Communication is a primary and essential skill for educational and social success (communication bill of rights). The department is committed to ensuring that all students have a proficient and functional means of communication to ensure academic, social, vocational, and post-secondary success. Communication can be verbal speech or language supported through the use of augmentative and alternative communication systems or devices.


Speech-Language Survey Caseload Summary Public Report 2022

The department submitted the Speech-Language Survey Caseload Summary Report 2022 to the House and Senate Education Committees on January 14 to comply with Public Chapter 34. The report is a summary of statewide data collected from surveyed LEA directors and speech-language pathologists across Tennessee on the staffing sufficiency of licensed speech-language pathologists in public schools and their respective workloads.

Disabilities in Speech and/or Language

Students with communication impairments may have significant academic and social challenges due to the multitude of possible impacts from the communication deficit. Potential issues include:

  • difficulty mastering early literacy skills,
  • not understanding classroom directions,
  • challenges engaging in meaningful classroom and peer discussions,
  • trouble answering questions,
  • disorganized stories or oral explanations,
  • frequent grammatical errors when speaking,
  • limited vocabulary, and
  • challenges with peer relationships due to inappropriate social behaviors.

Speech or language impairments are both educational disability categories in Tennessee, for which eligibility standards have been established by federal and state rules. The department’s Speech or Language Impairment Evaluation Guidance can be found on the special populations evaluation & eligibility web page.

Speech Language Pathology (SLP) Services in the School

SLP services in schools are provided to students who are eligible under IDEA through the disability identification of speech or language impaired. Additionally, SLP services may be a related service provided to students who are eligible under at least one other disability category, and the IEP team has determined that speech or language services are required for that student (34 CFR 300.34).  

Special education is not a place, but an intensive intervention. Therefore, SLP services, like all other special education services, should be delivered in the students’ least restrictive environment (LRE) to the greatest extent possible. Each student’s unique communication needs must be considered by the IEP team to determine the most appropriate placement for the delivery of services. For this reason, SLP services may be provided along a continuum, which include indirect or consultative services, support within the general education setting, pull-out to a speech therapy room or other special education setting, co-teaching with classroom teachers and other support staff, community-based teaching, or serving students in the most restrictive settings, such as a residential facility.

Speech is how we say the sounds and words in our language. In the state of Tennessee, a child may be identified with a speech impairment in one of three areas related to speech:


An articulation, or speech sound impairment refers to the misproduction of individual speech sounds which impact overall intelligibility.


A fluency impairment, refers to episodes of interruptions in the rhythm of speech, often heard as repetitions of sounds and words, unnatural rate of speech, or blocks in the flow of speech. Stuttering it a type of fluency impairment.


A voice impairment refers to excessive deficiency in the pitch, intensity, resonance or quality of the vocal mechanism due to chronic misuse or structural abnormalities.

Language is the system we use, either with words, gestures, or symbols, to communicate our thoughts and needs. Language systems have rules about the use of words, symbols, structures, and social and cultural expectations. A language impairment impacts listening and/or speaking in one or more of the following areas:


The structure and organization of language, which includes the sounds and sound combinations, and grammatical rules at the word and sentence levels.

  • Phonology – the perception of sounds and sound patterns of a language. Phonological skills are essential building blocks for reading and spelling.
  • Morphology – the structure of words and word parts, which provide meaning, such as plurals, verb tenses, suffixes, prefixes, etc.
  • Syntax – the organization and structures of sentences in a grammatical way.


The meaning of language at the word and sentence level, often broadly described as vocabulary.

  • Semantics - the content or meaning of words, phrases and sentences, including concepts, categories, multiple meaning words, synonyms, antonyms, ambiguous and figurative language, etc.


How language is used across settings and partners following social and cultural rules and expectations.

  • Pragmatics – often referred to as social language. Pragmatic language includes following the expected uses and rules of language in various communicative settings. It requires a child to interpret and adjust verbal and nonverbal (e.g., tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions) communication based on the expectations of a situation or partner.