You’re an SLP at an elementary school who sees 42 students each week (most of them twice), attends individual education program meetings that are often scheduled back to back, reports for recess duty three times a week, and writes daily therapy notes and Medicaid reports, all while trying to squeeze in materials preparation for the next therapy unit. Now, how can you possibly find time for a two- to three-hour autism evaluation?
This was a typical week for the SLPs in the Albuquerque Public Schools until they created a new role group—”the SLP evaluator.”
APS is the 28th largest urban school district in the country, with over 90,000 students and approximately 10 percent of them receiving speech-language services in 143 different educational sites. The district employs 200 SLPs, but, due to a budget shortfall the past few years, faces challenges updating and replacing all the SLPs’ testing materials, such as the newly revised Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals-5 or Oral and Written Language Scales-2. In addition, the New Mexico Public Education Department redesigned educational disabilities (such as specific language impairment, specific learning disability and autism spectrum disorder) in 2011 to standardize initial and reevaluation criteria. This required more training for those working in special education.
With these obstacles in mind, APS created a new SLP role—that of evaluator—to reduce caseloads, provide consistent eligibility criteria, and save some money in materials and training.
The evaluator group is made up of 22 SLPs (several of whom are bilingual) and is divided into one of three diagnostic centers across the city. We work side by side with educational diagnosticians, psychologists and others assessing students for all initial evaluations. We test students at the centers or at the schools, write reports and share the results with the diagnosticians, interpret test results with the parents, and attend the Educational Determination meetings at the school. We also collaborate with the SLP at the school who writes goals based on the findings of the assessments.
In addition, we conduct reevaluations when a change in eligibility is being considered, and for some schools we do all the reevaluations. Schools that have high caseloads, multiple district programs, or employ SLPs who are clinical fellows or who work part time may be designated a “Full Reevaluation” school. When a student is due for a reevaluation, we review past test results and current information and decide if the student needs another formal assessment. If one is needed, the SLP evaluator administers it. If a performance evaluation is appropriate, then the school-based SLP conducts it.
Last year, the evaluator role group performed over 1,900 evaluations; that’s 1,900 evaluations that the school- based SLPs did not have to do, which gave them the time they needed to focus on their therapy. And by using standard eligibility criteria, students in each school were correctly identified, which reduced the number of students with speech or language needs. The district was also able to save over $100,000 by not having to order the new CELF-5 for all 200 SLPs. Now in its sixth year, the evaluator role group not only has been cost effective, but has proven to be an effective use of SLPs.
Rachel Hawkins, MA, CCC-SLP, is a speech language evaluator with the Albuquerque Public Schools. She has worked in the public schools since 1993 in New Mexico and Colorado. She can be reached at email@example.com.