How do you interpret “educational performance”?

We don’t have to remind you of all the challenges facing children with speech sound disorders (SSD), especially since roughly 90% of school-based SLPs serve students with SSDs. Although we have that in common, we’re pretty different in how we (and our districts/states) interpret “educational performance,” a key phrase from IDEA. These differences have a huge impact on which students ultimately get services—and which students don’t.

By surveying SLPs nationwide, the authors of this article found a lot of variability. The guidelines we use come from different agencies (states, districts, state speech–language–hearing associations, etc.), but at least some of the differences are due to our individual decision making, because the survey found that “SLPs are familiar with their state guidelines but do not consistently use them as evidenced by considerable variability within and between states.”

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Essentially, we are taking different factors into account when looking for the impact (or lack thereof) of SSDs on kids’ school success. Are you looking at only at grades? Do you weigh access to the curriculum, oral participation in class, or spelling? Do you take social-emotional adjustment into the mix? Consider how you determine educational impact now, and how either a narrower or broader view of the concept would change your practice. Would you have more artic/phono students? Fewer? Would they get services earlier, or keep them longer? Would you do your evals differently? Having the most possible students in therapy isn’t really the goal (must think least restrictive environment), but under-serving these students is definitely a problem.

Big takeaway here: other SLPs out there are likely making decisions very differently from how you are—and it’s time we talked more about it. As you reflect on the questions above, talk with your SLP coworkers and friends—even consider the conversations you might have with administrators, policy makers, and your local and state agencies. Small changes in policy (or how you and your coworkers apply the policy) could help ensure kids with SSDs get the services they need in the schools.

Farquharson, K., & Boldini, L. (2018). Variability in interpreting “educational performance” for children with speech sound disorders. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in the Schools. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1044/2018_LSHSS-17-0159.