Home Advocacy What Exactly Does ‘Access to the Curriculum’ Mean?

What Exactly Does ‘Access to the Curriculum’ Mean?

by Marie Ireland
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Over head black and white image of vintage wooden dice printed with the letters "Q AND A".

Editor’s note: This post is the response to a question posed to Marie Ireland about her recent ASHA Leader feature on how audiologists and speech-language pathologists can and should advocate for their professions.

Question from Kathleen Reagan, MA, CCC-SLP:

I just read your article in the ASHA Leader titled “Our Voices are Powerful.” I am curious about one thing you mentioned. In the paragraph after SLP shortages, you say, “students must have a documented impairment, as well as a lack of access to the curriculum.”

What would that lack of access look like? How do we know a student has a lack of access to a curriculum? How do we know who does and who doesn’t have access?

Let me tell you why I am asking. I’m sure my reason will not be unfamiliar to you. Caseloads must be managed.

I want to learn more about dismissal criteria, as well as hone my understanding of various service models. Gaining access to the curriculum could be a factor in dismissal of students on my caseload. I am sure, if you have worked in public schools, you already understand why this is such an important topic for SLPs. However—in my opinion—it receives short shrift from most quarters. It seems like a “nuclear topic” that people speak about in hushed tones, as if we should not want to bring caseloads into reasonable levels.

Thank you for any clarification. I enjoyed the article.

Answer from Marie Ireland, MEd, CCC-SLP, specialist for speech-language pathology at the Virginia Department of Education; Virginia’s representative to the State Education Agencies Communication Disabilities Council; and ASHA vice president for speech-language pathology practice.

Dear Kathleen,

I agree this topic is quite difficult and at times creates tension among IEP team members and SLPs.

My quote: “Students must have a documented impairment, as well as a lack of access to the curriculum, to receive services,“ was intended to draw attention to the difference between a purely clinical approach to evaluation or decision-making, and the requirements set forth by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for educational services.

It’s critical to also understand that each state and local education agency (LEA) may also have regulations, policy or guidance for determining eligibility for services. Decisions about caseload made using a clinical approach and without data or documentation of educational impact and questions about the need for specially designed instruction factor in the over-identification for our services.

The specific answer really depends on your state education agency’s (SEA’s) regulations and guidance.

I, along with Barbara Conrad, wrote the ASHA Special Interest Group 16, School-based Issues, Perspectives article “Evaluation and Eligibility for Speech-Language Services in Schools,” a tutorial on the topic of evaluation and eligibility from a federal perspective, with many state examples. The article explores the process from a regulatory perspective and begins to address educational impact and need for specially designed instruction. Regardless of state, we know IDEA requires documentation of an educational impact and need for specially designed instruction as a component for eligibility for services.

Here’s an excerpt from the article on eligibility:

Speech-language impairment is defined in IDEA as “a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance” (34 CFR §300.8 a 11). Many states, including Louisiana, Ohio, Hawaii, Tennessee, Arizona, South Carolina and North Dakota, use the federal definitions and/or regulations as written. Additional criteria or clarification, including exclusions, may be added to individual state education regulations. Examples of states that have added additional requirements include Colorado, Florida, Oregon and Virginia. States may not limit or reduce federal requirements under IDEA.

There’s no federal statement of what the need for specially designed instruction looks like, but the IDEA requirement mandates documentation using a variety of educationally relevant tools and data sources. In the article mentioned above, we discuss the need for teacher input and other data sources, such as case history, interviews, dynamic assessment and review of student work.

The true responsibility for setting a requirement or threshold for “educational impact” is up to the state education agency. If it hasn’t set a standard, then the local education agency (school district) can create one. I developed training on setting standards for the Virginia Department of Education, which is available online.

If your state doesn’t offer guidance, then look to other states, ASHA resources and experts for ideas. Always make sure your practices don’t conflict with any state or local regulation/policy.

IDEA also defines the eligibility process as “whether a child is or continues to be a child with a disability,” meaning that even though we use different terms to describe the type of meeting, separate criteria don’t exist for dismissal or re-evaluation. Again, each SEA might have regulations which must be followed or offer guidance, which SLPs should consider.

In Virginia, we use the same criteria for initial eligibility, re-evaluation and when considering dismissal. We included many examples of other states’ processes in the article on evaluation and eligibility.

You can also learn more about the process at the State Education Agencies Communication Disabilities Council. This group of state leaders are all practicing SLPs (like myself) who are responsible for developing regulations, guidance and training for school-based SLPs. Find useful links on the professional development and resource pages.

I know this reply provides no specific bright-line language for you to follow, but I hope it explains the many things to consider and the important role of school SLPs in understanding and following the federal, state and local requirements for determining services in school settings. I believe this is important for us to consider, and that is why I included that comment in my interview.

Thank you for your interest in this important topic and taking the time to ask your question.

Marie Ireland, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a specialist for speech-language pathology at the Virginia Department of Education, Virginia’s representative to the State Education Agencies Communication Disabilities Council, and ASHA vice president for speech-language pathology practice. She is also an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 16, School-based Issuesmarie.ireland@doe.virginia.gov 

 

 

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