As we travel around to different districts to help out with testing, there are often times when we go to do a language or speech reevaluation and the DNQ (does not qualify) comes so quickly and is so obvious that it makes you wonder why the student wasn’t dismissed earlier. Sometimes, the CELF scores are so high or the articulation sample is so perfect that you question whether you picked up the right kid! The reason this happens is an easy one:
Almost without exception, language and speech reevaluations are only undertaken when they are due.
Makes complete sense, right? Why make more work for yourself? You probably have more and other work that takes priority. If it were just the speech reevaluation that you were doing, no problem. But throw in setting up the meeting, contacting parents, signing consent, scheduling the meeting afterwards… and you are in for a world of hurt!
There is this teensy-weensy problem that many of us are dealing with: An explosion in the number of students on our caseload.
Recently we talked about how many of the problems special education is facing is related to caseload size and also did the math on how much time it takes to get a child off of your caseload.
In this essay we are going to talk about the last missing component. If you are going to request a speech reevaluation ahead of time, you want to be as sure as possible that the student will be dismissed! Otherwise, you will expend 10 hours of energy just to get really great, new goals.
The good news is that in all of the evaluations we see, there are patterns that make for obvious DNQs. Below are 10 things to be on the lookout for. We challenge you to find one student on your caseload who you think doesn’t need to be there. They are:
The low hanging fruit.
The most obviously typical.
The guy who is basically your student aide helping out in sessions and making copies for you.
The girl who wears your name badge and pretends she is an SLP.
The one whose teacher says: “You’re picking her up?! Take him instead.”
That one. Initiate a speech reevaluation to reduce your caseload because it has been proven to save you time in the long run.
9 Reasons a Speech Reevaluation Will Most Likely Result in a DNQ
1. Their 3-Year Speech Reevaluation Was Skipped
Many states allow a consecutive evaluation to be completed with a much shorter process (i.e., not fully tested). And by consecutive, we’re talking about the 3-year re-evaluation that follows a full evaluation. These shorter processes have a dozen different names but here is the gist: You test a child when they begin services. Three years later you say “Yeah, he will probably still qualify.” Then you write up new goals and some smaller justification.
The thinking is that it doesn’t make sense to do that work if he already qualifies. This is understandable if you are dealing with diagnoses like Autism or Down Syndrome. But for the 85% of our caseloads that are speech and language only or might have a separate LD label, this is too long. Many of these kids are tested at age 3-4 which means that by skipping the testing the next time you test they are 9-10.
If the last time a student was fully tested he was in diapers and now he has facial hair, it’s time to reevaluate 😊.
2. Duplication of Services
For a student who has an additional disability, consider whether you are the best person to work with her. We wrote a separate essay on duplication of services but this works the best for 3rd-5th grade students who have narrative goals because it probably is covered by English Language Arts.
Check out the other article we wrote because it is often a hard argument to make. Overall, we don’t want to be pulling the student from other areas of academic need.
3. They Were Bilingual but Only Speak English Now
There are times when I review the referral packet and head to the school with my Spanish evaluation materials only to find out that the student doesn’t speak Spanish. Many students that are tested at age 3-4 are dominant in their home language. By the time 2nd-4th grade rolls around, they may have abandoned their home language completely. This is more prevalent with less common languages because a student may not have any exposure, to let’s say, Armenian, outside of the home.
The old “bilingual” evaluation and goals can be way off base.
4. They Are Bilingual but Have Passed 7 years of Language Use
Age is on our side. Every day a child is on the planet they are exposed to tons of language. Even without intervention their communication is improving. This is true for all children but uniquely true for bilingual children. BICS, basic interpersonal communication skills are thought to develop in about 3 years. Interesting how that coincides with the first speech reevaluation, don’t you think?
CALP, or cognitive academic language proficiency takes five to seven years, or more. This is the communication that allows them to talk about academics with confidence.
Putting these two together, you can have a 7-10-year old with two fully fleshed out language systems. If that trajectory doesn’t match your testing window they may sit on a caseload for a year or two before it becomes apparent that they don’t need services any more.
5. The CELF and Other Formal Testing Supports Natural Language Acquisition
Do not be afraid of standardized testing! Again, as a child gets older, their language naturally gets more complex. While the questions on our tests get harder as you move along, it isn’t exponential. The language skills of a fourth grader are complex enough to get most people through life. This is very different from the testing that our diagnostician friends are doing. Academically, every year gets more difficult. Maybe their tests level out but it would be at a much older age.
I’ve seen tons of students who got into special education with scores in the 60s or low 70s and are at 79-82 when I do the speech reevaluation. If non-standardized measures are consistent, that’s good enough to get them back in the general education classroom.
6. Your Caseload is Enormous
This point isn’t about a specific child but the larger problem. If you are suffering under an unbelievably huge caseload, the last thing you have time for is an extra evaluation. Even when, the thing you really need is fewer students if any of them could be dismissed.
No easy solutions here but I have seen some SLPs handle this really well. They dedicate half a day in the fall when it is a little less busy to testing. Or, they contact universities to take on a grad student to run their therapy groups.
7. Students Behave Really Well
You know these students. Never chatty. Fingers interlaced and on the table in front of them. Perfectly color-coordinated outfits that make you think that you need to invest some effort into your own wardrobe.
The well-behaved students unfortunately don’t always get our attention because of their misbehaving counterparts. Those are the kids we are spending our time on. Meanwhile, these shy, quiet, perfectly-waiting kids might have typical language. What makes it more difficult is that they are a pleasure to be around! Why would we dismiss them?
8. Standardized Testing Creates a Roadblock for Speech Reevaluations
Have you ever had a student who was perfectly fine but dismissing them meant a fight with the administration? They are “speech only” which means that you are carrying the weight of the student’s testing accommodations.
This is a battle (dare I say war?) that is difficult to wage. Possibly the most difficult. There are two things to bolster your confidence if you choose to move forward: logic and your colleagues
Logic: It’s quixotic (exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic, and impractical) because you are pulling them out of what they need the most! The administration is saying that 1) they need accommodations because they are struggling in reading, writing, English, or math and 2) they want you to pull them out of reading, writing, English, or math.
Colleagues: If you pass on this, you are forcing your middle school colleagues to make the decision for you. Hard words, I’m sorry. But next staff meeting, ask your middle school SLPS how they spend the month of August and September.
9. We Suffer Under Our Own Caution
Typically, if we are not sure whether a child should or should not receive services, we err on the side of caution and admit him or her or continue services. We have big hearts and ethically that feels better for us. It is honestly the right decision to make in most cases.
However, if a situation gives you pause, it’s time to reach out to that bilingual/AAC/autism/apraxia expert on your team and ask them to take a second look. They might see something immediately based on their experience. There is no way that any one SLP can know everything about each unique disorder. Farm out the things you don’t encounter much.
Don’t Bring the Pain On Yourself with Speech Reevaluations
I fear that this essay might sound a little altruistic, so I want to end with two ideas that will help you identify students that need to be dismissed by using work that we are already responsible for producing.
We have to take data and do progress notes, right? For the students that are potential dismissals, do REALLY GOOD progress notes that look exactly like non-standardized testing. Why? Because this will give you the information you need and you can cut-and-paste it into the report for that section. If you decide not to test, you just have really good progress data.
This can be:
Have them tell a story and type what they say. Then code it for strengths and errors.
Informally give them a list of sentences to repeat, give them a word and have them produce a sentence, give them a list of increasingly complex instructions, and add up how well they did (CELF anyone?). Get an idea of how they would perform under testing and simultaneously see how you should be challenging them with intervention.
Have them repeat a list of words with the sounds you are working on. If you have to go smaller (word-to-syllable-to-sound) they are not a good candidate for a speech reevaluation. If you go up (word-to-phrase-to-sentence), get them out of there.
Use Your Therapy Time
This IS great therapy and we are gathering data like this during sessions all the time. Most of us just aren’t recording it very well or aren’t being thorough enough. You can gather the data above during your session or if you are in a group, have the student stay for a few minutes after.