2. SLP Caseloads

We see that special education enrollments have increased in the last 30 years at a stunning rate, and that one contributing factor is the placement recommendations of speech-language pathologists and psychologists to IEP teams. Children have been over-identified for special education, which means that high caseloads have been partially generated by error. IEP teams support quick placements.

Yet SLPs have taken the position that the problem is largely a matter of having too few SLPs working in schools. If a school district has 120 speech children, there should be three SLPs on duty to cover all components of case management (e.g., service, paperwork, coordination, consultation). The implication for administrators is significant. Not only do they have to pay for extra SLP hires, they must find employable SLPs. In many parts of the U. S. SLPs are hard to find and hard to retain.

Writing from Texas, S. McFadin advocates for “laws” to govern caseload size (ASHA Leader, November, 2009): “My director tries to consider guidelines, but without any law or protection as to the maximum number of students served / caseload size, it is hard for her to justify any additional SLP positions.”

The “scarce resources argument” made to school administrators is extremely weak. Their daily work centers around requests for more and more and more resources to satisfy the many school stakeholders who think their requests are urgent.

Congress has given SLPs, along with school psychologists and reading specialists, an elite role in assessing at-risk school children for special education placement. It has also given them the responsibility of reducing misidentification of at-risk children, particularly, non-disabled children (cf. Texas Solution).

Taking a leadership role, however, requires candor. For example:

1. There are no more surplus jobs in the proverbial pipeline to reduce caseloads.

2. School SLPs must search for qualitative changes in caseload management (such as collaborative preschool prevention programming and less direct service).

3. Admit that clinical education assessment has evolved, and changed, and must improve to correct misidentifications.

4. Role changes are being forced on SLPs by federal mandates (e.g., RTI, working in general education) without regard for the clinical traditions they value (e.g., articulation intervention).

Therefore, as a creative tool for reducing caseloads and workloads, reducing misidentification is an avenue for constructive change. It is something each and every SLP can do knowing it is ethically right and expected. Reducing misidentification is an aim that is mandated by the federal government, and every state. It can be explained to school colleagues and administrators as a necessary and important collaboration for long-standing FAPE requirements. No permission (nor guidelines, policies and laws) is required to advocate for proper eligibility management.

Reducing misidentifications extends beyond the scope of response to intervention programs, concerned with identification processes. It entails a long-term range of eligibility decisions, especially those on the back end where dismissal judgments are made.

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