April 20, 2018

I have been helping out a friend/colleague the past few months with some evaluations at various schools in the Phoenix, AZ area. Since it is all I’ve been doing, I’ve been able to develop an efficient system. I actually wrote six comprehensive MET (Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team) reports on Sunday in just two and a half hours!

This process has really gotten me to reflect in general on the data we collect as speech-language pathologists. For most SLPs, evaluations are not something we are uncomfortable with. We may dread that we have to do them - they are time consuming - but we know what we’re going to do, even if we’ve never laid eyes before on the student we need to test.

The evaluation system that SLPs follow, no matter where you live in the United States, is fairly standard. We pull out some standardized assessments, complete a language sample, observe the student in class, and do some dynamic assessment tasks. We know our objective: to determine whether or not a student has a language impairment and to what degree as compared to same aged peers.

We LIKE this piece. Think about why: the whole process is very concrete. We know exactly what to do. We get to use our critical thinking skills to be a detective. And after a while, we start to see trends across students and get really good at diagnosing (and who doesn’t like being good at stuff?!).

We would never walk into a MET meeting without data. We would never determine eligibility based on “I think” statements or guesstimates. We would never ask the team to make decisions based on a generic statement like, “Mario is a sweet boy with lots of friends. He has a speech and language impairment.”

So why is this okay for IEPs?

I am hands down guilty of writing some crappy IEPs in my lifetime. And really, it was all because I never had the data I needed to develop a meaningful IEP. I loved my students, and I collected data on the goals we worked on during our therapy sessions, but come annual review time, if they weren’t speech only, my IEPs were super generic and filled with vague information. Sarah often says how she would sit in IEP meetings and think, “Please don’t ask me why I picked these goals!”

This is totally expected. We are not taught how to do this in grad school. We know the components of a treatment plan but aren’t given a great way to collect baseline data outside of evaluation. This is also true when you graduate and are in the work setting. Compliance is drilled into us by school districts (don’t leave any fields blank!) but when it comes to completing the IEP fields, the process in which one SLP gathers and completes information looks very different from one person to the next. This is why we panic, scramble and guess when we have a transfer student arrive on our doorstep with a soon to expire IEP, or want to put our language students in re-evaluation just get enough information to complete an annual IEP review.

So what the heck do you do?

Create a system! That’s really what it boils down to. Once you have a system, it will make everything easier. You still have to write the IEPs, but you will know exactly what you need to do when it’s time to do so.

1. Assess the student’s overall communication abilities

Present levels are the heart of any IEP document. It’s impossible to recommend goals, service time, and accomodations unless you know where the student’s communication skills are in this moment in time. The present level assessments included in SLP Toolkit are designed to help you gather comprehensive data on communication skills. Unlike standardized assessments (which are meant to help you determine if there is an impairment), the present level assessments help you look specifically at the speech and language skills we expect students to have in various grade levels so students can access their curriculum.

2. Gather parent/teacher input

We need to see how the student is performing in the classroom and home settings. We need to be looking at the student as a whole child and see how s/he is doing outside of the speech room. Google Forms are a great way to collect this information easily and efficiently.

3. Complete an observation

The data we collect in the classroom helps to supplement what information we receive from the teacher. We learn a lot by watching a student in the classroom, and having a guide like the Classroom Observation Present Level Assessment helps you to scaffold your thinking.

4. Take a language sample

I’m not talking about the kind of language sample you were trained to do in grad school or the kind you may still do at the time of evaluation; rather, simply listening to a student use his/her language in authentic contexts (e.g. conversation, picture description, narratives, expositories) will immediately show you where some breakdowns are that may not be obvious during structured tasks. The descriptive language sections in our Present Level Assessments make this quick and easy.

Now that you have all of this amazing information, you can dive into the PLAAFP, or present levels section. This is the heart of the IEP, and it drives the rest of the document. This is where we move from an IEP that is compliant to one that is meaningful. And also move from being a panicked SLP to a confident one.