6. Educational Speech Pathology: Assessment

A hybrid model of school-based speech-language assessment for the placement and dismissal of at-risk children in special education under IDEA 2004 is two-fold:

1. Assessment of communication adequacy (speech, language, pragmatics) to determine whether a communication disorder exists.  This is a traditional practice suitable for any setting including private practice.  To put it simply, anything learned in graduate school can be brought into play in support of clinical decision-making.  

2. Assessment of the impact of a communication disorder on progress in the general curriculum.  This is a non-traditional practice often conducted in collaboration with educators who contribute information to the assessment process (such as RTI data), arbitrated by members of the IEP team.

A child who meets both sets of criteria can be legally recommended by the SLP for special education placement as an SLI (Speech-Language Impairment) pupil.  IDEA 2004 requires: “A communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment that ADVERSELY AFFECTS A STUDENT’S EDUCATIONAL PERFORMANCE.”

The communication competence model is powerful (unconstrained) and in principle when applied to at-risk school children can yield judgments in any of the 14 IDEA eligibility categories:  

Autism, Deaf-Blindness, Deafness, Developmental Delay, Emotional Disturbance, Hearing Impairment.  Mental Retardation,  Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impairment,  Specific Learning Disability, Speech or Language Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury,Visual Impairment Including Blindness.

For intervention, SLPs can have children from any of these categories as either the primary IEP service provider or the secondary. Unlike school psychologists and medical doctors, SLPs provide direct educational treatment and therefore are principal case managers in America’s  100,000 schools.

Therefore, school speech-language pathologists are key to whether America’s at-risk school children are placed and retained in special education.  No other specialty is more central to issues of SPECIAL EDUCATION OVER-IDENTIFICATION AND MINORITY DISPROPORTIONALITY

SLPs to be properly prepared for school service must be well-informed on all eligibility criteria and take into consider a legal responsibility to help protect FAPE rights.  They must recognize the kinds of errors being made in the respective IDEA categories and avoid making them.  They cannot rely solely on clinical criteria for decision making.

School SLPs must be exceptionally strong with regard to cultural and linguistic variations associated with different types of disability and learning styles.

In 2011, there is not much evidence school SLPs are aware of current U.S. FAPE issues and sort them out as they consider eligibility criteria and determinations.

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