Before documenting and analyzing your workload, it is helpful to:
- Identify a comprehensive set of speech-language pathologist (SLP) roles and work activities
- Obtain time estimates for workload activities
- Consider Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates
- Consider best practices in school-based speech-language pathology
Identify a Comprehensive Set of SLP Roles and Work Activities
- Direct services to students, including instruction, intervention, and evaluations: These activities encompass what school-based SLPs do in a typical day. Some examples include direct services to students, including screening, assessment, and intervention; implementation of individualized education programs (IEPs) or individualized family service plans (IFSPs); and the counseling of students.
- Indirect services that support students’ education programs: In addition to direct services, students with disabilities need multiple support activities from SLPs in order to make progress on IEP/IFSP goals and to generalize these skills to other environments. For example, the design, maintenance, programming, and staff training for augmentative communication systems are vital work activities if students are to learn to communicate across school and other environments.
- Indirect activities that support students in the least restrictive environment and in the general education curriculum: Students with identified disabilities require additional indirect services to ensure that they progress in the least restrictive environment and in the general education curriculum. These activities include meeting and planning with classroom teachers and paraprofessionals to (a) align IEP/IFSP goals with curriculum standards and (b) determine appropriate instructional strategies.
- Activities that support compliance with federal, state, and local mandates and activities that result from membership in a community of educators: A wide range of time-consuming activities in the workload of school-based SLPs are required to comply with an expanding set of education agency mandates. SLPs are also required to participate in building staff meetings and school or district committees, to travel to multiple schools, and to assume other duties expected by education agencies.
Obtain Time Estimates for Workload Activities
Each student on the caseload requires time, not only for direct and indirect services and evaluations but also for mandated paperwork, multidisciplinary team conferences, coordination of services that relate to the general curriculum in the least restrictive environment, parent and teacher contact, and other related responsibilities. A common practice among some SLPs is to determine the schedule and type of service delivery to students on their caseload, based on the time available. This may result in a minimal amount and frequency of direct service time (e.g., 20 minutes twice per week for a total of 40 minutes per week) and little or no indirect service time on students' IEPs/IFSPs. Instead, SLPs should consider all of the time that they spend on behalf of students and should make certain that this time is reflected in service plans and IEPs/IFSPs. Listing the array of services (including direct and indirect services as well as compliance-related activities) on service plans will help SLPs document these student-centered workload activities and, as previously noted, help communicate to parents, teachers, and others how much time SLPs devote to students beyond direct face-to-face intervention.
Consider IDEA Mandates
A number of provisions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) affect the workload activities of SLPs in schools. The following examples illustrate IDEA’s influence on student services:
- Placement decisions: In all cases, placement decisions must be individually determined on the basis of each child’s abilities and needs—and not solely on factors such as category of disability, significance of disability, availability of special education and related services, configuration of the service delivery system, availability of space or time, or administrative convenience. Rather, each student’s IEP/IFSP forms the basis for the placement decision.
- Connection to general education curriculum: In order for general education teachers, special education teachers, and SLPs to implement educationally relevant IEPs, planning time is required to align IEP goals with curriculum standards and to determine appropriate instructional strategies. SLPs must understand the demands of the curriculum at all grade levels and across school, district, and state requirements. Student evaluation data must include information relevant to current classroom-based functioning. SLPs need time to do classroom observations and to collect authentic assessments that reflect the student's performance in the general curriculum and on current IEP goals.
- Participation in state/district assessments: SLPs must know the language-learning demands of state and district assessments in order to address student needs, such as identifying accommodations and modifications that allow students to participate.
- Interprofessional collaboration: Planning of the evaluation, reviewing the data, recommending placement, designing the IEP, and continuous monitoring are collaborative team tasks and not the sole responsibility of the SLP. If education teachers, special education teachers, psychologists, occupational therapists (OTs), physical therapists (PTs), social workers, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and other specialized instructional support personnel are expected to operate as a team, they must have regularly scheduled times to meet, plan, and share information.
Consider Current Best Practices in School-Based Speech-Language Pathology
Meeting the mandates of IDEA and considering current best practices in school speech-language pathology requires that SLPs move away from exclusive use of the traditional clinical model of individual and small-group pullout services and instead engage in collaborative consultation, authentic assessment, curriculum-based intervention programs, and classroom-based services. Using a dynamic service delivery model that varies the location, amount, and frequency of services throughout the year based on the changing needs of the student will optimize outcomes. A variety of service delivery options used successfully by school-based SLPs to meet student needs are presented in Action Strategies for Workload. This ASHA resource provides SLPs with a rich opportunity to benefit from the strength of collaborative team models and to offer students educationally relevant and functional programs. In addition, the use of Response to Intervention (RTI) and/or Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), may be an appropriate way to address a variety of mild communication disorders but should not delay a student’s entry into special education.
Questions to Guide SLPs Through a Workload Analysis
A workload analysis process can help SLPs to think through their specific workload issues and to collect and organize their workload data, which they can then share with decision makers. Such documentation can also help communicate to parents, teachers, and others (a) how much time is actually devoted to students beyond direct face-to-face intervention and (b) how many activities SLPs carry out on behalf of students. A workload analysis may be viewed as systematically gathering and organizing information to answer a series of questions:
- What is the current workload problem?
- What can be done to address the workload issues and provide appropriate services to students?
- Who can help resolve the SLP workload issues? What advocacy strategies at the building, district, or state level will have the best chance of positively influencing SLP workload issues?
- What is a reasonable action plan to address the workload issues?
The specific information needed to answer the workload questions will vary depending on the individual SLP’s specific workload issues. It is important to realize that SLPs are not being advised to gather copious amounts of information and to plot all workload activities for every student on the caseload. Instead, SLPs are advised to focus on their specific workload problems and to judiciously gather the most relevant information to share with decision makers.
From this workload analysis viewpoint, the main question might be, “How can SLPs document what they do, what they need to do (on behalf of students), and what they do not have time to do given their current workload?” Below are the types of information that can help answer the workload questions, along with examples of how SLPs have used this workload analysis process to address specific workload concerns.
1. What is the current workload problem?
School-based SLPs may encounter many types of workload issues. Here are some examples:
- The SLP wants to improve the quality of speech-language services to students by having time for consulting and collaborating with teachers or by being able to offer students a broad range of services to meet their needs (e.g., offering some individual intervention sessions, if appropriate, rather than offering pullout services to large groups).
- The SLP has too many students and thus encounters challenges in serving them appropriately and meeting their individual needs as required by IDEA.
- The SLP encounters a lack of time for planning, meetings, case management responsibilities, paperwork for third party billing as well as other required paperwork.
SLPs can address this question by carefully considering the complex and interrelated factors that affect workload. For example, the time available for services to students is influenced by the time required to comply with federal, state, and local district mandates.
2. What can be done to address the workload issues and provide appropriate services to students?
An objective assessment of how local and state education agencies might address the workload imbalance is an important part of this process. SLPs—in collaboration with colleagues, supervisors, and decision makers—may consider a wide range of possible solutions to their specific workload issues. Ideally, proposed solutions would focus on the three main premises of a workload approach to setting appropriate caseload standards which allow the SLP to:
- provide quality services that meet the individual needs of students consistent with IDEA;
- ensure compliance with education agency mandates; and
- implement best practices in school-based speech-language pathology.
Some possible ways to address this question can be found in Strategies for Workload.
3. Who can help resolve the SLP workload issues? What advocacy strategies at the building, district, or state level will have the best chance of positively influencing SLP workload issues?
It is usually necessary for SLPs to work in concert with others to influence SLP workload and caseload issues. There are a number of strategies for working with teachers’ unions and local and state education agencies to improve working conditions. For example, school-based SLPs can do the following:
- Establish a committee of district-wide SLP and audiology personnel
- Explore the full range of strategies/models that would support quality service delivery (i.e., a 3:1 model, intense services)
- Work with local union representatives to address workload and caseload issues
- Gather local district data to demonstrate how student achievement may be affected by workload conditions, including caseload and intervention group size
- Become familiar with the local teacher contract on class size and caseload policies, mandated ancillary teacher duties (e.g., lunch duty, bus duty), and other contract rights and policies pertaining to working conditions for general education and special education teachers
- Identify state and local decision makers for workload and caseload conditions, and become familiar with the process by which decisions are made
- Advocate for language in the state educational regulations to mandate workload (see, e.g., Ohio’s Workload Calculator [PDF])
- Work with the state speech-language-hearing association to advocate for changes at the state level to allow for more flexible documentation of service delivery (e.g., hours per month vs. weekly)
4. What is a reasonable action plan to address the workload issues?
Effective solutions to workload issues must be negotiated. These proposed solutions should lead to a significant improvement in the SLP’s current workload—from one that does not allow student needs to be addressed appropriately to a balanced workload that allows full implementation of IDEA, compliance with all mandates, and best practices in school speech-language pathology. When negotiating workload issues with decision makers, it is important to document the services and activities required for full implementation of IDEA that cannot be completed given current workload conditions.
A reasonable action plan may include:
- Clarified expectations for all participants as to how the SLP’s available time should be prioritized and allocated across required work activities
- Options to address new or continuing workload problems should they arise
- Opportunities for further discussion and modification of the action plan if necessary