The evolving role of the school speech-language pathologists affords opportunities for true national school leadership with respect to early intervention to prevent academic shortfalls and over-identification. In taking this proper role a stronger position should result as to caseload management, innovation and professional growth.
Early intervention is a long-held ideal but leadership and implementation lag. Researchers publish but applications to educational assessment and intervention are limited. There are published guidelines for school practice but they do not adequately describe leadership, and relate practices to IDEA 2004. No other specialty is as well positioned or as well prepared as school SLPs. However, conditioning leads them to believe they are “service providers” who should be open to “collaboration” and a passive service role.
The national need is great to prevent school failure, especially for minority children. In our post, “Prevention of Over-identification: 112th Congress,” we reported on proposed legislation aimed partly at reducing educational patterns of disproportionality:
S.541 — Achievement Through Prevention Act (Introduced in Senate – IS)
S 541 IS
112th CONGRESS, 1st SessionS. 541
To amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to allow State educational agencies, local educational agencies, and schools to increase implementation of schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports and early intervening services in order to improve student academic achievement, reduce overidentification of individuals with disabilities, and reduce disciplinary problems in schools, and to improve coordination with similar activities and services provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The Act pinpoints the need to put early intervention at the center of prevention programming which include Response to Intervention. RTI has been implemented nationally with most efforts attached to elementary school performance and reading. ASHA guidelines indicate prevention an SLP responsibility, though they do not embrace issues of over-identification and disproportionality.
Unstable state funding of preschool programs has impaired progress in the design and implementation of early intervention programs in American schools, in spite of the fact educators agree on the absolute desirability of such programs. In a prior post, The Heinz Solution, we reported the following:
Joe Smydo, writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (October 23, 2009), reported on a major study of the effects of pre-kindergarten classes on the early education of poor and developmentally-delayed children vulnerable for special education placement. The study lasted three years and involved 10,000 children. Results indicated a boost in the development of social and academic skills. The children improved in math, literacy and social skills. The study was supported by The Heinz Endowments.
Pre-K programs are sometimes dropped by school administrators but the study showed:
1. “Pre-K Counts classes benefited children of various racial and ethnic groups.
2. Classes rated high-quality had more dramatic effects on children than those judged to be of lower quality.
3. Despite poverty and other disadvantages, 80 percent of children in the study demonstrated skills necessary for success in kindergarten — well above what would have been expected without the program.
4. While the participating school districts traditionally placed 18 percent of high-risk children in special-education programs in kindergarten, only about 2 percent of Pre-K Counts children required those services.
5. The children in the study ranged in age from 3 to 6 and attended classes for four to 24 months. Those who spent more time in the classes had larger gains than peers who attended for shorter periods.”
SLPs should be able to reduce their caseloads through leadership of preschool prevention programs. RTI program reports also indicate reductions in special education placement. Yes, collaboration is one skill component of SLI participation but without a knowledge base of the IDEA issues and applications it is merely an attitude about cooperation with others.
Wait to Fail
With reference to the post, New School Phonology: Wait to Fail!, the issue of wait to fail was pinpointed in connection with the correct assessment of phonology and articulation:
“The President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education (2001) found American schools follow a pattern members called wait to fail.
“Finding 2: The current system uses an antiquated model that waits for a child to fail, instead of a model based on prevention and intervention. Too little emphasis is put on prevention, early and accurate identification of learning and behavior problems and aggressive intervention using research-based approaches. This means students with disabilities do not get help early when that help can be most effective. Special education should be for those who do not respond to strong and appropriate instruction and methods provided in general education.”
idea.ed.gov (Legacy 2007) provides a summary of what state and local school districts “must” do to monitor incorrect placements in special education. Here is the basic requirement:
“The State must have in effect, consistent with the purposes of 34 CFR Part 300 and with section 618(d) of the Act, policies and procedures designed to prevent the inappropriate overidentification or disproportionate representation by race and ethnicity of children as children with disabilities, including children with disabilities with a particular impairment described in 34 CFR 300.8 of the IDEA regulations.[34 CFR 300.173] [20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(24)]“
School SLPs should play a pivotal role in the prevention of over-identification. Right now, they hardly know what it is. ASHA’s online policies and guidelines ignore the topic of over-identification as an issue and a critical component of prevention. One cannot have a respectable prevention policy without addressing forthrightly and publicly the IDEA requirement for SLPs to prevent over-identification and disproportionality. The proper policy outlook should be a gateway to caseload management and job satisfaction.
We take the view that school SLPs can reduce the mis-identification of learning disability cases through their roles as early education specialists. “Many phonology children should be categorized by SLPs as learning disabled rather than SLI. Say a five-year old boy has 5 or more articulation errors and falls two standard deviations below the mean on an articulation test. This is an LD child if placement in special education is required. SLPs are prepared as well as any school employees to place children in the SLD category at the preschool level of linguistic learning and academic prediction.
The problem of phonological delay and disability will limit and predict subsequent language and reading performances before teachers and psychologists can detect problems. There is a good body of research showing “artic cases” morph into language and learning problems later, as well as social and academic success problems later. Fooling around with them as “artic cases” and then dismissing them after sounds are corrected is to abandon these children just as they are entering a critical stage of great academic need.” (New School Phonology: Wait to Fail)
School speech-language pathologists are educated to be willing service providers. They need continuing education in leadership and access to a clinical doctorate with an emphasis in education so they can take on the role they should be taking on, that of designing and leading prevention programs. Health-care professionals are all in the “misery industry.” They benefit from the sickness of their clients and not from their health. As we point out above, prevention is a gateway to professional wisdom, opportunity and effective policy.