Your Middle Schooler

Back in 2007, I launched my first Blog called “Your Middle Schooler: A Unique Age.” It seemed to be a nitche that hardly anyone covered. My initial post read as follows

For the past 12+ years I have worked as a Middle School Speech Language Pathologist. At the same time my own three children swam through the sea of middle school. I guess on some level that makes me a middle school expert. I am not sure about that but I have observed middle school intensively worked with both regular and special education teachers, dealt with administration, observed curriculum development (and lack of it), proctered state level examinations, been involved with displinary issues and watched hormones go crazy. When it comes to middle school I can honestly say, “been there done that.”

When you research Early Childhood development information is overwhelming, everyone has an opinion and free information is available in every toy store and doctors office. However, look for information/advice on anything related to the middle school aged child and your results is limited.

I’ve now had 17 years of wonderful middle school experiences in a variety of different communities.  I know that the Middle School years are just as unique and developmentally important as the preschool years. If certain skills are not acquired during the Middle School years, higher level language development and learning will be effected. I hope to continue to provide some a lot of information about language development during the ages of 11-14 and practical suggestions on how to interact with the middle schooler in your life. I welcome any questions, concerns or comments.

Teresa
January 2012

Some of the initial material on this page might be recycled from the original Your Middle Schooler:  A Unique Age.  Sorry about that, but a review of good ideas never hurts.

Lets be realistic about school wellness programs…then maybe they’ll work

Posted by on Mar 1, 2014 in Administrators Page, Parent Information, pictures, slider, SLP Chat, Your Middle Schooler: A Unique Age | 3 comments

Lets be realistic about school wellness programs…then maybe they’ll work

Last week a friend sent me another article on Michelle Obama’s Lets Move Campaign. The article focused a new policies where “unhealthy foods” would not allow to be advertised during the school day. In particular the article referred to the advertising of certain CocaCola company products not being allowed in schools. Keep in mind how much support the Coca-Cola company has given to many causes over the years, especially the Olympics.

“The idea here is simple – our classrooms should be healthy places where kids aren’t bombarded with ads for junk food,” the first lady said. “Because when parents are working hard to teach their kids healthy habits at home, their work shouldn’t be undone by unhealthy messages at school.”  M. Obama

I am a little perplexed by what Mrs. Obama is trying to do. I’ve worked in schools for almost 30 years. I’ve never seen junk food advertising in any classroom. I haven’t seen a soda machine in schools for years. It seems as though she is trying to accomplish something that common sense dictated years ago. I’ve never seen advertising of any kind other than occasional vending machines in any school at any time. So basically Mrs. Obama is trying to achieve something that was initiated and successfully addressed at least 20 years ago. It’s also seems contradictory that advertising of “diet” drinks are going to be allowed. Personally I think the chemicals in diet drinks are even less healthy for children. Mrs. Obama, should we be promoting diet drinks to our school children?

I agree with the basic premise of Mrs. Obama’s Lets Move Campaign. When I look around any school I see many more kids that are heavier than they should be. But she is really missing the mark going after the large companies to decreasing their advertising basically because few actually advertise in schools and none on a large scale basis. Mrs. Obama should look at the name of her campaign and focus on getting kids moving. Schools can modify their schedules to extend recess, spend more time outside, make lunch more relaxing (and social) and provide better school lunches. Why focus on taking away something that is hardly there.

If Lets Move wants to support better nutrition in general, it should start a little closer to home. I’d like to know if Michelle Obama has ever seen or eaten a public school lunch? It’s been my experience to see, small portions served on cardboard or styrofoam trays, food that has been in a warmer for hours (yes hours), unappealing choices, mushy or dehydrated food and frankly poor quality food. Food programs at most schools have switched over from having school cooks to food services where the cooked food is shipped in and kept in warmers. Peek in any trash barrel in any school cafeteria and you will see just how much of “school food” is thrown out. When this much food it inedible or unappealing and not consumed, children have to be starving by the end of the school day. This can’t be good for blood sugar levels.

So how much are kids actually moving in a typical school day? This is going to vary from school to school. It’s been my experience that students have anywhere from 30-40 minutes to shove in their lunch wait for everyone to finish and then run out side to play for 15 or so minutes. Schools rarely provide playground equipment and frankly most kids don’t know how to organize games anymore. Recess is usually inconsistent lasting 15-30 minutes at most. Middle schoolers rarely get recess at all. In the winter time students in cold climates are at times confined to their classroom the whole day. Physical education classes meet for an hour once or twice a week. It’s also important to note that even if schools or principals want to increase their students movement time, the demands of Common Core puts significant limits on time allotted for recess and physical education.

How many exercise opportunities do children have outside the school day? Schools have so much to cover that even with the best intentions, schools can teach healthy habits but cannot provide adequate opportunities to exercise. Perhaps Mrs. Obama’s program should put more effort into developing opportunities to exercise outside of the school day and encouraging parents to take advantage of those opportunities. Instead of alienating large corporations such as Coca-Cola use them to help fund new exercise, sports or dance programs. Children especially from less affluent communities have fewer opportunities to join organized teams, exercise programs or lessons.

Children from all socioeconomic levels are spending an inordinate amount of time playing video games. This is hard to believe but some students actually believe they are playing sports when playing video games. Children are now being raised by video gamers and instead of shooting hoops in the backyard, parents and children now play video games together. If they’re playing video games they are usually not getting much exercise. Perhaps if Michelle Obama and Let’s Move is so adamant about going after corporations that produced less than nutritious food then perhaps they should also go after video game manufacturers since video games keep kids from moving. An awful lot of computer games are used in schools too, some with little to no educational value.

Let’s Move has been in place for 4 years now and other than absurd wellness programs that have infiltrated schools I haven’t seen many changes in students physical well being. These wellness programs have sucked all the fun out of any school celebration since no treats of any kind are allowed. Basically you can’t give a hungry kid a granola bar anymore.  Even students who have yearly physicals are being weighed at school and told they are fat in very public ways.  And to top it off school lunches are still awful.  It’s time to be a little more realistic when it comes to developing wellness programs in schools. Mrs. Obama should put some initiatives together that are realistic, actually have a chance to be successful and might accomplish something.

Setting examples for good nutrition and exercise in schools:

  • Provide nutritious and appealing meals for school lunches
  • Have school lunches prepared at schools and use locally grown veggies and fruits whenever possible
  • Build in more time for a relaxing meal
  • Don’t have kids eat where they work even at snack time
  • Allow wellness plans some flexibility, reasonable treats should be allowed on special occasions.
  • Allow more time for recess, provide typical playground equipment and teach students how to organize typical playground games.
  • Allow longer and flexible breaks after lunch especially for older students where they have some choice on how they manage their time
  • Provide physical education classes at least 2-3 days a week, rather than focus on playing games, teach underlying skills, traditional and other types of exercises, how to organize games and provide cardio workouts.
  • Provide an outdoor recess whenever possible.
  • Encourage students to participate in community based opportunities to exercise, play organized sports or take lessons such as dance or gymnastics.

Middle School Nerves

Posted by on Aug 20, 2013 in Parent Information, pictures, slider, Your Middle Schooler: A Unique Age | 0 comments

It’s that time of year again, school here in the northeast is getting ready to start.  For some kids the start of a new middle school experience is exciting and for others it can be a very nervous time.  If you’ve ever smelled a group of school full of 6th grade students during the first few days of school you’d realize this.  My advice to parents is to be supportive, ask a few probing questions, not too many.  Make sure you ask about any concerns they might have expecially around school work and peer relationships.  However, keep in mind middle schoolers are also worried about simple things like, being able to open a locker and knowing where to go.

A few years ago, I reviewed the book A Smart Girl’s Guide to Starting Middle School.  I think it gave some very practical information and strategies for middle schoolers in general.  I wish ther was a boys version of this book.

 

This week I also received this link in an email 20 Blogs with the Best Tips for New Middle Schoolers. I haven’t had a chance to look over all the information or sites, but the titles are relevant.

Kiss your babies goodbye when the leave for middle school but keep in mind they still need you to be involved, just on a different level.

The Practical SLP: Middle School

Posted by on Jul 27, 2013 in Administrators Page, Parent Information, pictures, slider, SLP Chat, Your Middle Schooler: A Unique Age | 0 comments

The Practical SLP:  Middle School

Back in 2007, when I was taking a computer course and needed to put some teacher training together I chose to write about the roles and responsibilities of the School Speech Language Pathologist.  It was a nice introduction for the teachers and for those who paid attention, I think they learned something about our field.  This was just before RTI, core curriculum and the new teacher evaluation process took over.  Reflecting on what I wrote 6 years ago, our job hasn’t changed that much…..it’s just been added to.  So take a look, please note the word “Practical” in the title.  At the time when all these changes were looming I thought it was appropriate (and still do).  The Practical SLP powerpoint 2007 copy

Teresa

 

Speech Language Pathology Humor……..A linguistic dissection of 7 annoying teenage sounds

Posted by on Jun 6, 2013 in slider, SLP Chat, Your Middle Schooler: A Unique Age | 0 comments

I will be the first one to admit most Speech Language Pathology Humor is pretty lame.  However, I came across this article and short video and got a huge laugh out of it.  Some day when I have time I’ll have to write an article on the humorous side of our profession. We all know the way our field is going we all need a good laugh.

A linguistic dissection of 7 annoying teenage sounds

Games Can Be Fantastic Therapy Tools

Posted by on Dec 31, 2012 in Administrators Page, Modify That Game, Parent Information, slider, SLP Chat, Your Middle Schooler: A Unique Age | 0 comments

Games Can Be Fantastic Therapy Tools

I have always said that I can turn or modify any game into an educational experience.  Me at my advanced years was thinking only about board games.  Over the years I’ve been able to teach almost every single language skill through conventional games.  Unfortunately, those days are numbered because it’s hard to collect data when your having fun.

I was extremely pleased when I came across this article on Geekslp.com  Angry Birds Educational Tool.  This article truly validates what I already know.  I am so glad the younger generation of SLP’s are able to see the value of games in learning.  I love angry birds but never even thought to bring it into my therapy as a tool but I have used it as a reward.  Why I never thought of this I don’t know.  This article presents an excellent perspective and shows just how creative speech language pathologists can be.

Reality is kids just don’t know how to play anymore.  Our students are usually at an even bigger disadvantage for knowing how to initiate play with others, feel successful and how to accept wins/losses gracefully.  Anytime we play a game with our students we are providing a learning experience that they will not get from their peers or even their parents.

I actually have a whole section on my blog called Modify that Game, which I will admit is dated with it’s information.  Still the point is there, games can have educational value.

My last article on gaming was back in June. 

Gaming In Education

I was following up on an article a friend sent me.  Basically I said that video games are good but you would still need a skilled teacher to fill in the gaps.   I’m not a video gamer so I reserved making any harsh judgements.

However, I was writing about the importance of play long before that.  The Importance of Play

I am still amazed at the number of children I encounter that truly don’t know how to play and I’m not just talking about our language disabled kids.  Kids are so managed these days that they are loosing their negotiation skills, critical thinking skills, imaginations, flexibility with interpersonal skills and play skills.

Recently an SLP contacted me to tell me that she was not allowed to use games in therapy any more.  I thought how sad that we’ve gotten to the point where fun had to be squashed in order to make sure kids pass a test or that enough data gets collected.  I figured that was the reason or that their administration was nuts.

Enjoy the articles highlighted above, put a little bit of fun into your therapy setting, worry about data collection around progress report time.  Modified games can play a huge role in therapy not to mention increase motivation.  Funny that it’s more accepted if the games are presented on the computer or iPad that out of a dusty old box.  However, games are much easier to modify out of the dusty old box.  Personally I can see the value in both conventional games and some computer games/apps.  Just like conventional games and therapy games, there are a lot of junky computer games and apps that are not worth even trying out.

Out of Range Testing for Severely Impaired Students

Posted by on Nov 5, 2012 in Administrators Page, slider, SLP Chat, Your Middle Schooler: A Unique Age | 1 comment

Out of Range Testing for Severely Impaired Students

This question has come up again? Many therapists are put in positions where they have to test severely involved students who are perhaps not even on their caseload or in outside placements. I know the law says we have to test but how do you do this and make it valid. As far as I know other than some checklists, there is nothing out that that really looks at functional language. I’ve seen the checklists and often you have to modify them to fit the students needs and levels. Then what do the results tell you anyway? There’s usually not cut off to say therapy will be beneficial or not or even guidelines to help you with goals.
Seriously, how do you put an age or level on the language of the severely impaired. There must be a way to describe language or a tool out there that might help. If you have any suggestions please share. I may even consider a short survey to see what others are doing.
Back in February I wrote this article on evaluating out of range students. Some of the suggestions work for me but I’m not sure it is the best way to evaluate. Out of Range Testing for Severely Impaired Students

Survey Says……..(with comments)

Posted by on Oct 29, 2012 in Administrators Page, slider, SLP Chat, Your Middle Schooler: A Unique Age | 0 comments

Survey Says……..(with comments)

Thank you to the Speech Language Pathologists who participated in this speech and language assessment survey.  I received responses from 9 people.  Granted that isn’t a large number but I’ve read scholarly papers written with less data.  I’m using the acronyms in this report since we all know what they are:).  Sorry about the comments but I couldn’t help myself.  It is my survey so I can do that.  Please feel free to share your comments and questions.

What is your standard test battery?

The CELF-4 was the overwhelming test of choice for most therapists.  The CASL and the OWLS were most frequently mentioned as second choices.  For vocabulary testing most preferred the PPVT/EVT combo to the ROWPVT/EOWPVT.  Then there is the good old Goldman Fristoe.  What else could you use for articulation?  It’s quick, it’s familiar.  It’s old but really articulation is the one thing that hasn’t changed.

The tests mentioned for assessing higher order language included the TLC and the TAPS-cohesion subtests.  The TOLD and PLS were mentioned for younger students.

What supplementary testing do you use for more involved children or for specific information?

  1.  TOPS
  2. Parts of the CASL
  3. CTOPP
  4. LPT
  5. TOPL
  6. Social Language Development Test
  7. Listening Comprehension
  8. SSI
  9. SPELT
  10. Brigance

I can say that I am familiar with almost all the supplementary testing mentioned on the survey and use several.  I prefer the test of problem solving to the TOPL because of the breakdown into skill areas.  However, I’ve only read the TOPL not given it.  I have the CASL available but just can’t bring myself to take the time to learn something new.  I usually fight with the reading specialists on who will give the CTOPP.  If you’re smart you’ll let them win.  I purchased the Listening Comprehension Test but have yet to use it.  I recently viewed a old and copied version of the SSI.  Didn’t use it but did use a similar process to gather data.  I actually found a great stuttering resource on the State of Tennessee site http://www.state.tn.us/education/speced/doc/71309SLIfluency.pdf  Never heard of the The Structured Photographic Expressive Language Test (SPELT) but it sounds interesting and quick to give.

No one mentioned using Test of Written Language, but I read it in reports all the time.  Next survey will include that as a question.  I personally don’t work with kids enough hours a week to make an impact with their written language, too much follow up is needed to teach the editing process correctly.  Plus I feel you have to be able to organize your language orally before there is going to be any significant improvement with writing.  Just and opinion.

What drives your test choices?

Most respondents felt that their experience was the main factor when choosing tests to give.  A small percentage of the respondents also felt that test availablity, time, administration and curriculum also drove their choices.

Does your school provide up to date testing materials?

Over half of the respondents said that their school does not provide up to date materials.  We all know this is a big mistake on the school systems part.  I know from personal experience that some school administrators see the importance of this and some don’t.  Your testing could be judged invalid if you don’t have up to date or the right materials.  Parents are smart these days and don’t hesitate to request an outside evaluation if they don’t feel the assessment at schools is an appropriate one.

Does your school copy protocol sheets?

Approximately 3/4 of the respondents said that sometimes they have to copy protocols and 1/4 said they always have to copy.  We all know it happens and it is understandable that you might run out once in awhile.  I’ve worked in a few systems where copying was the norm rather than the exception.  I don’t know the law but I am assuming copying protocols must violate some copyright law.  However, I also know that the protocols I use go into a personal file when testing is over rather than the students file at school.

The other problem with copying is that it makes testing more difficult and time consuming.  Often the correct responses are color coded to make life easier.  I won’t give up that luxury anymore.  During an interview I asked about testing material and protocols.  The blatantly told me they copy all their protocols.  I blatantly told them (but nicely) that I wouldn’t use copied protocols.  We’ll I didn’t want the job anyway.

Do you feel your given enough time to give and produce comprehensive and detailed evaluations?

Not surprisingly the overwhelming response here was a big NO.   People not only end up with no writing time, many respondents said that schools also make it challenging to find time to do the actual testing.

How long do you spend testing a student?

Granted this greatly depends on age and specific needs.  Respondents specified anywhere from 2-4 sessions ranging from 30-60 minutes a session.

How long do your write ups take?

Write ups take anywhere from 1-6 hours.  I should have added a clarifying question on survey.  How long is your report?  I know my evaluations are usually  6-8 pages in length but much of that is the standard template.  One respondent mentioned a short evaluation sheet that they fill out.  Length doesn’t necessarily mean quality so I would like to see a shorter form.  Maybe even consider using it.

It is clear that expectations for write ups must vary from school to school.  I would bet vary from type of community to type of community is more like it.  Who your writing for and how much written analysis you have to do shouldn’t but might dictate how thorough you are.  I try very hard to do the same for everyone.

Do you have testing time and writing time in your schedule or do you cancel students to get testing done?

Almost 3/4 of the respondents said they had to cancel students to get testing done.  Glad to hear I’m not the only one who has had to do that over the years.  It’s not the rule but it happens more often than one might think.  I hate it and feel extremely guilty because a student had to miss out.  Rule of thumb always let the administration know that you have/had to cancel students to get testing done to meet deadline….in writing.  they need to know the situation and they need to take responsibility for it.

How many evaluations do you do in a year?

The average seems to be around 30 with a range of 15-40.  I know this number can be so random based on caseload size, three year re-evaluation schedules, teacher referrals and parent requests.  One year you may have 30 to do and the next year 15.  If you have a caseload of 60+ you are doing a lot more.  This year I am doing just testing at one of my schools which means I will easily clear, probably 40 evaluations this year.

Do you feel confident and competent when testing and analyzing data?

Almost 3/4 of the respondents said they felt confident with their assessment skills.  The other 1/4 said they feel confident most of the time.  That’s actually not a bad thing because I feel that leaves you more open minded and willing to learn from others.

Does your testing usually line up with the academic and psychological testing?

Almost 100% of the respondents said yes.  I love it when that happens.  The team looks so professional.

Feelings about testing

Most therapists preferred to do their own testing because it helps them analyze skills, write goals and plan therapy.  Only about 1/8 of the respondents secretly wished that students went out for testing.  If I had to guess those feelings are probably related to the report write up rather than doing the actual testing.  Only one respondent said they did not like testing.  Personally I’d rather write up a evaluation report than a progress report any day.

The report itself

Over 3/4 of the therapists reported using a template or series of templates to make report writing easier.  Almost all reported that their reports provided descriptions of the test and what they measure.

The procedure and expectations for making recommendations varied greatly.  Some make general recommendations in their report and specific ones at the meeting.  Some are required to make recommendations and were cited when they didn’t.  I am working in a couple of different systems this year and find that different schools do want it done differently.  It guess just depends on who is interpreting the rules and laws.  I’d love to find out more about this.

Do Speech Language Pathologists in your district meet on a regular basis and consult?

Most of the respondents stated that they do get together with other therapists in their district.   However, not always on a regular basis and with very few relevant common goals in mind.  I know that is often administration driven and they tell you what they want you to work on.

Almost all respondents said that they have other therapists in their district that they could consult with.  One respondent mentioned approximate 30 SLPs in her district and they felt this was their greatest strength.  I would love to know if systems that big have any more power around appropriate caseload/workload, more time for paperwork duties (because of the large numbers or workload) and other issues that only concern SLP’s.

Do you feel teachers value the information you give them and use it in their programming?

Therapists were split about 50/50 on this.  Some teachers use the information we provide, some just want the kids identified and one mentioned rarely seeing a teacher take a note during team meetings.  I’ve worked in school systems where the teachers present then leave while the rest of us discuss the meat and potatoes of the evaluations and programming.  I think they have it wrong.  Teachers need to hear what we have to say and learn from us like we learn from them.  I think it comes down to our identity in the schools system and few understanding our knowledge and expertise.

Conclusions

Everyone uses a similar battery of tests.  The time factor is still an enigma to me.  Some take a lot of time to complete testing and some don’t or can’t.  I think it is hard to thoroughly judge this since the end products cannot be compared.  Perhaps that is a study for another time, “report write ups.”  I would like to know if I could do things better and quicker.

Seems like we’re all almost on the same page and we face the same challenges.  There is never enough time in our day to complete even the most critical work.  Schools don’t seem to understand that when our work is lacking because of time constraints the whole program looks sloppy and unprofessional.  I’ve sat in very professional meetings and meetings that were run very inefficiently.  There is a difference and some parents do know.  I would bet that systems who are constantly battling with parents and/or sending kids out for evaluations, are systems where everything is done on the fly.

This was a fun survey to do and it raised all kinds of questions in my mind.  Hopefully I will get to follow up on this in the very near future.

 

 

 

 

When does a Middle School Child need a Speech and Language Evaluation-reprint

Posted by on Oct 27, 2012 in Administrators Page, Parent Information, slider, SLP Chat, Your Middle Schooler: A Unique Age | 0 comments

When does a Middle School Child need a Speech and Language Evaluation-reprint

Hi Everyone.

I have to apologize for being so lax about posting.  I had the grandest plans for this month, writing about the speech and language assessment process.  Well to make excuses, I can tell you that work has exploded.  I work part time for a school system doing evaluations and they’ve decided to move up their time line on all of the evaluations.  I actually think it’s a  great idea but it shoves more work into my limited time.  And lets not forget those pesky report write up that mostly take place at home.  I also picked up another wonderful part time job at a vocational high school which will be a new experience for me.  They too have me testing to meet deadlines.

Since I love evaluating I don’t mind being busy but that leaves little time for other ventures.  Today I’m going to recycle a post from last January.  It has an evaluation theme so it fits my plan. When does a Middle School Child need a Speech and Language Evaluation

It’s still not too late to participate in my survey on speech and language assessment.  Right now I am putting together a report on the data gathered and I can always include more.  Assessment Survey

Hope everyone enjoys their weekend.  Around here it’s the calm before the storm and we will be securing lawn chairs this afternoon.

Teresa

 

Assessing Children Adopted from Abroad

Posted by on Oct 6, 2012 in Administrators Page, Parent Information, pictures, slider, SLP Chat, Your Middle Schooler: A Unique Age | 0 comments

Assessing Children Adopted from Abroad

I came across this article on ASHAsphere and wanted to share. The article Relationship and Communication Development in Children Adopted From Abroad by Deborah HWA-Froelich focuses on the uniqued differences in overall language development in children who are adopted from other countries.

I’ve worked with children who have come from other countries who speak both languages in the home and those that acquired english early on after listening and possibly speaking (or beginning to speak) in another language. As Ms. Froelich points out, the foreign adopted children experience a disruption in language development. I know from experienced that these children, when brought to my attention, are clearly more language disabled than the typical ESL/ELL child.

ESL/ELL children have their own set of issues. I see a lot of splinter skills in their vocabulary and comprehension especially if the second language was introduced early, before their native language was firmly developed. However, most typical ESL/ELL students improve and compensate without intensive services. ESL/ELL students usually demonstrate typical pragmatic skill development and interact well in their environment.

We all know that children who are exposed to some type of neglect and abuse are going to have difficulty developing in some if not many ways. This is an added layer, to the development of a child from a foreign adoption that must be considered as part of their profile.

School’s need to be cautious and thorough when assessing the needs of a child from a foreign adoption. Teams will almost always initially assume it is ELL/ESL issue without a complete evaluation. When this happens precious months or years are wasted. I believe the two points made by Ms Froelich, probable abuse/neglect with foreign adopted children (or at least the lack of nurturing at at early age) and the complete disruption in language development are two very valid reasons to conduct a complete Core evaluation on a struggling student with history of foreign adoption.

English is more than likely the dominate language at that point so evaluations should be conducted in English. Look at the child as a language disabled student when planning what test measures to use. If the students are very young when initially tested do not assume that language/learning development will progress as naturally as native speakers. Overall development of foreign adopted children needs to be monitored closely throughout the school years. We know that children who have difficulty acquiring language as young children often experience difficulty down the road with development of higher order language.

When you assess these students do not be surprised at if you see atypical test results. Scores will not fall into the typical patterns you expect, scores may be quite low, scattered and errors will appear throughout many areas of language. Do your best to interrupt the scores and develop a plan. Keep in mind that no matter how enriching their environment is now, these children have missed out and do not have the experiences to draw from to aid consistent development.

Evaluations are Key to Improving Special Education Programs

Posted by on Oct 1, 2012 in Administrators Page, Parent Information, slider, SLP Chat, Your Middle Schooler: A Unique Age | 0 comments

Evaluations are Key to Improving Special Education Programs

Many years ago I started a new job in s school district that was rumored to have some problems in their special education department. I was able to confirm the rumors almost immediately. While going through the caseload files I noticed that there were a high number of students who had gone out for their speech and language evaluation. Comparing dates I noticed that the outside speech and language evaluations were either part of the initial request or requested after a speech and language was completed through the school.

Now we have all had this happen. A parent or the team isn’t happy with our findings. This happens when we find problem and when we actually rule out problems. We’re never going to make everyone happy 100% of the time. However, something was different with the pattern I was seeing. There were just too many outside evaluations.

Reading the evaluations, it was easy to see why this happened. The evaluations done by the school speech language pathologist were void or any narrative or analysis. Scores were reported, ranges were given and summaries were sparse. Most of the school speech and language evaluations were 2 pages at best. The quality was poor and no supplemental testing was ever given. I wondered if the therapist was really that bad, never learned the right way to evaluate or just didn’t have time to do the job properly. I wondered how these reports were presented to the parents. Was the therapist able to go into more specific detail in the meetings? The IEP’s didn’t reflect this so I doubted that parents or teachers were given any more information. Basically the evaluations I read raised more questions than they answered.

Parents talk, even in large districts. It only takes one parent or team member to say something negative about a report for that opinion to spread. Pair that with a general lack of confidence in the school’s special education program and you can see how easily a situation like this may occurred. (I’ve seen poor evaluations from clinics and hospitals but somehow it doesn’t seem to sully their reputation as much.)

First Step

With the help of a dedicated staff and a strong team leader this particular school was able to turn around the perceptions of most of the parents. The first step in this process was to improve testing in all areas.

  • The school administration supported more testing and meeting time, they were at the point where they realized it was cost effective.
  • The team took the time to look over many report styles and picked the best formats and pieces from each one to help develop testing templates.
  • Our program manager developed a heading for our written evaluations which immediately gave a more professional and coordinated look to our testing.
  • While testing students we collaborated with the other team members. The school psychologist often asked me to dig a little deeper in some areas. I always went to both the regular and the special education teachers to ask them what their biggest concerns were and if there was anything specific they wanted me to try and rule out.

Because of our efforts, we not only looked more professional and coordinated, we were more professional and coordinated. Parents were no longer confused when they left the meeting because everyone had their own different opinions. We did such a good job of coordinating our efforts that we rarely missed anything and our testing almost always dovetailed.

Meetings

The meetings are another key factor to completing good evaluations. When reviewing testing, marathon meetings are a must. It takes a long time to review 3 or more evaluations thoroughly and to develop a good IEP. When schools take the time to answer parent concerns, parents view the schools as caring and personal. Sometimes we actually split the meetings into two if the reports were long and involved, developing the IEP a day or two later (if we had the time legally). This school system was dedicated to improving their evaluation process and hired substitutes so the teachers could stay for most if not all of the meeting. Nothing tells a parent you care less about their kid than leaving a meeting in the middle of it.

With some coordinated team effort and administrative support we were able to turn this particular situation around, keep testing in house and keep costs down. Our testing and our reports became more thorough and looked more professional than some of the previous outside evaluations. In some cases our testing was even better because we often knew the student prior to testing, we were often able to include formal and informal observation, we were able to gather first hand information from parents and teachers to direct testing and we were able to see the kids in a familiar setting over a longer period of time.

Results

Because we collaborated informally ahead of time

  • Our recommendations, accommodations and service delivery were truly team decisions.
  • We were able to look at all factors such as student need, teacher concern’s, parent’s concerns, other school demands, who would be responsible for accommodations and how to fit the needed services into the students day while developing the IEP.
  • Our IEP’s were some of the best and most individual specific I had ever seen.

The outside evaluations often contained recommendations and accommodations. However, they were often generic or grandiose. Suggested service delivery from outside evaluations did not take the schedule, the child’s overall needs or other educational demands into consideration.

I was very proud of the work we did in that school district over the three year period that this particular team worked together. I learned a lot. Watching parents perceptions change and confidence in the school grow was especially rewarding. We knew we had a lot to do with that. Our team leader problem solved and we implemented simple and very common sense changes that made us look good. Best of all the students ended up with an effective IEP. With teachers involved in the process they had an easier time following through on classroom accommodations and modifications. The teachers also knew they could come to us for support.

Did we keep 100% of our testing in house? No of course not but our percentage of in house evaluations shifted significantly with very few evaluations in any discipline completed outside of school. With simple and professional changes we were able to improve the way we did CORE evaluations without a mandate or law. Our team leader took the talents and strengths of smart, caring professionals and gave us the time and tools to improve (not change) our evaluation process. Bottom line we were effective, we looked good and felt more professional.