Public Schools


If you are brand new to dyslexia, please start here before reading this page. The following may be overwhelming at first. We are walking you through Tennessee public school policy for students who have learning disabilities in reading (dyslexia).

Will my Tennessee public school do the dyslexia evaluation?

As you begin this journey, you may be as shocked as we were to discover that the large majority of Tennessee public schools do not screen for dyslexia, specifically. Most also do not use the word “dyslexia” in official meetings or reports, and many have no specific program for dyslexia.

While they do not test specifically for dyslexia, you need to know that dyslexia is covered in Federal IDEA law under the category of Specific Learning Disability. So, that is the term you may want to use with school so that you are all speaking the same language. You have the right to request an evaluation (starting on page 62 of link) for a Specific Learning Disability from your public school at any point. If the school agrees that there is cause for an evaluation, they must do the evaluation within 60 days of receiving written parental consent. If they disagree that your child needs the evaluation, they must let you know the reason in writing. You may also provide your own outside evaluation from a private practice professional, and the school must consider it, but they do not have to agree with or accept it. All of this is in Federal IDEA law. We advise you to print out a copy of page 54 of the Tennessee Special Education Framework, highlight dyslexia, and keep it on hand for school meetings.

What does the evaluation consists of?

In Tennessee, an RTI-2 model is what is used to determine SLD eligibility. Your school will look at data gained during the RTI process to determine SLD eligibility. The SLD evaluation process (starting on page 62 of link) may make more sense to you after you read everything below.

UPDATE as of July 2015: Federal letter tells Tennessee RTI2 cannot be used to delay or deny and evaluation, and students do not have to go through all 3 tiers. -> Letter Link (print this)

How does all of this work? 

First, you need to understand the different ways dyslexic students are served in our public schools.

In Tennessee, students with dyslexia are served in both general education as well as special education. You may have heard of terms like IEP, 504, and RTI.  All are important to understand if you have a child who is struggling in reading, whether you know for sure if your child has dyslexia or not.  You must know the lingo in order to ask for the right types of supports.

RTI 2 (Response to Instruction and Intervention)

RTI 2 is Tennessee’s Response to Instruction and Intervention. It began in the fall of 2014. All Tennessee public school students are part of this program, whether they are in Special Education or General Education. So, if you have a child in Tennessee public schools, your child is also in RTI2. However, RTI2 has three different tiers of instruction and intervention.

Keep in mind, the RTI2 tiers are fluid. A child who has dyslexia may be served in any tier, whether that child has an IEP or 504 or not. Children also may move in and out of tiers during the school year. The school’s RTI team makes decisions on a child’s tier placement, so it’s important to work closely with your child’s teacher as he/she is on that team. Part of what the team uses to determine placement is a universal screener (although this is only a guideline, and the team can decide to place the child in a different tier). If your child is placed in a tier that you disagree with, please speak with your child’s teacher.

Universal Screener

In simple terms, this is a test given several times per year (at the K-5 level, it is given 3 times per year), and it is used to guide judgement for RTI2 tier placement. Districts decide on which screener they wish to use (some use STAR or AIMSweb, for example).

Here are the tiers:

Tier 1

This tier is generally for students who score above the 25th percentile. Your child may also end up qualifying for TAG (talented and gifted) as well, so please discuss with your school if you feel your child should get that instruction.

Tier 2

This tier is generally for students who fall below the 25th percentile on the screener. This places them into a more intensive intervention than Tier 1.

Tier 3 

This tier is usually for students who fall below the 10th percentile on the screener. This places them into a more intensive and longer intervention than Tier 2.

What is the RTI2 Intervention? 

The intervention for each tier is chosen by the school district, but it must meet the area of deficit shown by the screener. Ask if the intervention used is researched based for your child’s weaknesses (usually for a child with dyslexia this would be decoding, encoding, fluency, working memory, rapid naming, etc). You want a program that is research based or (better yet) evidence based for dyslexia, and the RTI-2 guide says the intervention needs to match the area of deficit as shown by the screener. Ideally, DD TN recommends a multi-sensory explicit instruction in phonemic awareness for students who have dyslexia such as those based on the Orton-Gillingham methodology. Some reading programs that our parents have seen success with are SPIRE, Wilson Reading, Slingerland, Take Flight, Barton Reading and Spelling, and several others. Scroll to the bottom of this post and ask us on chat if you have a question about the intervention as we have several very knowledgeable parents in our facebook chat group.

Please see the Tennessee RTI-2 Implementation Guide for the latest updates and to get a more in-depth explanation of how this works.

Okay, so that explains the reading help, but I’m sure you still want to know about the evaluation for SLD/dyslexia, and about more supports like 504 and IEPs. Keep in mind, even with an IEP or 504, your child is still considered in RTI2 in Tennessee schools. All Tennessee public school children are served in RTI2.

When more help is needed – 504 and IEP 

First things first, the diagnosis, alone, does not qualify a child for supports like a 504 or an IEP in US Public Schools. According to federal educational law, it’s a two step process.

1) A student must have a qualifying diagnosis (dyslexia is under SLD)


2) The disability must interfere with the child’s ability to learn in a general education

Before we go further, here is an excellent chart developed by showing the difference in an IEP and a 504. We find it most helpful. Go here to see it.

Section 504

If you looked over the chart from, you’ll see the basic definition of a 504 is to provide “a blueprint or plan for how a child will have access to learning at school.” It “provides services and changes to the learning environment to meet the needs of the child as adequately as other students.”

A dyslexic student with a 504 may need certain classroom/testing accommodations (extra time, read aloud) and/or assistive technology (writing software, audiobooks) in order to access general ed curriculum.

To qualify for a 504 plan, first you need to show that your child has a Specific Learning Disability, which dyslexia is. Next, you need to show that his/her dyslexia  “substantially limits him/her in performing one or more major life activity.”

An IEP actually provides a few more legal protections than a 504, so I would only go after a 504 if you suspect your child may not qualify for an IEP. According to’s link above, “section 504 has a broader definition of a disability than IDEA. That’s why a child who doesn’t qualify for an IEP might still be able to get a 504 plan.”

Here is a great list of common accommodations for children with dyslexia:

Classroom Accommodations

So, tell us about the IEP.

IEP / Individualized Education Plan

An IEP will allow for specialized instruction, usually with a special education teacher, as well as classroom accommodations and assistive technology, etc. It’s just what it says, an individualized plan for education.  This gives you a little more legal backing than a 504.

How do you qualify?

In Tennessee, as of July 1 2014, before a child is referred for special education for reading, the data must indicate that Tier 3 instruction in RTI is ineffective. This is now must be PART of the referral process, but it, by itself, is not the FULL evaluation.

UPDATE as of July 2015: Federal government says Tennessee cannot use RTI to delay or deny an evaluation nor does the student have to complete all three tiers before an eval. Federal law always trumps state policy. Print the letter here.  .

We’ll keep you updated.

Back to current TN policy so you understand it -> When a child is in RTI Tier 2 or Tier 3, that child will be progress monitored (tests to make sure the child is making adequate progress) either weekly or every 2 weeks. Those data points are used to make educational decisions, such as eligibility for an IEP.

Data decisions may be made after a child has 8-10 data points, if progress monitoring is completed every 2 weeks or 10-15 points, if progress monitoring is done weekly. Then, the school team must show, based on that data, that the child is not “responding to intervention” in order to refer the child for consideration of qualifying for an IEP under the category of SLD/dyslexia.

As we mentioned, this is only a piece of determining SLD/dyslexia qualifications for an IEP. Please refer to the following guide, starting on page 62, for a full outline of the procedure.

RTI 2 Implementation Guide

Also,  this guide is only a TN DOE police, not law. Your district may have their own manual. Ask your district if they have their own RTI2 guide, but also become very familiar with the state’s guide. **Print the Federal Letter if you have not done so yet!**

We’re here to help

DD TN parents, practitioners, and adult members do nearly all of our chatting on facebook. This is the fastest way to reach us. Please, join us on our Facebook Chat Board.

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