Summer 2021

Your Struggles Are Real: Finding Children with Dyslexia in a Sea of Struggling Readers

The push to transform what reading instruction looks like in classrooms across Tennessee and many parts of the nation has left some people wondering what this means for students with dyslexia. The push for change is good news for students with dyslexia. This is due in larger part to the change underway having been motivated by an honest acknowledgment of reality. The majority of children in Tennessee and the nation struggle to read—a fact that breaks the hearts of parents, the backs of teachers and causes untold suffering for children. It also disrupts systems intended to identify students with learning disabilities.binoculars and sunset

When you really break things down to their nuts and bolts, concerns for the interests of students with learning disabilities are bound to the welfare of all students. And the bond is simple. We know a lot about reading disabilities. We know a tremendous amount about how to teach all children to read. But we cannot find the ones who will need the most intense instruction and allocate resources to this end when the educational systems are overtaxed with most children struggling to read. To sum up, our research reveals that schools struggle to find kids with reading disabilities, like dyslexia, when most children in a school struggle to read. Their reading struggles are not exceptional in the context of a sea of struggling readers who are all drowning.

Put simply, all the science in the world cannot help when the base systems needed to translate it are overtaxed or nonexistent. Efforts underway in Tennessee and other states to address these challenges are vital. We need trained educators instilled with the knowledge and practical skills to teach reading when they leave college. Achieving this goal requires hard work on the part of institutions of higher education like MTSU. As pre-service teachers leave higher education and enter the workforce, there is a need for robust systems to support their continued professional development. These efforts are not just for teachers. We need opportunities for educational leaders to understand their role in these efforts and receive preparation and continued support in carrying out their role in these systems.

When it comes to building healthy systems and keeping them that way, we need early indicators of student success. The earliest indicators that we have in reading are provided by universal screenings. We start getting these data at the beginning of a child’s time in our public schools. These data provide vital information at the individual student level, and they can also be shared in a way that offers invaluable information for all layers of a system.

In this issue, we provide some thoughtful pieces on aspects of universal screening.

These articles set the stage for the training we will offer starting in the fall. This training will get underway with a full-day workshop – "From the district to the reading teacher: A roadmap for using screeners to identify students with dyslexia." The workshop will take a big-picture perspective about how screeners support identifying risk indicators to support how best to enrich and intervene for the betterment of all students. It will also take a perspective that moves beyond what screeners tell us about individual students. When leveraged, these data provide important indicators of the overall health of the literacy practices in a grade, school, district, and state.

The workshop can be a stand-alone event. Yet, we find that many educators are hungry for more. And for those wanting to continue the conversation and learn more, we are providing the Dyslexia Success Series – a series of workshops that will take place across the 2021-2022 academic year. The continued training will focus on differentiating instruction to target skills deficits for students with characteristics of dyslexia identified through universal screening data. Educators will gain hands-on training in using instructional materials that we have developed for students in the early grades.

Timothy Odegard, Ph.D., Chairholder, Murfree Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies




Tim Odegard, Ph.D., chairholder, Murfree Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies
Tim Odegard serves as the editor-in-chief of Annals of Dyslexia and on the editorial board of Perspectives on Language and Literacy. These official publications of the International Dyslexia Association feature peer-reviewed research, as well as practical articles for educators, respectively.

Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia


@MTSUDyslexia Center