American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Need for Qualified Personnel Under Federal Law

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004) was reauthorized with significant changes that have been affecting the qualifications for SLPs working in the schools.

The law requires that state standards governing the qualifications of related service personnel serving children with disabilities be consistent with any state-approved or state-recognized certification, licensing, or other comparable requirement applicable to a specific discipline. Such personnel must not have had their certification or licensure requirements waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis.

States are no longer required to develop a comprehensive system of personnel development but must adopt policies that require local education agencies to take measurable steps to recruit, hire, and retain highly qualified personnel.

Since IDEA 2004 allows the hiring of SLPs and audiologists who meet the requirements of any state-recognized certificate or license, states can now decide that a master's degree is no longer needed and hire personnel who only have a pre professional bachelor's degree. The old law, IDEA '97, required that personnel meet the highest requirements in a state for a profession or discipline. For audiologists and SLPs, this requirement included a master's degree.

The final regulations for IDEA 2004 became effective on October 13, 2006. The final regulations are consistent with the change in the IDEA 2004 statute that removed the provision requiring state education personnel standards to meet the highest requirement for a profession or discipline in that state.

The final regulations require:

  • The State Education Agency (SEA) establish and maintain qualifications to ensure that personnel are appropriately and adequately prepared and trained and have the content knowledge and skills to serve children with disabilities;
  • The qualifications for related services personnel and paraprofessionals are consistent with any State approved or State-recognized certification, licensing, registration, or other comparable requirements;
  • State requirements not be waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis; and
  • States must adopt a policy that includes a requirement that Local Education Agencies (LEAs) take measurable steps to recruit, hire, train, and retain highly qualified personnel.

The regulations also allow the use of paraprofessionals and assistants who are appropriately trained and supervised. ED points out in its discussion, that the Act should not be construed to permit or encourage the use of paraprofessionals as a replacement for special education teachers or related services providers. In its discussion, ED indicated that its intent is to provide greater flexibility for SEAs to establish appropriate personnel standards. It believes that states have sufficient incentives to ensure that related services providers deliver services of appropriate quality so that children with disabilities can achieve to high standards.

In ASHA's comments to the Department of Education on the proposed IDEA '04 regulations (September 2004), ASHA emphasized that a lowering of personnel standards in schools will put the educational success of school children with speech, language, and hearing disabilities at great risk with respect to ensuring that they receive the appropriate quality and quantity of services, consistent with the intent of Congress.

ASHA had submitted the following additional comments:

  1. Bachelor's degree personnel lack both course work in the broad range of communication and related disorders as well as supervised experience in providing services to school children. These inadequately trained, lesser qualified personnel are not prepared to assess and treat students with special needs to meet the goals of IDEA and NCLB.
  2. National Outcomes Measurement Systems research indicates that both parents and teachers report children's improvement in academic subjects after receiving speech-language pathology services from a qualified, master's degree provider. No comparable data are available for services from bachelor's level personnel. This lack of academic progress is not consistent with the goals of NCLB.
  3. Allowing less rigorous personnel qualifications in the schools will create a two-tiered system of services to children in our nation's schools. Students who receive services in other settings (e.g., private practice or hospitals) would receive services from a highly qualified master's degree professional, but in school settings services would be provided by less qualified bachelor's level personnel.
  4. Children who receive Medicaid speech-language pathology services in the schools must still receive them from personnel who meet the highest state requirements. The less qualified bachelor's level personnel could only provide services to Medicaid students under the direction of a qualified provider.
  5. Hiring personnel who are not adequately prepared to assess and treat students with special needs may increase the cost of special education due to over identification or misidentification of students who do not need services and remain in treatment a longer time.
  6. Lowering qualifications to fill vacancies is shortsighted and not in the best interest of children's education. Vacancies should be addressed by improving working conditions, reducing unmanageable caseloads/workloads, providing salary and hiring incentives, implementing loan forgiveness programs, instituting mentorship programs for new hires, and implementing other recruitment and retention strategies that are provided for classroom teachers but are often overlooked for related services personnel such as audiologists and SLPs. Studies have shown that these strategies are effective in recruiting and retaining qualified personnel.
  7. Bachelor's level personnel may be incorporated into delivery of selected services but then only under the direction of qualified personnel with enough supervision to ensure sound educational achievement by the children who are served.

See ASHA's IDEA website for additional information on the IDEA '04 legislation and final regulations.

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