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Tennessee, this is unacceptable! Signed, Parents of Struggling Readers

This week, February 2021, we asked parents for districts where they had trouble getting help for their struggling readers AND for districts doing it right. Within 8 hours, we had over 65 accounts of schools, STATEWIDE, who were NOT helping. We had ONE positive school story. ONE. And our state lawmakers think 3rd-grade retention will fix this issue?

Here are some direct quotes from parents from counties ALL OVER our state (identifying content removed):

“I have been fighting with our district to have him tested. Last year my requests went ignored. This year I was finally able to get him tested but since we privately paid a tutor his scores weren’t “low enough” (16%) to qualify him for an IEP. I am awaiting calls from UT to have him tested. He is failing for the 2nd year. Benchmarks were completed and he now is scoring in the 3rd and 10th percentiles. I am furious!”

“I requested text to speech technology to be used for my daughter as well as possible use of a C pen if I purchased and was told that she would not be allowed to use it.”

“The school system told me my oldest just needs to learn to read to survive now. I am defeated.”

“Support has been nonexistent. I finally paid for a private diagnosis, am paying for private language therapy, and ultimately pulled her out this year to homeschool her.”

“They refused assistive technology and said dyslexia isn’t a qualifying diagnosis for IEP.”

“Going into an initial IEP meeting today–one that I requested last summer. The SPED teacher said they couldn’t assess for an IEP until our child had been in RTI and not made sufficient progress. When I pointed out that she has an IEE on file with a dyslexia diagnosis, the SPED teacher said TN does not recognize dyslexia.”

Tennessee, this is unacceptable!


Parents of Struggling Readers




FREE Assistive Tech Webinar

Join Decoding Dyslexia TN for a FREE webinar on Monday, August 24 from 6pm Central / 7pm Eastern Daylight Time.


In this webinar, you’ll learn how to support your child with Free, Accessible Microsoft Assistive Technology to support both in person and distance learning. This session will showcase how these free Learning Tools can be used to support classroom engagement of reading, writing, math and communication for users with learning differences such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, emerging readers or a combination of any of the broad range of unique student abilities.  

Details, demonstrations and student examples will be shared about several new and improved sets of features across Microsoft products.

Speaker: Rachel Berger, Assistive Tech Specialist / Dyslexia and LD Community Leader / @rachelmberger – Rachel is the Executive Director of Decoding Dyslexia Minnesota, a nonprofit dedicated to educational advocacy and an advocate for students with learning disabilities. In addition, Rachel works with Microsoft Education as a dyslexia assistive tech specialist helping to train educators and students and use assistive technology to remove barriers and empower students to reach their full educational potential.



Free Webinar

Welcome LAT Conference Educators!

Hello educators who are finding our page after the LAT Conference today! Welcome! We would love for you to explore our website and get to know about us and how we support our dyslexia community. We are mainly parents, but also teachers, students, professionals and dyslexic adults who all make up a community trying to make the world better for Tennessee’s struggling readers.

We began this journey in 2013 after 5 of us connected online (one from Knoxville, four from Middle TN) and discovered all of our kids have the same struggles – they were not learning how to read despite the best efforts of our teachers and ourselves. We wanted our kids to read, just like I know you want your students to read. Who doesn’t? So, we did our research. And we found out, our kids can learn to read, but due to dyslexia (which is proven to exist by science), reading/spelling for our kids will always be more of a struggle than it is for their non-dyslexic peers.

We don’t let that get us down, however. In fact, we have found many gifts in this struggle. Our beautiful children can and do go to college (or have vocational careers), become successful, and find ways to flow around this rock!

And we walk through the fire together. We hope you will walk with us. Start by exploring our website and then head over to Facebook to like us and follow us on Twitter at @ddtn13. Thank you.

The parents, students, teachers and friends who make up Decoding Dyslexia TN.

#tnreads19 #DyslexicsReadToo #DysleixaIsReal

Oh, the Places We’ll Go! Second Anniversary of the “Say Dyslexia” Law

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead

Seven years ago, a bright little boy entered a Tennessee public kindergarten happy and ready to learn. He knew all of his dinosaurs, and even whether or not they lived in the Jurassic or Crustaceous period. He knew that a turtle is a reptile (and even corrected his momma when she thought it was an amphibian and had to look it up), and he knew that a mushroom is a fungus.

But he did not know that a “d” represents a sound in print form, and the “d” says “duh.”

He did not know this despite being read to nightly from birth. He did not know this despite hours upon hours of work with his mom, one on one. He did not know this despite being placed into the highest rated pre-k in Knox County, a pre-K his momma camped out overnight in her car to get him into. 

His momma didn’t know why. His teacher didn’t know why. His principal didn’t know why.

Why was learning letters so extremely difficult for this clearly bright boy?!?!

It wasn’t until two and a half long years later that the momma, through hours and hours of research, tears, and testing, found out her little boy has dyslexia – which happens to be the most common reason for reading failure.


If this is the most common reason why didn’t the school know?!? Why wasn’t there more awareness?!?

That momma teamed up with other mommas and together, they founded a grassroots movement called Decoding Dyslexia-TN.

Within that movement, parents started talking. Parents found support. Another momma – from across the state – had been going through the same experience. Lori Smith and her daughter, Ryann, were fed up and said it’s time to write a law. Who is in?

That law, the Say Dyslexia Law, was passed by the Tennessee legislature on April 19, 2016, signed on June 9th, and went into effect on July 1st.

Change is slow going, but in the two years since the law passed, things started to happen.

  • A dyslexia advisory council was formed in the state of Tennessee
  • A dyslexia guide was written based on the input from that council
  • Some parents in Knox County requested to join Decoding Dyslexia because they received a letter from their school stating their child exhibits the characteristics of dyslexia
  • Some parents in Metro-Nashville were offered summer programs that are targeted to their children’s specific reading needs, based on explicit instruction
  • Schools are beginning to say the word that was once so taboo – dyslexia. They are SAYING dyslexia!

Oh! What the momma to that little dinosaur-loving boy would have given to have known her child had the characteristics of dyslexia when he was in kindergarten! That momma was me, and when the first Knox County parent entered our Facebook group after receiving a letter from the school – I sat down and cried. 

Not just cried, bawled. It is working. Change is happening. Is everything perfect? No, it’s not. We still hear stories daily of the struggle parents have, but it IS getting better.

When you know why your child is struggling, you can tackle the situation head-on with a plan.

Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard on this cause. Our children will have a brighter future, and we will keep working until every child has the opportunity to learn how to read. 

About the author: Julya Johnson is the President of Decoding Dyslexia-TN, parent of two children who have dyslexia, and a tireless momma advocate for awareness and acceptance.

Official Guidance from TDOE on Dyslexia



In July 2016, the Say Dyslexia bill became law in Tennessee, but the past year has been frustrating for many dyslexia parents. Changes were not yet trickling down into Tennessee districts, mostly because they were waiting on guidance from the state’s Departement of Education.

On May 25, 2017, that guidance has finally been release. You can download it here.

What was the hold-up?

We wanted to make sure this guidance was done right. Immediately following the bill’s passage, a dyslexia advisory council to the state was named. This council included two Decoding Dyslexia-TN members, as well as teachers, a parent, psychologists and more. For the past year, the council has been working hard to create guidance for districts.

We encourage you to download the guidance and take it to your school.