American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

"Adversely Affects Educational Performance" Policy 1980–2002; Nothing Has Changed

by Stan Dublinske
ASHA

1980. 2002. Twenty-two years later, there are still concerns about what "adversely affects educational performance" really means. It means the same in 2002 as it did in 1980!

1980

The 1977 Federal regulations related to PL 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children's Act of 1975, Section 121a.5(10) included the following definition for a child with a disability: 

"Speech Impaired" means a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a child's educational performance (Assistance to States for the Education of Handicapped Children, Implementation of, 1977).

With the term "Speech Impaired" changed to "Speech or Language Impairment," this is essentially the same definition that is included in Section 300.7 (11) of the Federal Regulations (Assistance to States for the Education of Children with Disabilities, Final Regulations, 1999) related to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1997).

As PL 94-142 was being implemented in the late 1970s, the ASHA School Services Program began to receive reports from members indicating that children with speech or language impairments were being denied services because they did not have a concomitant problem in academic achievement. Many local education agencies required an educational assessment for children with speech or language impairments to determine if they also had low achievement in one or more academic subject-matter areas (e.g., reading, writing, mathematics). Some education agencies determined that children with an obvious speech or language impairment were not eligible for special education services if they were doing well academically, because the speech or language impairment did not "adversely affect a child's educational performance." This requirement was especially onerous for those children with stuttering or voice impairments who were doing well academically.

It was ASHA's position that local education agencies requiring such educational assessments and denying services to children with obvious speech or language impairments because they did not have a concomitant problem in academic achievement were using a very narrow definition of  "educational performance." In various discussions with staff in the now Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), ASHA explained that "educational performance" included performance in communication. At that time there was a big push to ensure that all school children acquire "basic skills." ASHA made the point that mastery of  "effective oral communication" was a basic skill. As a result, a speech or language impairment necessarily adversely affects educational performance. Therefore, children needing speech-language pathology services should not be denied services just because they do not show discrepancies in age/grade performance in academic subject-matter areas.

2002

School districts look at ways to reduce the cost of special education. One way is to develop eligibility requirements that limit the number of children who require special education services. Because of the large number of students who need speech-language pathology services, one way to reduce the number of students to be served is to implement a strict interpretation of the term "adversely affects educational performance" for children with a speech or language impairment. Consequently, children who do not have an associated discrepancy in age/grade performance in one or more academic subject-matter areas that can be directly attributed to their speech or language impairment would not be eligible for services, even though they may have a communication disorder. The question in 2002, as in 1980, remains "Is a child with a primary speech or language impairment who has no other disability eligible for services in the absence of an educational assessment indicating concomitant problems in academic achievement?" 

The underlying premise of those who would say "no" is that adequate and appropriate performance in communication is not a part of what they consider "academic achievement" or "educational performance." But, is this true today? As state and local education agencies have made efforts to improve the quality of education and to improve performance of students, they have developed academic standards specifying the academic content and performance requirements for all students. Many have identified benchmarks that can be used to determine educational performance. Following are some examples of current academic standards as promulgated by state and local education agencies:

Missouri Show-Me Standards

The Missouri State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Show-Me academic standards (2002)  "are built around the belief that the success of Missouri's students depends on both a solid foundation of knowledge and skills and the ability of students to apply their knowledge and skills to the kinds of problems and decisions they will likely encounter after they graduate" and are grouped around four goals.

Goal 2 indicates that: "Students in Missouri public schools will acquire the knowledge and skills to communicate effectively within and beyond the classroom." Students can do this by demonstrating the ability to (Note: The following lists do not include all of the detail in the standards):

  1. Plan and make written, oral and visual presentations
  2. Present perceptions and ideas
  3. Apply communication techniques to the job search and to the workplace

In the area of Communication Arts, the standards indicate that students in Missouri public schools will acquire a solid foundation which includes knowledge of and proficiency in:

  1. Speaking and writing standard English
  2. Reading and evaluating fiction and nonfiction works
  3. Writing formally and informally (such as outlines, notes)
  4. Comprehending and evaluating the contentof oral and visual presentations
  5. Participating in formal and informal presentations and discussions of issues and ideas
  6. Identifying and evaluating relationships between language and culture

Clearly, proficiency in speech and language is necessary to demonstrate ability, knowledge, and proficiency in these "Show-Me" academic standards.

Seattle Public Schools Academic Standards

The academic standards for the Seattle Public Schools (2002) are based on the Essential Academic Learning Requirement (EALR) set by Washington State in response to school reform legislation. The standards guide teaching and learning and describe what students should know and be able to do during and as a result of their educational experiences in the district. Seattle has established grade-level benchmarks to illustrate the progression of development from kindergarten through high school for each standard.

Following are some examples from the first grade communication standards (Note: The following lists do not include all of the detail in the standards).

Communication Standard: The student uses listening and observation skills to gain understanding. Benchmarks:

  1. Recognizes non-verbal communication
  2. Observes carefully and understands visual information
  3. Listens for and paraphrases main ideas
  4. Follows simple oral directions
  5. Questions to check understanding
  6. Retells in sequence what has been seen or heard
  7. Relates own experience to what is being expressed

Communication Standard: The student communicates ideas clearly and effectively. Benchmarks:

  1. Organizes information with a beginning, middle, and end
  2. Uses appropriate volume
  3. Speaks with oral expression
  4. Makes some eye contact
  5. Uses effective language and style
  6. Uses complete sentences
  7. Uses age-appropriate vocabulary

Clearly, proficiency in speech and language is necessary to meet the benchmarks established by the Seattle Public Schools academic standards.

Oregon Department of Education Performance Standards

The state of Oregon has established state performance standards in speaking (2002). To achieve the state performance standards in speaking, the student must meet or exceed the benchmark standard as determined by performance on classroom work samples.

Following is an example of a benchmark for the speaking performance standards and the criteria students must achieve for the standard (Note: The following lists do not include all of the detail in the standards).

Benchmark: Complete one oral presentation before a group. Skills needed to have successful performance at the highest level for exceeding the standard: The speaker demonstrates skillful control of techniques and an ability to use techniques to bring about a thoughtful response to the audience. The communication is characterized by:

  • Effective eye contact
  • Clear enunciation and correct pronunciation
  • Effective variations in rate, volume, tone, and voice inflection
  • Fluent delivery
  • Strong use of nonverbal techniques (e.g., facial expressions, gestures, body movements, stage presence)

Clearly, anyone who must achieve the Oregon speaking standard cannot have a speech or language impairment, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, language impairment, or voice impairment.

1980

ASHA was concerned about how the term "adversely affects educational performance" was being interpreted by some local education agencies who required educational assessments of all children with speech or language impairments to determine their eligibility for receiving special education and related services. As a result, ASHA requested a policy interpretation from the now Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). In May 1980, Edwin W. Martin, acting assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, issued a policy letter of interpretation (personal communication, May 30,1980). A copy of the complete policy letter can be obtained by contacting the ASHA Action Line and requesting the technical assistance packet related to "adversely affects educational performance." Following are highlights from the official policy interpretation. Information in [brackets] provides current terminology as included in IDEA and the IDEA regulations.

The broad issue raised in your inquiry is whether the definition of "speech [or language] impaired" in regulations implementing [IDEA] is interpreted to mean that children with communicative disorders who have no other [disability] are ineligible for services as ["children with disabilities"] unless educational assessments indicate concomitant problems in academic achievement

I agree that an interpretation which denies needed service to speech [or language] impaired children who have no problem in academic performance is unreasonably restrictive in effect and inconsistent with the intent of the Act and regulations.

There is strong support in the Act for a broad construction of the term "educational performance." By its terms, the Act affords some services (and encourages States to provide more) to infants and preschoolers with the kinds of [disabilities] listed in the statute. "Speech [or Language] Impaired" is one of those categories of [disability]. Obviously, assessments of academic performance (through standardized achievement tests in subject matter areas) would be inappropriate or inconclusive if administered to many such children. The meaning of "educational performance" cannot be limited to showing of discrepancies in age/grade performance in academic subject-matter areas.

The extent of a child's mastery of the basic skill of effective oral communications is clearly includable within the standard of "educational performance" set by the regulations. Therefore, a speech/language impairment necessarily adversely affects educational performance when the communication disorder is judged sufficiently severe to require the provision of speech [-language] pathology services to the child.

The process for determining a child's disabilities and need for educational services is described in [Section 300.530-543 of the IDEA regulations-Procedures for Evaluation and Determination of Eligibility]. These evaluation and placement procedures contemplate that the diagnosis and appraisal of communicative disorders as [a disability] would be the responsibility of a "qualified speech-language pathologist.

The 'multisource" requirements of [Sections 300.530-535] makes public agencies responsible for using information from a variety of sources in interpreting evaluation data and making placement decisions Listed sources include aptitude and achievement tests, [parent input,] teacher recommendations, physical condition, social or cultural background, and adaptive behavior

Any public agency requirements which impose procedures more extensive or stringent than those in the Federal regulations must be scrutinizedIt is clear that, in establishing the existence of a speech/language impairment that is [a disability]a professional judgment is required. The basis for that judgment is the child's performance on formal and/or informal measures of linguistic competence and performance rather than heavy reliance on the results of academic achievement testing. The impact of the child's communicative status on academic performance  is not deemed the sole or even the primary determinant of the children's need for special educational services. It is the communicative status—and professional judgments made in regard to assessments of communicative abilities—which has overriding significance.

In the event the speech-language pathologist establishes through appropriate appraisal procedures the existence of a speech/language impairment, the determination of the child's status a [child with a disability] cannot be conditioned on a requirement that there must be a concurrent deficiency in academic performance.

It was not the intent of the Act to reduce services to {children with disabilities]. The practice which you have brought to our attention could have that kind of negative effect. I appreciate your inquiry on behalf of children with speech/language impairment and trust that this response has made clear the Office's position on this issue.

2002

The policy interpretation related to "adversely affects educational performance" received in 1980 is still in effect in 2002. If your state and/or local education agency requires you to show that there is a discrepancy in age/grade performance in academic subject-matter areas before you can determine that a child with a speech or language impairment has a disability and is eligible for special education and related services, they are violating the law. I would suggest you take the following actions:

  • Obtain the complete copy of the adversely affects educational performance policy letter [PDF] from ASHA and share it with appropriate policy makers. Indicate that even though the policy letter is dated May 30, 1980, the basic concepts included in the letter are still in effect.
  • Review your state or local education agency academic standards and identify those content and performance standards and/or benchmarks that indicate students must have proficiency in areas related to speech, language, fluency, and voice. Share this information with appropriate policy makers.
  • Make sure any state or local education agency policy and/or procedures documents that include the process used to identify children with a disability indicate that a child with a speech or language impairment, as determined by a qualified speech-language pathologist, is eligible for special education services by virtue of their speech or language impairment even if the child does not have a concomitant problem in subject-matter academic achievement.

If acquisition of adequate and appropriate communication skills are a required part of your school's academic standards and curriculum and considered to be a basic skill necessary for all children attending school, then children with a speech or language impairment have a disorder that adversely affects educational performance. Although state or local school education agencies may apply different interpretations to "adversely affects educational performance," they cannot deny a child with a speech or language impairment services under IDEA just because they do not have a discrepancy in age/grade performance in an academic subject-matter area.

Author's Note: At the time the policy interpretation was requested, I served as ASHA's director, School Services Program.

References

Assistance to States for the Education of Children with Disabilities Final Regulations, 84 Fed. Reg. 48 (1999) (to be codified at 34 C.F.R. § 300 and § 303).

Assistance to States for the Education of Handicapped Children, Implementation of (Part 121a), 42 Fed. Reg. 163 (1977).

Education for All Handicapped Children's Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1401 (1975).

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (1997).

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, The Show-Me Academic Standards. (2002, May 9). Available online: dese.mo.gov/standards/

Oregon Department of Education, Oregon Academic Standards. (2002, May 9). Available online: www.ode.state.or.us/cifs/standards

Seattle Public Schools Academic Standards. (2002, May 9). Available online: www.seattleschools.org/area/acastan

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