Out There

SLP Caseloads

Posted in SLP, teaching, Uncategorized by Pete on March 14, 2016

I’m copying and pasting something from an SLP forum that I lurk on.  This is about caseloads and thought it was a good perspective and I wanted to be able to access it later so I’m pasting it in here.

I have posted this more than once. My rule of thumb is my caseload cannot exceed the number of hours I work over a week. So…if I work 38 hours, I can’t have more than 38 students. In that 38 hours, you are ALL entitled to 30 minutes of duty free lunch daily, and whatever planning time is given to the professional staff in your school. If you are working through lunch and planning time, you are NOT doing anyone any favors…and that includes the district and your students. You are allowing yourself to be taken advantage of.

So back to my rule of thumb. Where I worked, I had 30 minutes of lunch and 30 minutes of planning (planning was averaged out over the week…so really 2 1/2 hours per week) per day. So that left 28 hours in which to do everything else…therapy, testing IEP meetings, consults, classroom observations, report writing, meetings…you get the picture. Even with 28 hours to do all of that per week, I sometimes found myself stretched. When I read about caseloads that are double or triple what I had, I wonder just how FAPE is being met. And I wonder about the real quality of services…and I wonder just how quickly some of you will burn out.

It took me a while to get to the point I was at…that caseload of 30 or so students. Back in 1973 when I started, I had 13 schools and well over 100 students. It was a job that could NOT be done….period. I was at each school once every two weeks. The kids didn’t even know my name.

I immediately became a strong advocate for decent services for my students. NOTE…not for me…for my students. BUT in advocating for my students, I also advocated for myself, and our profession.

Our administration understood that the apraxic, low cognitive student with multiple issues…and multiple weekly consults…took much more of my time than even a multi sound artic case. And I needed to have the time for these things.

I understand that some folks don’t want to make waves because of job security and the like.

But read what you are saying….your admins expect you to make up time with students when you are absent for a day…but they also think it’s good quality services for you to be seeing 60 plus kids per week? I guess I think those are contradictory statements.

If they are REALLY worried about FAPE, they should get more staff…so ongoing services can be better.

Where I am, districts with these larger caseloads also have HUGE turnover in SLP staff…because folks simply move on to districts where the working conditions are better. And yes…that sometimes means a huge cut in pay. But I know a few people who went from having over 75 on their caseloads to under 40 and also lost over $6000 a year in salary. They say…it was well worth the reduction in salary to be able to provide a quality service to their students.

As a profession, we need to stand up and be counted. Do the special ed teachers in your district see 60 or 75 kids per week? How about OT and PT? If you are in a primary school….what classroom has 60-100 kids?

Please…advocate for quality services for your students. And for heaven’s sake…stop short changing yourselves by working through lunch and planning times…and taking hours of work home nightly.

OK…off my soapbox.


And someone replied with:

I think everyone can reply to this question but not much can be concluded.  Numbers do not reflect workload.  I think that is where administrators loose perspective on appropriate staffing.  So much goes into determining workload for any specialists.  Everything from severity of students to universal supports provided in a school system.  I personally could service 30 articulation kids over a couple of days with my eyes closed but give me 30 more involved students and the game changes.

We all need to advocate for reasonable workloads and numbers.  The amount of work, paperwork and meeting time that is required for each student also need to be taken into consideration.  I also find that administrators have little to no understanding of the process of language development nor how decreased language abilities impact academics.

This past year I published a book,  The School Speech Language Pathologist,  An Administrator’s Guide to understanding the role of the SLP in schools along with strategies to aid staffing, workload management and student success.  It’s just a start in educating administration.  Available on Amazon and through my publisher Booklocker.

I think it would also be interesting to know how much turnover occures because of workloads/caseloads that are too high an unmanageable.  My 30 years of experience can also state that staffing levels have not grown over the years but numbers have.  Think about that.

I didn’t write either of these but they are good food for thought, for me at least.  I’ve wrestled since before I became an SLP with the service delivery model used in the Alaska bush (at least in my home district of LKSD) and this applies to that issue.

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Kindergarten Truancy

Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on February 18, 2015

This is meant as an open letter to the Alaska legislature, Governor Walker, parents, and educational leaders across the state.  Alaska law currently makes school attendance mandatory for kids between the ages of 7 and 16.

Here is the statute:

(a) Every child between seven and 16 years of age shall attend school at the public school in the district in which the child resides during each school term. Every parent, guardian or other person having the responsibility for or control of a child between seven and 16 years of age shall maintain the child in attendance at a public school in the district in which the child resides during the entire school term, except as provided in (b) of this section.

I’ve come to think this is a problem.

All too often I see kids who are enrolled in kindergarten who attend extremely sporadically and are then retained.  Today in one of the rural school districts I work in I was asking the kindergarten teacher about one of the students on my caseload, trying to get a feel for the student’s standing relative to their classmates, their progress this year, and any teacher concerns.  The teacher reported that the child can perform about as well as their classmates when they are paying attention and physically in school.  She mentioned that three kids were retained from last year’s kindergarten class (including my student), and she wants to retain 4 more from this year’s class, and she believes the reason for why all those kids are behind is truancy, with some of her kids attending about 2/3 of the time (40 absences by mid Feb).  I asked if the school has filed truancy reports or anything and she reminded me that until the child is 7 there is nothing the teacher or school can do.  I’ve been involved in education in the bush for over 10 years and I’ve seen this happen with kindergartners time after time.  But today it just struck me as illogical and silly that we go after parents who let their 4th grader or 8th grader stay home, but we allow it with kindergartners.  Truancy is a huge, chronic issue in the bush.  If we allow it to be a habitual thing for the first 2 years of school with no penalty, should we be surprised that it remains an issue for the rest of that child’s life in school?

I believe the intent of the law is to allow parents to decide when their child is ready to start kindergarten, so the state isn’t forcing 5 year-olds to begin school.  I don’t take issue with that.  However, I do take issue when the parents decide it IS time to start school, but then the child shows up half the time.  If it is obvious that it isn’t working for whatever reason, the parents should withdraw the child and try again the following year.  Or at least have a conversation with the teacher where it is acknowledged that they aren’t really trying to go to first grade in the next year and that the school shouldn’t be trying to move heaven and earth to get the child the extra help required to make it happen.

The law in section (b) makes exceptions to mandatory attendance, for things like illness, private school, living far from the nearest school, etc.  Then way at the end there is this:

(c) If a parent, legal guardian, or other person having the responsibility for or control of the child elects to enroll a child who is six years of age in first grade at a public school, after enrollment, the child is subject to the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section. If the parent or guardian of a child who is six years of age and is enrolled in first grade at a public school determines, within 60 days after the child is enrolled, that the best interests of the child are not being served by enrollment in the first grade, the child may be withdrawn from school, and the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section do not apply to the child until the child is seven years of age.

I think it should be changed to this:

(c) If a parent, legal guardian, or other person having the responsibility for or control of the child elects to enroll a child who is FIVE OR six years of age in KINDERGARTEN OR first grade at a public school, after enrollment, the child is subject to the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section. If the parent or guardian of a child who is FIVE OR six years of age and is enrolled in KINDERGARTEN OR first grade at a public school determines, within 60 days after the child is enrolled, that the best interests of the child are not being served by enrollment in the first grade, the child may be withdrawn from school, and the provisions of (a) and (b) of this section do not apply to the child until the child is seven years of age.

This is a small change but would help to combat runaway truancy, while not taking away from the spirit of the law which allows parents the freedom to determine when their child begins kindergarten.

meaningful differences

Posted in teaching by Pete on February 21, 2012

This is my 3rd or 4th attempt to write about this.  Each time I write too much and make it too detailed and complicated (luuuv those details so this is generally a problem for me, esp in writing).

There is this book called Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of American Children, by Hart and Risley.  As an SLP (supposed to be an “expert” in human communication and communication development in children), I enthusiastically recommend it.  It is not new, and it is all about a gigantic longitudinal study done decades ago in a far away part of the country with families who share very little in common with my neighbors.  However, I think the conclusions of the book have profound implications for the people of western Alaska.

I’m going to steal some of the book description from Amazon and paste it here:

“Betty Hart and Todd Risley wanted to know why, despite best efforts in preschool programs to equalize opportunity, children from low-income homes remain well behind their more economically advantaged peers years later in school. Their painstaking study began by recording each month – for 2-1/2 years – one full hour of every word spoken at home between parent and child in 42 families, categorized as professional, working class, or welfare families. Years of coding and analyzing every utterance in 1,318 transcripts followed. Rare is a database of this quality. “Remarkable,” says Assistant Secretary of Education Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, of the findings: By age 3, the recorded spoken vocabularies of the children from the professional families were larger than those of the parents in the welfare families. Between professional and welfare parents, there was a difference of almost 300 words spoken per hour. Extrapolating this verbal interaction to a year, a child in a professional family would hear 11 million words while a child in a welfare family would hear just 3 million. The implications for society are staggering: Hart and Risley’s follow-up studies at age 9 show that the large differences in the amount of children’s language experience were tightly linked to large differences in child outcomes. And yet the implications are encouraging, too. As the authors conclude their preface to the 2002 printing of Meaningful Differences, “the most important aspect to evaluate in child care settings for very young children is the amount of talk actually going on, moment by moment, between children and their caregivers.”

To oversimplify it – future academic outcomes for these children were correlated very highly with their word count exposure as little kids.  Not what they were listening to between 2 other people, or on the radio or TV, but language they were involved in as an active communication partner.  There was a much higher correlation between word count exposure and later success in school than there was for race, socioeconomic status, parents level of education, or any other competing possible causal factor.

So what are the implications for a whole population that is, by dominant culture standards, very nonverbal?  We have all of these schools here that are “failing” under NCLB, and a large part of our students’ academic struggle is their difficulty with language.  Vocabulary, syntax, being able to understand or relate a coherent narrative, picking out or relating key details, making inferences, main idea, understanding verbal directions from the teacher, etc etc.

What if the main issue is a deficit in the amount of talk going on between the child and their peers and caregivers, particularly in the earliest years??  Yikes.  I’ve never heard anyone say this, but isn’t it an inescapable implication if you believe in the study’s conclusions?  Without making a value judgement, Yup’ik is a more nonverbal culture, compared to the majority culture.  The Yup’ik language is far more content-based and “telegraphic” than English, eliminating non-essential words.  After 8+ years here, the sparse, terse nature of the speech reminds me of how people live.  No wasted effort, no extra words, a survival-based commitment to parsimony.  And this carries over to how most of my neighbors speak in English.  If you’re at a feast, you don’t hear “Will you pass the salt please?”  There is no Yup’ik word for “please.”  You hear “Salt.”  The local schools have big community meetings once or twice a year and have door prizes (get a ticket at the START, drawing at the END) to encourage people to come and stay because it is hard for people to endure what is (in their view) the excruciatingly long-winded presentations in English, full of superfluous words that obscure the main point of the meeting.  The words are too numerous, come too quickly, and without sufficient pauses, so processing is difficult and tiring.  And the delivery is not direct enough, using a few words they don’t know, many words that are seemingly unnecessary, and not enough content words that matter.  The listeners have to unpack everything to find the telegraphic speech they are more accustomed to.

So what is to be done?  Many area schools have recently been cutting or altering the bilingual component of the school day, apparently in the belief that it will help kids learn.  I find this regrettable.  We try everything – extra tutoring, CSI, RTI, teachers presenting lessons in multiple modalities, the latest and greatest curriculum materials like storytown, everyday math, etc etc in a desperate effort to find something that will work.  I don’t want to make a generalization that is too broad or explosive, but in my limited experience I see village teachers that work much longer hours than their urban counterparts.  Teacher effort is not the problem (though turnover IS part of the problem, but that’s another post entirely).

Big, uncomfortable question time.  Is our kids’ nonverbal culture “holding them back?”  Well, from one perspective maybe.  But holding them back from what?  The materialistic, non-existent “American Dream?”  Maybe the culture and community of the village is a better alternative to the greed and loneliness of suburbia.  What is the point of school?  To go to college so you can marry another college kid and make big $$?  What if you want to live your life in the village, connected to your extended family and the land, where there are fewer jobs and none that make big $$?  What are we preparing kids for?  For a job? Where?  For life?  For college?  As educators we often have to have high expectations for our students and help/prod them to reach those expectations.  But what if your expectations for the kids are not what the students want, not what the parents want for their kids, and not what really anyone in the community wants?  This is the case in some villages, to varying degrees and it obviously causes major problems.  How much say do we give the local community in what/how their kids learn?  The stock answer is “a lot” but I don’t know that that is true.  The districts select the curriculum to learn the material outlined by the state, and the districts set forth some narrow parameters that the village school boards can move around within.  What if the local community said we don’t think kids need writing or reading class beyond the 8th grade level?  What if the community wanted to instead pay more attention to the emotional health of the students, to stem the tide of abuse/despair/addiction/self-hatred/suicide etc?  Is that a bad thing?  The western model we’re using now isn’t working in a lot of the schools – do we keep tinkering or when do we blow it up and try something new?  Under NCLB they can eventually fire the whole staff – but the staff isn’t the issue here, it’s more like the educational vision/model/framework and the interaction between two radically different cultures.  I have no easy answers.  But I got started writing this post because the conclusions of the Meaningful Differences study are compelling and seem legitimate and very applicable to the “failing” schools of bush Alaska, yet I’ve never heard a word about it.  So there it is and now you know.  ; – )

When I think about all this it only reinforces the critical need for local leadership and “ownership” of our schools.  Without ownership of the school and the programs therein, there is a disconnect that strips the school of relevance and authority and results in kids/parents/communities that don’t care or are openly hostile to what they perceive as an unnecessary, burdensome, alien program.  With ownership you instill commitment and purpose, and an intrinsic motivation to learn.