starts and can be done on whatever schedule fits your life. If it takes you two months to write a letter to your school board, that is okay. I am a dyslexia advocate with dyslexia. I do my best, but I do not worry if my work is not as good as it could be. Set down your shame. Remember, the important part is to raise awareness and work for change, not to be perfect.

Now that the pep talk is over, here is a list of some ideas of how you can advocate. It is just a list I brainstormed for a group of parents recently. I have organized the ideas below to start with the easier ideas and progressing to ones that are more advanced. I hope you can find something that interests you. Some of the items I will provide templates for in the template section below while some of them are just ideas to get your brain moving. If you want to tackle something, but need more help than what I provide, feel free to reach out to me. Now go get started and encourage people in your network or friend group to join you. The more of us who start working on this list, the more quickly change will come.

  1. Get on Twitter. (I may do a whole blog post on this in the near future.) Most superintendents, principals, school board members and council people are on Twitter. If you keep your concerns and conversations around dyslexia in a Facebook chat group or at your dinner table, nothing will change. Get on Twitter and tell your story. I do not like Facebook for advocacy. Instagram is a different audience. Most policy makers are not on Instagram. However, I recently spoke with a Teen who wanted to start advocating to other Teens and this is the perfect forum. Depending on your audience target, TikTok advocacy can work if you prefer speaking and are creative with ways to share information.
  2. Ask for 10 minutes to speak at your next PTO meeting. This is a great place to start. Anyone can do it. No need for an elaborate Powerpoint. All you need are 3 slides: Signs and Strengths of Dyslexia, Dyslexia Myths and a list of your favorite videos and articles. (Visit my website or your local Decoding Dyslexia branch for ideas.) I guarantee you will have parents reach out to you afterwards!
  3. Write a Letter to Your School Board Members. (More below.) This can feel easier for some people than speaking aloud. It is a good way to educate, to share your story and to ask for a change to policy or ask them to reconsider a position they have taken. I like to keep the tone collaborative and not angry. Again, people are more likely to help you if they do not feel attacked. If you are not sure how to word that, I used phrases like “As I am sure you are already aware, 47,600 Tennessee students have characteristics of dyslexia” or “I know you are familiar with the Tennessee Dyslexia Resource Guide, but I hope that you can share it with teachers since it is shocking how many are still not aware of it.” Using words like this with authority figures does two things. First, it does not call them out on their ignorance on a subject. Too often, if an authority figure feels shame about their ignorance, they will get mad and communication will end, which is death knell for advocacy. Second, when you assume someone’s expertise and they don’t have it, they will want to read the resource rather than admit they do not know what you are talking about. It is human nature. Point being, as an advocate, tone matters a lot.
  4. Ask to speak at your next school board meeting. Use your five minutes to very briefly share your dyslexia story, to provide your district information about dyslexia and to ask them to provide more supports to these students. Tailor it to issues happening in your district and keep your tone collaborative and informative. Leaders tune out when they feel attacked. Dyslexia Training Institute has some great drafts of school board speeches for you to get ideas.
  5. Take part in your local Disability Day on the Hill. (More below.) Most states have established and active disability organizations that will host events and seminars. Check events on their calendars to see if you can use those events for your advocacy. One I really like is Disability Day on the Hill. It is a great chance to visit your state capital to speak directly with legislators about the disability near to your heart. On these organized days, legislators are open to meeting with parents and advocates and it is a lovely experience. To prepare, print out one page with a short version or your story, some disability facts, your contact information and how you would love your legislator to help. It can be a specific ask like “Please support the Dyslexia Bill” or a broad one like “Please learn more about dyslexia by reading this short article since it affects 1 in 6 of all of us.”
  6. Email your Legislators. (More below.) An email with your story can go a long way. One of the first things I did at the beginning of my dyslexia journey was to send an email to two legislators who had passed an early dyslexia law in my state to let them know how hard things still were for children with dyslexia. I now know that it caused them to call up the Department of Education and they began to discuss internally how to help children with dyslexia more. Five years later we have more robust protections for children because so many Tennessee advocates pushed like this. There are some options on how to proceed with an email to legislators. First, you can just email them and provide them with information about dyslexia and ask that they keep children with dyslexia in mind during future legislation. Second, you can email them about a specific issue such as, “I am in your district and I am a parent of a child with dyslexia, and I am finding that my district is not following the Dyslexia Law that you helped pass in 2015. I think further legislation on XXX topic would really help families.” Third, you can draft sample legislation and ask them to sponsor it or something similar. This takes some work, but of you love what another state has done you can just attach it and ask that they sponsor something similar. Note: To find email addresses of legislators, visit your state legislature website. Emailing your legislator or members of the education committee can be a great place to start.
  7. Reach Out to other groups – especially diverse groups. If you feel like it is just you advocating or just your little group, trust me, it is not. There are tons of people in every state advocating for dyslexia. There are parents of all backgrounds, teachers, superintendents, tutors and policy makers working to make change around reading for all children. We need to all raise our voices together to be heard. I encourage you, whatever your niche is no matter how big or small you feel your voice is, to try to connect with other groups in your area who are working on similar issues. Follow them on Social Media. Make a call to talk with someone. Sit in on an information session they host. Attend a conference they host. There are lots of ways to connect. If you are not sure who to connect with, try your local IDA group, a Decoding Dyslexia group, your local NAACP, parent advisory councils of your city schools, State level disability councils, disability groups, researchers at your local university, a nearby Dyslexia Tutoring Center or an education non-profit. A Google search will go a long way to help you build your network.
  8. Freedom of Information Act Request: Learn what your district is saying behind closed doors. (More below.) This can be a very enlightening tool when you feel like you are not getting the true story from your district. All school documents, records and emails are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It is an easy request to do and can get you a ton of information about what your district is doing behind closed doors. These requests do need to be specific and for a short time period, but you do NOT need to tell them why you want the records. I have included a template below to work form.
  9. Send an email to your district demanding a dyslexia page be added to there website. (More below.) So many school districts across the country do not Say Dyslexia which means that too many families are teachers are left without accurate information about this very common problem. Let’s demand that schools include this very basic information. To save district leaders time, I suggest you include the information itself in your request. Tie all your information to a known and respected source like your state dyslexia law, the International Dyslexia Association or a local Dyslexia Center. I have a draft of what yours might look like below.
  10. Call the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS.) This is a more advanced step to consider, but one person can do it. OSERS is the federal department committed to improving results and outcomes for people with disabilities of all ages. OSERS supports programs that serve millions of children, youth and adults with disabilities. I strongly encourage you to exhaust communication at the district and state level first, but if you have tried really hard to advocate with your school and your district, but you just cannot get any traction, consider calling or emailing your OSERS state lead. Examples of when this type of advocacy is appropriate is where your district is not screening students for dyslexia (which is under “Specific Learning Disability” in the IDEA) and you feel they are violating their Child Find obligations or if your district is denying parents an evaluation until after it collects weeks and weeks of data points under RTI or MTSS. (See OSEP Letter 11-07.)
  11. Reach out to local journalists and education bloggers to ask them to tell your story or to give comment on an issue in your area. If you have a story that you think is news worthy, then reach out via phone or email to your local journalists. This can be a bigger paper, your public radio, a local education blogger, or a local education paper like Chalkbeat. If you are working with a large group of parents on a systemic issue, reach out to national outlets like Huffington Post, Washington Post or Education Week. Most news organization have an education desk that is always looking for newsworthy stories in education. Also, if there is a issue happening in the news, journalists are always looking to talk to parents about it. For example, if there is a new piece of legislation in your state or a new school board literacy policy that you dislike, reach out to a journalist and offer to share your opinion. It is a great way to Say Dyslexia in a public forum. Plus, I have found all journalists I have enacted with you be kind and supportive even when I was not sure of myself. Remember, set down your shame and speak out.
  12. Write a Letter-to-the-Editor in your local paper or local parent magazine. These letters are usually only 250 words. Make it timely by tying your letter to something in the news like “Dyslexia after a year of Virtual School”, “A Parent’s Concern for a Return to In-Person School for a Child with Dyslexia”, or “What the New District Literacy Policy Means to a Mom of a Child with Dyslexia.” You do not need to be expert on the topic, just share your story, include information about dyslexia and how the issue at hand affects your child. At the end, provide an action step that readers can take to further your message. Like” “Ask your school HOW they are teaching children to read” or “Does your school district Say Dyslexia? Check their website to find out.”
  13. Have a #SayDyslexia Bill Board put up on your local Interstate. This a big idea, but I would love to do it in Tennessee. What a great way to inform tons of people about dyslexia! I have heard that some companies give free space to non-profits, so think about it. I am looking into it, so stay tuned.

These are just my ideas, but advocacy can look so many different ways. The most important thing to do is to just START. You can you do. You can join the voices working to make change for children.

Below are the templates I referenced above. I hope that these will help you along your advocacy journey. If get stuck or need help brainstorming, always feel free to reach out to me. I would also be happy to Zoom with your group to help get you started. Now go make change!


This is a modified version of a letter a group of concerned parents sent to a school board in 2016 when they were considering further funding for Reading Recovery. You will see that it clearly states what you are urging them to do, it provides education on the issue and information about why they should reconsider their position.

Dear White County School Board Members,

We, a group of concerned parents, would like to voice our opposition to the School Board’s proposal to invest a large amount of money into the “Reading Recovery” literacy program.  Although we are pleased with our district’s focus on literacy, we strongly urge you to consider using a program that is evidence-based that will address the needs of ALL struggling readers. We urge you to fund a multi-sensory, evidence-based literacy program, such as Orton-Gillingham, which is proven to work for ALL students, not just those with dyslexia. Here is why:

1. Science knows that students with dyslexia make up 20% of our student population and 80% of the kids who ultimately end up in special education for learning disabilities.  Students with dyslexia are a huge percentage of our struggling readers. Scientists and dyslexia experts also know that students with dyslexia need an evidence-based program, like Orton-Gillingham, to learn to read. Leading dyslexia experts agree that Reading Recovery does not work for students with dyslexia and some, such as Lousia Motts, go as far to say its harmful and that it is “indefensible to keep spending money on this.” Sally Shaywitz, of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity writes “We have come too far and made too much progress to allow anything less than valid scientific evidence to be used in determining if, indeed, a program is effective in improving students’ reading.” We feel that White County should not spend so much money funding a program that is not evidence-based and is known not to work for the very kids (those with dyslexia) who struggle most to read.

2. Tennessee Legislature is about to pass the Say Dyslexia Bill which will require districts to screen students for dyslexia in kindergarten and will require districts to provide dyslexia-specific interventions, like Orton-Gillingham, to be put into general education in the RTI Tiers. Specifically, the Bill says “The LEA shall: provide student with appropriate dyslexia-specific intervention through the RTI framework.” We feel strongly that White County should spend its money training teachers in the Orton-Gillingham method, which will soon be required by law, which has been proven by years of research to teach the most troubled readers how to read.

3. The TN DOE has issued, in January 2016, the “Understanding Dyslexia: a Guide for Parents and Educators” which clearly states that: “It is not necessary for a student to be diagnosed with dyslexia in order to receive appropriate intervention. Once a school identifies that a student shows characteristics of dyslexia, it is important to provide the right interventions…These principles of instruction are often referred to by the following terms: Orton-Gillingham based, a Multisensory Structured Language, or Structured Literacy. Interventions must be aligned to individual students’ needs. For students with dyslexia or for students with the characteristics of dyslexia, the intervention should address the specific phonological deficits identified through targeted assessments.” We strongly feel that White County should heed the guidance of the TNDOE (who worked tirelessly with dyslexia advocates from TN STEP, Decoding Dyslexia – Tennessee, Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia and Tennessee chapter of the International Dyslexia Association to craft this guide) and spend its money on the Orton-Gillingham program contained in the guidance from the State. 

4. The United States Congress has recently passed the Research Excellence and Advancements for Dyslexia (READ) Act which instructs the National Science Foundation to create best-practices on evidence-based educational tools for children with dyslexia.  To pass the bill, the Congress held extensive testimony from dyslexia experts which, again, highlighted the need for evidence-based interventions for students with dyslexia.  We feel strongly that your district should follow the United State Congress’ lead and give students an evidence-based program to help all students read.

We urge you all to look deeply at this issue before dedicating such a large amount of money on something that is not proven to work for ALL students.  Our concern is that you will invest heavily in Reading Recovery and will be left in a bad position in the very near future when you are required to also fund teacher training for Orton-Gillingham to address the needs of students with dyslexia.  Dr. Michael Hart, an international dyslexia expert of 25 years, is willing to come present to your board on our behalf if you are interested.  Thank you for your attention on this most important issue. Thank you further for focusing your attention on literacy, which is hugely important for the success of all our students.


Anna Thorsen (List other parents or members of an organization)

P.S. If you would like more information about the details listed above, here are some resources:

  1. “Cautionary Note – Show me the Evidence” – by Sally Shaywitz, Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.

2.  The text of the whole Tennessee #SayDyslexia Bill can be found here:  

3. Full text of “Understanding Dyslexia: a Guide for Parents and Educators”

4. Congressional testimony about evidence-based vs. research-based practices

5. A short, general informational TEDed Video “What is Dyslexia.”


Below is the recent flyer that I brought with me with to Disability Day on the Hill. I left a copy with each legislator I visited along with copies of my favorite articles. I put them all in a red folder labeled “HB229 and SB 2160 Support Children with Dyslexia” so they could find it at the end of the day if they wanted to look at it. Having something to hand to legislators that connects them to your child is a great tool in advocacy. Sometimes, children choose to come along to speak with legislators themselves. That is a wonderful experience for all involved. Remember – ask to get a photo with each legislator at the end!


OPTION 1: EMAIL TO EDUCATE aNd Encourage Support for Legislation

In this example, you will notice that this email is to all the democrat legislators in a county. This is a good way to reach a larger group. You can send emails to one legislator, a whole committee, a whole delegation, all the sponsors of a past bill or one or two who you think will be open to your issue. Tailor it how you think best. I love how this example (not written by me) really informs legislators on the issue and provides links to learn more.

To our Davidson County delegation members: 

I’m a long-time resident of Nashville and a democrat. I live in Sen. Brown’s and Rep. Smith’s districts, and I am an active member of our public school community and have met them both at school events.

I’m writing to you today as a mother and public school advocate to ask you to support the Literacy Succeeds Act. While I am currently a communications consultant by trade, on my son’s dyslexia journey, I have spent a lot of time learning about how our schools are teaching reading. I am now well versed in the type of literacy instruction currently taking place in Metro Schools — and most school districts across the state. Our schools currently use something called “balanced literacy,” but despite the name, it’s anything but balanced. Bottom line: Our schools are not teaching our kids how to read. They are teaching kids how to guess at words when they don’t know how to read, and it’s leaving kids behind.

Reading is not an innate human trait. Humans invented words as a written code for the sounds we make in our spoken language. Children must be explicitly taught how to decipher that code (or “decode”) to be able to read fluently. Research shows that 40% of kids will learn to decode on their own with enough exposure to books, but 60% need to be explicitly taught. Then 20% of kids (1 in 5) are like my son, who has dyslexia. Those children will never become proficient readers without systematic phonics instruction. These numbers bear out when you look at the percentage of children in our city and across our state who are behind in reading. The impact of this is lifelong. One study found that 80% of prison inmates are functionally illiterate — they don’t know how to decode words.Children who are not taught phonics — and are not privileged enough like my son to have parents who know how to fight the school system and pay for private tutoring — are left to a life with limited opportunities for success. Anyone who tries to protect the status quo by saying “balanced literacy” already includes phonics instruction, doesn’t understand what “phonics-based literacy instruction” actually means. Phonics can’t just be one tool. It is THE tool to help children learn how to sound out words, and it has to be taught systematically over a period of years. 
If you’re interested in learning more about the science of reading and the importance of phonics instruction, I highly encourage you to listen to these two audio documentaries by APM reports. They provide a lot of history, research and context (and frankly, they will blow your mind): 

While I often find myself disagreeing with the policies and decisions of our governor, this time, they got something right. We need the Literacy Succeeds Act to fundamentally change how we teach reading in Tennessee, if we want to see real improvement, not just in reading scores, but in making good on the promise of education to be the great equalizer that it should be. Again, I ask you to support this important piece of legislation. 

Sincerely and respectfully, 
Name, Address, Contact Information 

Option 2: Email to ask for help from a legislator

This is the actual email I sent to two state legislators the night of my most contentions eligibility meeting. I was livid. I chose these two legislators (I have changed the names below) because they had sponsored previous dyslexia legislation and I wanted to let them know how poorly it was going. This email got some traction and this, paired with a well timed phone call to OSERS (see #10 above) helped make some excellent progress for my daughter and for the state of Tennessee.

Subject: Help with Dyslexia and RTI

Dear Legislators Black and Blanco,

Hello, my name is Anna Thorsen and I need your help. First off, I would like to say a big thank you for your work on the “Dyslexia is Real” law.  It was an important first step for our Tennessee children with dyslexia, I am learning first hand.

I will go into more detail below, but I am concerned that Metro Nashville Public School is violating Federal Special Education Law and denying serves to kids who so desperately need them.

I have a daughter who has just been diagnosed with Dyslexia this week.  I have been in a three month battle with our school about Dyslexia.  First I was told “Tennessee doesn’t recognize dyslexia.”  Then our school told us they couldn’t possibly diagnose dyslexia, we had to go to a medical doctor to get testing of her “visual processing.”  I knew this was baloney, but they wouldn’t budge, so we went to our neurologist who, of course, doesn’t diagnose, and she referred us to Learning Lab, where we ultimately got the test done at the personal cost of $800.

In our S Team today, our school brought ten people on their side, one of whom was the attorney for Metro Nashville Public Schools.  They denied my daughter Clara special education services until she fails through 20 more weeks of Tier II and Tier III intervention  despite having been diagnosed with Dyslexia and Specific Learning Disability by an outside evaluator AND having negative Rate of Improvement on her RTI intervention for the last 5 weeks. She met every other single criteria for a Special Ed referral.

When they told us they were denying services, we reminded them about the letter OSEP 11-07 from the federal government which says specifically that States cannot “use the RTI system to deny or delay services.”  When we mentioned that, the lawyer from Metro Schools told us “Oh, that.  I called Mr. Valdez at the State and he says Tennessee doesn’t follow that.”   In other words, the lawyer admitted that the State of Tennessee doesn’t follow the Federal Law.

My question is, how can we make them follow the law?  Tennessee lists “dyslexia” right in the definition of Specific Learning Disability but they still say it is medical despite the fact that we paid $800 to get the diagnosis they told us to get?

We are so frustrated and know of many others at our school who have been give the same treatment.  I would love some help and advice about what is really going on.  My daughter is failing NOW and needs intervention for her dyslexia NOW and not in 20 weeks.  

Thank you again for all your work on this important issue.

Anna Thorsen, Nashville, TN, Contact Information


If you have time to do some research about what laws your state has and what laws other states have, you can draft some proposed legislation, no law degree needed. The purpose of this is to highlight for a legislator the kind of legislation that would help constituents. If you have it drafted, that is one step less they have to do to get the legislation to the committee floor. It does not need to be perfect, it will go through lawyers and editors, so be bold and send an idea out there! Make sure to do research on the legislator you are emailing so that you can thank her for some of her past work in your introduction. That sets a nice tone. Here is an idea of what it might look like. Note: The best time of year to send this type of email is late summer or fall. Legislative session is usually in January and February and legislators are very busy. Send it to them in advance so they have time to consider it.

Dear Legislator,

I am a constituent of yours and I have a daughter with dyslexia in Metro Nashville Public Schools. I appreciate how you always stand up for women and children. I was especially impressed with your recent vote to support the Katie Beckett law to support families of children with severe cognitive disabilities in Tennessee. Thank you.

In my journey to help my daughter get the support she needs for dyslexia in public school, I have been made very aware that Tennessee needs to take the next step to support all learners. I am grateful for the work that our state has done getting laws for learners with dyslexia passed, but I have taken the liberty to prepare the below items that I would appreciate it if you would look at when you get a moment. I know you are very busy, but I believe that my proposed ideas can help the tens of thousand of Tennessee children with Characteristics of Dyslexia.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to discussing these ideas with you at your convenience.

Sincerely, [Include name, address and contact information]

Current Tennessee Dyslexia Laws and Legislation Ideas for 2019

I. Current Tennessee Laws

Tennessee currently has two main dyslexia laws and two other laws that mention or refer to dyslexia. Many states that have comprehensive suites of laws about dyslexia have grown their laws over time.  In Tennessee, we have a good base in place but need to keep revising current laws and creating new laws to fully address the needs of students and adults with dyslexia in our state. Below are highlights of current Tennessee laws, their shortcomings and how they could be improved or strengthened. In Section II, I address specifics about how we can address the shortcomings of current laws. 

  1. 2016 “Say Dyslexia Law”. Calls for Screening, Intervention and Establishment of Dyslexia Advisory Council: TCA 49-1-299.This law has made huge strides in making sure that students are screened for dyslexia, and its creation of a Dyslexia Advisory Council has helped raise state-wide awareness of dyslexia. Despite all the progress it has made, the law needs to continue to be strengthen. First, it needs to be strengthened to address who provides interventions to students. As it stands, the law requires in Section (c)(3) that the LEA “provide the student with appropriate tiered dyslexia-specific intervention.” The law defines “dyslexia-specific intervention” very broadly and does not provide any requirement about who is qualified to provide these interventions. Second, the law is very weak on how Tennessee teachers are to be trained about dyslexia. The law simply states in Section (d) that “The department shall provide appropriate professional development resources for educators in the area of identification of and intervention methods for students with dyslexia.” Students across Tennessee simply are not getting proper interventions by trained teachers and one of the main reasons is that teachers are simply not sure what dyslexia is, what proper interventions are and the vast majority are not qualified to provide interventions to students identified as having “characteristics of dyslexia” under the law. In Section II below I review how we can look to other Tennessee laws and the laws of states like Arkansas who have passed more specific laws to address these issues.
  1. 2014 “Dyslexia is Real Law”. Defines dyslexia and added a weak requirement that teachers be trained: TCA 49-6-3004(c)(1). This law requires that the Department of Education “shall, within available resources, collaborate with institutions of higher education to formally address dyslexia and similar reading disorders by providing kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12) educators and teachers web-based or in-person training providing effective instruction for teaching students with dyslexia using appropriate scientific research and brain-based multisensory intervention methods and strategies.” This law was the first official Dyslexia law on the books in Tennessee and is important in that regard. However, this law is very weak and it is unclear if the required teacher training is being done in any meaningful way by the department aside from a posted online course that teachers cannot access without a password and several yearly trainings lightly advertised at MTSU Center for Dyslexia. I will outline below in Section II how this law could be strengthened simply by tracking the language used in the same section of the Tennessee Code for students with behavioral/emotional issues. That portion provides: “The commissioner shall also encourage the use of two (2) of the in-service training days to provide training to teachers, principals and other school personnel, and, to the extent possible, school board members, on issues of prevention and intervention strategies for students in the area of behavioral/emotional disorders.  The training shall place an emphasis on understanding the warning signs of early-onset mental illness in children and adolescents and may be conducted by school counseling personnel, such as psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors or health faculty, by mental health clinicians or by approved personnel from mental health advocacy organizations using curricula approved by the departments of education and mental health and substance abuse services.”
  1. 2013 Teacher Training on Brain Research. Encourages teacher training programs at institutions of higher learning to offer coursework on brain science and includes excellent language about dyslexia in the WHEREAS clauses of the bill: TCA 49-5-5612. This law is not known to be a dyslexia specific law because it simply states “Teacher training programs at public institutions are authorized and encouraged to offer coursework on neurological or brain research.” However, if you look at the language of the bill, you can see that it targets dyslexia in the WHEREAS clauses.  I will discuss below in Section II how this existing law can be edited to strengthen the requirement that Teacher Training Programs include dyslexia. The WHEREAS clauses are as follows:

WHEREAS, leading education experts agree that understanding the brain’s learning systems should be a prerequisite for educators at all levels as it is vitally important that every teacher comprehend the basics of how people learn; and 

WHEREAS, understanding the brain, its functions and its effects on the classroom is not a required component within most teacher preparation programs but its inclusion would give teachers the opportunity to incorporate appropriate teaching methods for the variety of learners found within each classroom setting and thus increase student attainment; and

WHEREAS, neuroscience research suggests that learning outcomes are not solely determined by the environment. Biological factors play an important role in accounting for differences in learning ability between individuals; and 

WHEREAS, by considering biological factors, research has advanced the understanding of specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia and dyscalculia. Likewise, neuroscience is uncovering why certain types of learning are more rewarding than others; and 

WHEREAS, some insights from neuroscience are relevant for the development and use of adaptive digital technologies. These technologies have the potential to create more learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom, and throughout life; and 

WHEREAS, the emerging field of educational neuroscience presents opportunities as well as challenges for education. It provides means to develop a common language and bridge the gulf between educators, psychologists and neuroscientists; and 

WHEREAS, it is vitally important to the children of the State of Tennessee that neuroscience be part of teacher training;”

  1. 1984 Law about Proficiency Tests for Teacher Certification. Provides accommodations for teaching candidates with dyslexia who take the Tennessee teacher certification test: TCA 49-5-5605(b)(3). This law about teaching certification specifically allows teaching candidates with “a handicapping condition, such as dyslexia, that adversely affects the applicant’s ability to successfully complete the test” to be allowed “an extra year for the applicant to be administered the state teachers certification test” and shall be allowed “special accommodation in administration of the test.” I looked at the legislative history available electronically, and it looks like this reference to dyslexia was added before 1996, perhaps with the original law was created in 1984 which is remarkable.This law is significant because it shows that accommodations and extended time can be made to adult professional candidates with dyslexia. Given the fact that up to 20% of the adult population is also affected by dyslexia, it is important that adults taking certification tests for any area of practice be granted the same accommodations and extended time as teachers are. I will discuss this further in Section II below.

II. Legislation Ideas for 2019. I have spoken with leaders from Decoding Dyslexia, the Tennessee chapter of the International Dyslexia Association and the MTSU Center for Dyslexia. Many of us agree that the most pressing legislative need is for existing teachers and teaching students to be trained and taught about what dyslexia is and the science of teaching reading to all students including students with dyslexia. We especially need to ensure that teachers who are providing dyslexia-specific interventions to students with “characteristics of dyslexia” are actually trained in that intervention. There is still a significant spilt in Tennessee between whole language and phonics that has continued since the 1980s.  Many programs, such as Reading Recovery, are used heavily by districts but do not work for students with dyslexia.  We need strong laws to steer teachers, administrators, school boards and teacher training institutions to move towards science. We also must ensure that teachers providing interventions under the current laws are actually trained in what they are doing. With that in mind, here are the top four needs for new legislation.

  1. Improve 2016 “Say Dyslexia” law to include specificity about who provides interventions and to provide that there are trained dyslexia interventionists at every level of Tennessee education. We need to ensure that teachers working with students with “characteristics of dyslexia” are actually trained in the interventions they are teaching. Arkansas can be a good model for us on how to accomplish this. Arkansas has a fulsome suite of dyslexia laws which include a dyslexia expert at the department of state, dyslexia experts in each district and trained dyslexia educators teaching students interventions. We could revise several sections to the existing 2016 “Say Dyslexia” law to track some important language from Arkansas. 
    1. Edit the  existing language of our law 49-1-299(c)(3) to say “Provide the student wth appropriate tiered dyslexia-specific intervention [taught by a Dyslexia Interventionist.]
    2. Add a new definition of “Dyslexia Interventionist” to track language that Tennessee Department of Education already uses for Teaching Personnel in Gifted Education from 0520-01-02-.03(7):

Teaching Personnel in [Dyslexia Intervention]

(a) A classroom teacher in special or general education providing direct instruction to students identified [by TCA 49-1-229 as being students with “characteristics of dyslexia”] shall meet the following employment standards:

1. The teacher shall be endorsed in the appropriate general education area or must hold the appropriate special education endorsement; and

2. The teacher shall meet one of the following standards:

(i) The teacher shall have completed six (6) semester hours of college or university course work or the equivalent contact hours in teaching [students with dyslexia] approved by the Department of Education; or

(ii) The teacher shall [have completed six (6) hours of professional development about evidence-based interventions and accommodations for dyslexia.]

  1. Add a new section to the current Say Dyslexia law to require the Department of Education to hire a Dyslexia Specialist to track Arkansas’ language. “No later that the 2020 fiscal year, the Department of Education shall employ at least one (1) dyslexia specialist with a minimum of three (3) years of field experience in screening, identifying, and treating dyslexia and related disorders to provide technical assistance to dyslexia and related disorders to school districts across the state.”
  2. Add a new section to the current Say Dyslexia law to require each school have at least one (1) Dyslexia Interventionist. “No later thats the 2020-2021 academic year, each school K-12 shall have at least one individual trained to serve as a dyslexia interventionist.”
  1. Improve 2016 Say Dyslexia Law to include specificity about how to provide teacher training for existing general education teachers. We need strong language that requires the Department of Education to train existing general education teachers (not just special education teachers) about what dyslexia is and how to teach students with evidence-based interventions. Currently, we have very weak language in our laws regarding teacher training. The simplest thing to do would be to rework the language of both the 2016 “Say Dyslexia” law in TCA 49-1-299(d) and the portion of the 2014 “Dyslexia Is Real” law found in TCA 49-6-3004(c)(1). Both laws refer to teacher training, but neither do it well. It would be easy to edit the existing language of the 2016 law 49-1-299(d) to mirror the language that TCA Section 49-6-3004(1) uses related tostudents with behavioral/emotional issues.  The new Section 49-1-299 (d) could read “The department shall provide appropriate professional development resources for educators in the area of identification of and intervention methods for students with dyslexia [each school year by requiring that in-service training include at least six (6) of the in-service training hours to provide training to all teachers, principals and other school personnel, and, to the extent possible, school board members, on issues of the characteristics of dyslexia, early detection and intervention strategies for students who identified as having Characteristics of Dyslexia under Section 49-1-229. The training shall place an emphasis on evidence-based interventions and accommodations for students with characteristics of dyslexia and must be conducted by school personnel, such as reading interventionists trained in dyslexia specific interventions, teachers who work directly with students with characteristics of dyslexia, or by approved personnel from dyslexia advocacy organizations using curricula approved by the departments of education and/or Dyslexia Advisory Council.
  1. Require teacher training institutions to add dyslexia to their curriculum by including dyslexia in the certification requirements for Tennessee.  Dr. Odegard at the MTSU Center for Dyslexia feels that this is the most important way to make teacher training institutions teach the science of reading and dyslexia. He suggests that Tennessee follow laws such as those in Connecticut which clearly require teachers to understand dyslexia before being certified.
    1. We already have a base for this law in the 2013 Teacher Training on Brain Research mentioned above in Section I.C. This law could be strengthened to say something like “Teacher training programs are required to offer coursework on 1) neurobiology of how people learn, specifically on the science reading, 2) detection and recognition of characteristics of dyslexia and 3) evidence-based structured literacy interventions for students with dyslexia.”
    2. Or we could look to Connecticut law that codifies certification requirements:
  1. Connecticut Public Act No. 15-97(2)(f) states that “Any program of teacher preparation leading to professional certification shall include not fewer than twelve clock hours of instruction in the detection and recognition and evidence-based structured literacy interventions for students with dyslexia.”
  2. Connecticut Public Act 17-3 requires that 1) certified employees applying for readings endorsements or special education endorsements and 2) applicants for initial professional educator certificate with a reading  or special education certificate both “have completed a program of study in the diagnosis and remediation of reading and language arts that includes supervised practicum hours and instruction in the detection and recognition of, and evidence -based structured literacy interventions for students with dyslexia.”
  1. Adult Testing Accommodations for all State Occupational Testing. In addition to the important changes to how we teach and train teachers in Tennessee, another important piece of legislation would target adults with dyslexia. Dyslexia does not only affect students.  Adults need laws addressed at them too. One easy place to start is to expand upon the current Tennessee law (see Section 1.D. above) that allows for teaching candidates to have extra time and accommodations on taking the teacher certification tests. Texas has amended its Occupations Code  to include a section called “Examination Accommodations for Persons with Dyslexia.” It links the definition of dyslexia to its dyslexia law and provides “1) for each licensing examination administered by a state agency, the agency shall provide reasonable examination accommodations to an examinee diagnosed as having dyslexia and 2) each state agency shall adopt rules necessary to implement this section including rules to establish the eligibility criteria an examinee must meet for accommodation under this section.” A law like this would help many Tennesseans with dyslexia who struggle to find work because the cannot pass state occupational examinations for their chosen field of work.
  1. Funding for the 2016 “Say Dyslexia” law. This is obviously a huge part of the conversations around public education today so I will only discuss it briefly here. The 2016 “Say Dyslexia” law is wrapped into Tennessee’s Response to Intervention Framework. As we know, that is an unfunded mandate. Therefore, under the law, districts and principals are required to provide dyslexia-specific interventions to many students and they are required to use dyslexia-specific programs, none of which they are given any budget to afford. By way of example, Metro Nashville Public Schools uses Wilson Reading and SPIRE to teach their special educations students with IEPs for Specific Learning Disability/Dyslexia. These are both excellent programs that are intense, taught daily for 45 minutes in a very small group setting. It often takes years for students to complete the entire program. Training for these programs are expensive and take about a week to complete. Flash cards, books and worksheets for the intervention systems are pricey.  I have spoken with more than one principal who is dedicated to helping students with dyslexia, but who just couldn’t find money in his budget to pay for the training or programs. Now, instead of complying with the law and giving students dyslexia-specific intervention, the school is using a non-compliant program with a non-trained teacher because it is all the school could afford.  The best laws will fail if we don’t fund them.  Even Mississippi (House Bill 1419, 2012) has added money into its budget to pay for dyslexia related expenses.  If we are serious about literacy and helping students read, then we will fund the “Say Dyslexia” mandate.


This is a sample FOIA (also known as a Public Records Request) to send to your district. Google your state for specific requirements. In Tennessee, you must include a copy of your drivers license and you do not need to fill out a specific form. Make sure you know what requests in your state require. Remember, you are NOT REQUIRED to tell them why you want the records. They must reply to you or ask for an extension within 7 days. 

The template below is only an example. Do keep your search terms and time periods specific. Also try to include some ideas of whose emails to search. If you do “all references to ‘dyslexia’ between 2018-2021” they will not complete it because it is too broad.

**Please make sure to fill in all the items in bold and brackets in the template before sending.**

Dear Public Records,

I am [your name] and I am the mother of a student at [school name].  A copy of my [your state] Drivers License is attached hereto.  I would like to request copies of the following public records under the [your state] Public Records Act.  I would like results delivered to me electronically at [your email address]. Please let me know if you need any further information.  Thank you.

1. All documents, memos, minutes, correspondence and/or emails regarding, relating to, or evidencing discussions of dyslexia (see #4 Boolean search terms below) during the week of [add a week or month you want to search, maybe around your IEP meeting or another meeting you are aware of. Example August 1, 2018 – August 10, 2018.]  ,  including specifically any such items between or including any of the following persons:

[Below add anyone at your school or district level you would like to search. Include title and email where you can. The more higher ups you can include the better. The names of the titles will be different in every district.] 

  • The District Office of Exceptional Education including [director name and email].
  •   The Office of Research, Assessment and Evaluation including [director name and email.]
  • The Director of Schools, [Director name and email.]
  • The Chief Operating Officer, [Name and email.]
  • The Chief of Schools, [Name and email.]
  • The principal of [school name], [Name and email.]

2. All documents, memos, minutes, correspondence and/or emails regarding, relating to, or evidencing discussions of dyslexia (see #4 Boolean search terms below) during the week of [use a different set of dates from above. You can include up to 3 date sets per request. Keep them on the short side and not a whole year.]  including specifically any of such items between or including any of the following persons:

[You can use the same emails as above, or different if you like.  For example, if you know a meeting happened on a certain date between your principal and teacher, you can add their names here instead.]

  • The District Office of Exceptional Education including [director name and email].
  •   The Office of Research, Assessment and Evaluation including [director name and email.]
  • The Director of Schools, [Director name and email.]
  • The Chief Operating Officer, [Name and email.]
  • The Chief of Schools, [Name and email.]
  • The principal of [school name], [Name and email.] 

3. All documents, memos, minutes, correspondence and/or emails regarding, relating to, or evidencing discussions of dyslexia (see #4 Boolean search terms below) specifically including any such information relating to, occurring at or regarding a meeting between any of the following persons on [use a different set of dates from above. You can include up to 3 date sets per request. Keep them on the short side and not a whole year.]:

[You can use the same emails as above, or different if you like.  For example, if you know a meeting happened on a certain date between your principal and teacher, you can add their names here instead.]

  • The District Office of Exceptional Education including [director name and email].
  •   The Office of Research, Assessment and Evaluation including [director name and email.]
  • The Director of Schools, [Director name and email.]
  • The Chief Operating Officer, [Name and email.]
  • The Chief of Schools, [Name and email.]
  • The principal of [school name], [Name and email.]

 4. I request that the follow Boolen search terms be used to in the above searches:

[Think of what you really want to search.   Are you having an issue with the district using RTI to delay or deny? Then you will want to search the first four below to try to get all the words the might use.  Try to only use those that apply to your concern. Overboard requests don’t get good results. Note, the “!”  is used to symbolize an unfitted word such that “dyslex!” will search both “dyslexia” AND “dyslexic” while “eligibl!” will search both “eligibility” AND “eligible.” Note that the w/35 means”within 35 words” so that if you only care about dyslexia as it relates to eligibility you can catch where those terms are mentioned in proximity to each other, not just when they are used right next to each other.]

  • Dyslexi!
  • Dyslex! w/35 of RTI
  • Dyslex! w/35 of “Response”
  • Dyslex! w/35 of MTSS
  • Dyslexi! w/35 of word
  • Dyslexi! w/35 of law
  • Dyslexi! w/35 of SLD
  • Dyslexi! w/35 of Specific!
  • Dyslexi! w/35 of interve!
  • Dyslexi! w/35 of Tier
  • Dyslexi! w/35 of Specific!

I look forward to receiving these items within the next 7 days.


[Your name, address, email and phone number.]


This is a sample of what I wrote to my district in Tennessee. You can simply write a letter asking that they include something about dyslexia, or you can actually draft for they what to include. I strongly urge that you pull all of your definitions from a known and respected source like your state dyslexia law, the International Dyslexia Association or a local Dyslexia Center. The first step is to look at your district’s website and to see where links and dyslexia could be added. Then provide your comments accordingly. If you really are not sure, just provide the information in #3 in the template below and ask them to link so that parents and teachers can access it.

Dear [District Leader]

According to our Tennessee Department of Education, 44,600 students in our state, 4.4%, are currently identified as having “Characteristics of Dyslexia.” They believe the number is actually closer to 10% are are working to educate districts on how to identify and intervene appropriated for these children. Dyslexia is codified in the 2016 Say Dyslexia Law and additionally in the newly signed “Literacy Success Act.” It is included in the RTI II manual and in most of Tennessee’s literacy training materials. It is a key component to understand literacy struggles for parents and teachers, and I believe that it is time that Metro Nashville Public Schools begin to finally talk about dyslexia in a robust way to general education parents. Currently, if you search the term “Dyslexia” on the Metro Nashville Public Schools website, all you get is one article about assistive technology from 2016, actually featuring my daughter.  All of the information below is taken directly from the Tennessee Department of Education’s Dyslexia Advisory Council website and from the resources and statistics provided therein.  I hope that you will consider including these resources for families in the general education literacy portions of your website. Thank you.

  1. Please add in the “Literacy and Learning Resources” ( the following: 

Tennessee Department of Education Dyslexia Advisory Council 


A one stop shop for families wanting to learn more about Characteristics of Dyslexia in Tennessee, including laws, signs, strengths and resources for teachers and families. 


If your K-1 child exhibits the signs and strengths listed below, please visit our Characteristics of Dyslexia page. The characteristics of dyslexia can be detected as early as kindergarten. 


  • Reading errors exhibit no connection to the sounds of the letters on the page (e.g., will say “puppy” instead of the written word “dog” on an illustrated page with a dog shown)
  • Does not understand that words come apart
  • Complains about how hard reading is, or “disappears” when it is time to read
  • A familial history of reading problems
  • Cannot sound out simple words like cat, map, nap
  • Does not associate letters with sounds, such as the letter b with the “b” sound


  • The ability to figure things out
  • Eager embrace of new ideas
  • Gets “the gist” of things
  • A good understanding of new concepts
  • A large vocabulary for the age group
  • Excellent comprehension of stories read aloud (i.e., listening comprehension)

3. Please add a stand alone “Characteristics of Dyslexia Page” in the General Education Section of the Website that includes the following information: (All information is pulled directly from the TN Department of Education’s Dyslexia Advisory Council website.)

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin and is characterized by difficulties with accurate and fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Dyslexia is a language-based condition rather than a vision-based condition. Students with dyslexia struggle with the relationship between letters and sounds. Because of this, they have a hard time decoding, or sounding out, unfamiliar words, and instead often misread them based on an over-reliance on their sight-word memory. Deficits are unexpected relative to cognitive abilities in that the student’s skills are lower than their overall ability and are not due to a lack of intelligence.

Students with dyslexia share some common characteristics, but it is important to remember that it manifests differently depending on the individual, their age, and other factors affecting his/her foundational reading skill development. In addition, students may have co-occurring disabilities/disorders, including twice exceptionality (i.e., gifted and dyslexia). Comorbid symptoms may mask characteristics of dyslexia (e.g., inattention and behavioral issues are more apparent or gifted students may compensate well); on the other hand, a student’s disability may impair participation in grade-level instruction, creating deficits that may be misinterpreted as characteristics of dyslexia.

What are the Difficulties and Strengths Associated with Dyslexia? (Link to page 7 of the Tennessee Dyslexia Resource Guide at 

  • Insert Graphic if you have one.

What are Common Myths About Dyslexia? (Link to pages 8 and 9 of the Tennessee Dyslexia Resource Guide at 

 * Insert Graphic if you have one.

What is the Tennessee “Say Dyslexia” Law? (Taken from the TNedu Flyer:

The Tennessee “Say Dyslexia” law was passed in 2016. The law requires school districts to screen all students for characteristics of dyslexia through their existing Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI2) procedures. School teams will use screening information to determine the need for dyslexia-specific intervention.

Parents will receive a letter if their child demonstrates characteristics of dyslexia and needs intervention. Receiving a letter does NOT mean your child has dyslexia, it does mean that your child is struggling with one or more foundations aspects of reading, such as sounding out words, spelling or reading accurately. Your child will receive additional small group intervention using interventions that are affective in building foundational skills. Under the Say Dyslexia law, school must provide your child with evidence-based interventions that are:

Explicit – skills explained, directly taught, and modeled by the teacher

Systematic and cumulative – introduces concepts in a definite, logical sequence; concepts are ordered from simple to more complex

Multi-sensory – links listening, speaking, reading, and writing together; involves movement and “hands-on” learning

Language-based – addresses all levels of language, including sounds (phonemes), symbols (graphemes), meaningful word parts (morphemes), word and phrase meanings (semantics), and sentence formation (syntax)

Aligned to individual student need – should address the skill deficit(s) identified through targeted assessments.

Receiving a letter that your child has characteristics of dyslexia also means schools have additional obligations:

  • School teams will review your child’s progress data regularly to determine if interventions are effective.
  • Schools teams will change interventions as needed.
  • The school will send home updates about your child’s progress approximately every 4.5 weeks.
  • School teams may consider accommodations for assistive technology (see Assistive Technology below)
  • Schools teams may make referrals for evaluations as needed (see Tennessee Dyslexia Resource Guide for more information.)

In order to address the individual needs of the students, a continuum of support may include: Tiered interventions through RTI2, accommodations provided for thought Sections 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and/or special education interventions and accommodations. (Please see the Tennessee Dyslexia Resource Guide for More information.)

Important Note regarding RTI2 and Special Education Evaluations: (This language is taken directly from the TNEDU memo of Dec. 9, 2020.) It is the longstanding position of both the U.S. and Tennessee Departments of Education that Response to Intervention strategies may not be used to delay or deny timely initial evaluations to children suspected having a disability. The  Tennessee Department of Education has recently updated the language in its Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI2) Framework (see pages 92 and 95)) and all other department guidance to make sure this guidance is clear. In particular, the new language specifies that  a special education referral for a student suspected of a specific learning disability may be initiated at any time.

As a parent, if you have a concern about your child, you have the right to request a dyslexia screening at any time. The screening process to determine if your child has characteristics of dyslexia must include:  

What kind of Accommodations can help Children with Characteristics of Dyslexia?

It is important to consider a student’s access to the general education curriculum. Access is the opportunity and ability for an individual to participate in the instruction, discussions, activities, products, and assessments that are provided to all students within a public school. Accommodations are provided to “level the playing field.” They are intended to offset the effects of a disability and to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and skills. Assistive technology (e.g., any equipment or product such as audio books, word processors, word prediction software) is a type of accommodation intended to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities.

Accommodations must be determined on an individual basis and specific to task and/or content area. Accommodations may require eligibility for Section 504 or an Individual Education Program (IEP); for a list of accommodations available for state testing, visit the department’s accessibility and accommodations webpage.

The following accommodations are provided as examples and may not be appropriate for all students with characteristics of dyslexia:

Text Reading

  • Provide text-to-speech technology, allowing the student to hear digital text. This allows for digit textbooks and digital books to be read to the student in part or whole as the student follows along in the text.
  • Provide audio books for literature and grade-level text. The student should have a copy of the text in front of him/her while listening to help focus his/her attention, to increase his/her visual memory of words, and so that he/she may take advantage of graphics within the text. (See or for low cost and free audiobooks for schools and families; ebooks, which can be converted to audiofile, are another good option.)
  • Oral testing or prompting upon request (i.e., allowing a student to request that certain words or text be read to him/her) when allowable.

Spelling and Writing

  • Allow use of a personal ‘vocabulary’ notebook, a dictionary, a speller’s dictionary, a Franklin Speller, or similar device for in-class assignments and to assist with correct spelling. (His/her spelling skills will need to be at a fifth to sixth grade level for this device to be helpful.)
  • Allow Access to a computer for written assignments. A program, such as Kurzweil or Dragon, with word prediction and text-to-speech to compose writing assignments may be helpful as s/he gets older.
  • Use of a recorder to record lectures or directions, especially as s/he gets older (e.g., Livescribe Pen,

Tips for Parents of Children with Characteristics of Dyslexia:

Ask your child’s school:

  • Who is the best person to speak with about my child’s current reading program and progress?
  • Who should I contact if I believe my child has a disability requiring 504 or special education services? 

Other things you can do:

  • Read to and with your child and listen to audiobooks together.
  • Always praise your child’s reading and spelling efforts and never criticize them.
  • Celebrate all reading and spelling progress and realize improvements take time.
  • Create an organized space for schoolwork and a comfortable place for reading.
  • Work with the school to and simple, easy to use tools to help with reading and writing.

Parent and Educator Resources about Characteristics of Dyslexia:

  • Tennessee Branch of the International Dyslexia Association