Home Academia & Research Fulltime Evaluator: An Effective New Role for the Speech-Language Pathologist  

Fulltime Evaluator: An Effective New Role for the Speech-Language Pathologist  

by Rachel Hawkins
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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?

Sound familiar?

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 hawkins_r@aps.edu.  

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Carol Messier September 4, 2014 - 6:14 pm

Question did the 22 SLPs doing the evaluations come out of the 200 the district had or were they able to find funding for 22 more? Do the school based SLPs no longer attend those evaluation meetings? Our district is planning to do this on a smaller scale and I’m not convinced it will be all that helpful to me as the school based therapist. I’m also concerned about the things you learn about a student during an evaluation that are not reflected in the test scores being “lost” now as the person doing therapy and the evaluator are not the same person. Any thoughts? I’d very much like to hear from those SLPs, particularly if their numbers were diminished to create this assessment team such that their caseloads increased, did they feel it was helpful or eased their workload?

Katy September 4, 2014 - 10:46 pm

Washington Elementary School District, Phoenix, Arizona, has had this model for four years now. It works so well for all the afore mentioned reasons!

Carol Fenwick September 5, 2014 - 1:31 am

Forty two students a week is not typical, especially in California. Personally, I would prefer to do my own evaluations for my students on my caseload.

Cindy September 5, 2014 - 4:35 pm

I had an SLP Evaluator role in my current school district (Highline Public Schools-near Seattle) for a few years. The dept. had some extra money & decided to use it this way. It was on an as need basis-some SLP’s requested my help a lot & others hardly ever. Sometimes I just did the testing, sometimes the testing & the report & sometimes the testing, report & IEP. I never felt so appreciated!! I’m not sure the district saved money, but it improved morale by reducing workload. Unfortunately a new administer did away with the position.

Terri September 5, 2014 - 7:50 pm

I agree with Carol M. I would have grave concerns about this model. I am surprised the other SLPs agreed to this. Were they asked or told about the model?

Why would any SLP want to abandon such a key skill and component of the profession? I certainly want to do my own assessment. I am also uncomfortable with only certain therapists qualifying a student for services.

This sounds like a very slippery slope as you essentially create a two tier system. If the primary reason for doing this was to reduce cost and gain consistency, there are many other ways to address these issues without resorting to this approach.

stephanie September 9, 2014 - 11:10 pm

Carol, when you say 42 students a weeks is not typical, do you have more or less than that. In Indiana we see about 80 students a week.

Carol September 10, 2014 - 12:00 pm

In my region of CA, it’s typically 55- 60 for the public schools.

Margie September 10, 2014 - 11:35 am

There are pros and cons. Many local SLPs are grateful for the help, some dislike the system as well. 42 students a week is definitely on the low end here, as many at the higher levels have 80+ and 50 or more in elementary is not unusual. I like that it brings new eyes to a student, an outside observer, and in some cases of contentious relationships between schools and parents can smooth things over. It allows more time for in depth file review. Input is sought from both teachers and school based SLPs. Reports include detailed information on how the student preformed, what areas seemed difficult, error patterns, and conversational language. It is not merely a reporting of numbers. It also removes a very real pressure on some SLPs here by their schools to find a way to qualify kids who just don’t need to be pulled in to an extensive special ed program. It provides more consistency across a very large district. Testing 100+ students a year also allows the testing SLPs to become extremely familiar with different assessments, and recognize patterns that aren’t always obvious when you test 10 kids in a school year.

The school based SLPs do miss out on the dynamic assessment opportunities provided in the evaluation. However, they are not prevented from doing any forms of informal assessment as part of their therapy. And many SLPs do still perform re-evaluations on their own students as well. I think communication and a good relationship with the school based SLPs are key to the success of this model.

Carol M September 11, 2014 - 10:15 am

It sounds like, if you are someone who has a considerable amount of evaluations each year, it can be very beneficial. I like that it isn’t simply a mandate, but the school based SLP has a choice of doing his/her own evals or using the district team. I also like that, at least in what I’m hearing, the entire team gets to look at all data from all disciplines prior to writing reports. Obviously we all know this is how reports should be done, but the reality of working in schools is that I rarely have the opportunity to see and discuss the educational testing results or psych results before I walking into the IEP meeting. My main concern in my district is the way they are talking about it, (1) They are pulling SLPs out of schools to form the team (that is a fact), so there is an immediate caseload increase across the district to even create the team as those not on the team will have to absorb the caseloads of the SLPs put on the team, (2) it is a mandate. If they form the team, I will not be allowed to do my own formal assessments and lastly (3) my sense is that for my district, this is 99.5% a financial decision to avoid purchasing test protocols and licenses for Q- interactive. It is not a decision,and it not being approached as a discussion, based on what is best for students.

Ram Gangisetty (@RamGangisetty) September 11, 2014 - 12:10 am

1900 evaluations performed by 22 fulltime SLPs in 39 school weeks gives us 2.2 evaluations per SLP per week. Something to think about. Having special evaluation team might improve compliance from the school district perspective but there are other possible effective ways to achieve the same goals.

Let’s take this to ground level: Average CELF administration time is 60 minutes and 30 min report writing makes it 1.5 hours to complete one child’s evaluation. So, even if the full evaluation consists of two different language tests, all it means is 3 hours. With 2.2 evaluations per week these evaluators spent about 6.6 hours off 40 hour work week. Granted that travelling, scheduling and IEP meetings could mean additional time but not 17 hours per child (40-6.6=34hr; 34/2=17).

The total evaluation time could be much less for children with Articulation, Fluency and other disorders.

The additional drawbacks of having special evaluation team include travel time, time to coordinate information for parental interview and scheduling which is much easier for the SLP that is regularly at the school site.

The field of medicine which needs to be objetive is realizing the need and value of subjective evaluations, relationships between physician and the patient to drive decisions along with objective measures. As a behavioral science Speech-Language Pathology has much greater role for understanding, establishing human connection with our students. Time spent during evaluations establish student-SLP working relationship which lay the foundation for later therapy. I personally draw quite many aspects from my interactions during evaluations in determining my therapy approach.

However, I hear and see how many SLPs are swamped with evaluations especially initials. For some inexplicable reason, initial evaluations overload us right before Winter or Summer break making it tough for school SLP to meet 60-day criteria.

So, I personally would like to see less therapy caseload for SLPs at school so they could do their own assessments and also helping teachers identify potential students for evaluations at the beginning of the school year. The advantage in school setting (barring ESP) is that it is the same student body that the teacher serves all through the year. If we can proactively support the teachers and coordinate with parents in identifying potential students in the early months of the school year, that would give SLPs time in planning her/his time well. Triennials are better to plan as we know about them at the beginning of the school year.

Instead of full-time evaluators, I favor giving SLPs more time to perform their own evaluations along with a small team of evaluators that are ready to help out if any SLP needed help.

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