What we’ve learned from supervising SLP-As

In our district, we hire a select group of individuals with a Bachelor’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology. For any number of reasons, they do not have a master’s degree in the field but have an interest in working in the school system doing speech and language therapy. And they rock!

First a little background as to how we utilize these SLP Assistants in our school system. We are a large metro district with over 175 SLPs…and at any given time there are at least 3 of them on maternity leave, 1 of them on family or medical leave, and 2 full- or part-time vacancies. As with so many districts, there is little to no money for certified SLPs to substitute (if we could even find any) or to fund compensatory speech-language services after school or during summer breaks. So a viable solution was to hire these lovely people to fulfill this need. They are paid on a separate pay scale between a paraprofessional position and certified bachelor’s level teacher. They are able to provide short-term speech-language services as indicated in the students’ IEPs with supervision and support from a dedicated supervisor (typically one of us) as well as direction from any other SLPs in the building, if applicable. These SLP-As do not write IEPs, attend meetings, or conduct evaluations. They do write their own lesson plans (with assistance as needed), take data and document their sessions, and assist in development of present levels and IEP goals based on their work with the students.

All the fun of being an SLP without all the extra paperwork and meetings? Sounds like a dream come true, huh?

Trust us, our program coordinator receives no shortage of applicants for these positions – and we have had nothing but success with each and every one of them. School administrators, teachers, and even the SLPs they cover for beg them to stay each and every time!

And their value has not gone unnoticed by us…

Just because you’ve been a practicing, certified school-based SLP for more years than you care to mention does not mean you have seen or done it all. Even if you have seen or done it, do not underestimate the power of standing outside the situation and helping someone else be more successful. Much like being a CF mentor, supervising SLP-As provides opportunities to learn new ways of conducting therapy, model strategies and techniques, and see things from a totally different point of view.

This supervision process has taught us that the best of SLPs have an instinct that cannot be taught in graduate school. No amount of theory, book study, or reading research and textbooks can prepare for the therapeutic skills that our SLP-As were seemingly born with. Sure they have each learned things from us and made improvements over time, but it as much through the experiences they have had as the guidance we have given. We have learned through instructing them the importance of receiving solid data that can be easily analyzed in order to write data-driven present levels and goals. We have seen firsthand that flexibility is the most valuable asset an itinerant staff member can possess. They allow us to think better on our feet (and, if we may say so ourselves, write some pretty nice IEPs about students we barely know!). They make us better problem solvers and better SLPs.

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Thank you SLP-As…you have taught us more than you can imagine! It’s always a pleasure to work with you!

The Proof is in the PLAAFP

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There has been a lot of discussion among SLPs in our district recently concerning documenting a student’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP) in the IEP. In our roles, we are continuously reviewing and recommending revisions to proposed IEPs. The present levels of performance (or PLOPs as we often refer to them) are one of the major areas of the IEP needing improvement.

 

In the definition of an individualized education program, section 300.320, IDEA (2004) provides general guidance on what should be included. It indicates that the present levels include a statement of how the disability impacts the student’s ability to participate and progress in the curriculum – or how a preschool child’s disability impacts participation in appropriate activities (Sec. 300.320(a)(1)).

It further discusses what is included in Sec. 300.324 Development, review, and revision of IEP. The team is responsible for considering the student’s strengths, parental concerns, most recent evaluation results, and the student’s needs related to academic, developmental, and functional performance (Sec. 300.324(a)(1)).

Those are the basics (and the legal jargon)…but in our district we are provided with additional specifics to assist in the development of descriptive and legally-defensible IEPs.

So here are some of the tips we share with our SLPs to insure this occurs and enable any SLP to pick up an IEP and get to work…no guesswork, no wondering!

  • The discussion of the student’s present levels of performance should be, first and foremost, data driven. Whether an initial IEP based on the results of the initial evaluation or an annual IEP based on progress on goals and objectives, it must include data, data, data! Areas of strength should be quantified with data! Areas of need should be quantified with data! If there’s no data, it didn’t happen!

 

  • The discussion in the PLAAFP should be descriptive and specific. Data should be quantified and explain how the student reached that level. Things to consider include:
    • Were prompts provided – visual or verbal; how many of each?
    • Was information presented orally? Was text provided? Was text on the student’s grade level or instructional level?
    • Did the student’s ability increase with repetition?
    • Was the student successful with sound production in the initial and final position of words but had more difficulty in the medial position?
    • Did the student’s dysfluencies increase when speaking to adults or peers outside of the speech room?

 

  • Remember that the needs in the PLAAFP are what drive the development of IEP goals (and objectives where required). The information provided serves as baseline so any SLP knows where therapy should begin.

 

We often find that it can be very helpful to think about the next steps related to goals before drafting up the needs in the present levels section of the IEP. More often than not we have easily identified the skills that the student continues to struggle with and have some ideas of what we want to recommend working on for the next IEP. Sometimes working backward can make for much more explicit, specific, and complete PLAAFP in the area of communication.

Let’s look at a specific case for an annual review IEP. Please be aware that different districts and states have varied requirements and IEP documents can look different. For the purposes of this post, we are focusing on the present levels related to strengths and needs related to communication; therefore, our sample below will not include a discussion of parent concerns, specific academic skills, or most recent evaluation results. These pieces are, however, legally required in the IEP.

Johnny is a 2nd grader. His previous IEP goals are as follows:

  • Johnny will produce /r/ in words with 80% accuracy for 4 sessions
  • Johnny will answer factual ‘what’ and ‘where’ questions about a grade level paragraph read aloud with 1 visual cue in 4 out of 5 opportunities
  • Johnny will point to items in a picture scene in response to ‘show me…’ to demonstrate understanding of the spatial concepts ‘in, on, out, under, over’ with 80% accuracy in 3 out of 4 opportunities.

So using data (quantitative and qualitative), we might write his present levels something like this:

When presented with picture cards in the speech-language room, Johnny currently produces /r/ in words independently with 95% accuracy in 5 sessions. He has begun making sentences with these words with 70% accuracy in 3 sessions independently. His accuracy increases to 90% when he is given a verbal reminder for accurate placement and asked to repeat his sentence. The SLP, Johnny and his teacher worked together to come up with a visual cue for use in the classroom (picture of a target). When the teacher hears an error with /r/, she will point to or hold up the target symbol to prompt Johnny to repeat the word. Johnny also has this symbol on his desk. This has begun to increase his carryover and independence with correct /r/ production in the classroom. Production of /r/ will continue to be addressed at the sentence level to increase his independence working toward production in structured conversation. He will be provided with verbal reminders for placement at first in the speech-language room and the visual ‘target’ will continue to be used with the SLP and teacher to encourage carryover in the classroom.

Johnny has demonstrated the ability to answer factual ‘what’ questions after listening to a grade level paragraph in 4/5 opportunities independently. He was originally presented with a visual showing what each question word refers to (i.e., where=place) and these were discussed at the beginning of each session. This is no longer verbally discussed with Johnny and he does not rely on this visual. He answers ‘where’ questions in an average of 2/5 opportunities. However, it appears that his difficulty with this task is not related to an understanding of ‘where’ but instead related to his difficulties with expressing spatial concepts. For example, he can point to the correct answer in a picture or provide a response such as ‘at school’ in 4/5 opportunities. When the question requires a response such as ‘under the table’ or ‘in the mailbox’, his accuracy greatly decreases. The spatial concepts ‘in, on, out, under, over’ have been addressed receptively with Johnny and he is pointing to items in a picture to demonstrate his understanding (i.e. ‘show me the girl who is under the table’) with 75% accuracy in 3 out of 4 opportunities. Language therapy will continue to focus on Johnny’s ability to answer factual ‘who’ and ‘when’ questions after listening to grade level paragraphs to help increase his comprehension in the classroom. The visual of the question words will first be utilized as a reminder to be sure Johnny has understanding that who=person and when=time. ‘Where’ questions and spatial concepts ‘in, on, out, under, over’ will also be addressed as Johnny is asked ‘where’ questions to elicit these concepts about a picture scene. Visual and verbal prompts will be utilized as needed as we fade to independence.

Johnny’s proposed goals for the upcoming IEP are as follows:

  • Johnny will produce /r/ in structured conversation with 1 visual cue with 80% accuracy in 4 sessions
  • Johnny will answer factual ‘who’ and ‘when’ questions about a grade level paragraph read aloud in 4 out of 5 opportunities
  • Johnny will state the spatial concepts of ‘in, on, out, under, over’ by responding to ‘where’ questions about a picture scene with 80% accuracy in 3 out of 4 opportunities.

Do the PLAAFP above include the necessary components? Are they descriptive and specific? Is the information data-driven and directly related to the new proposed goals? Without knowing this student, would you be able to pick up this IEP and have a good idea how to gather baseline, where to start with therapy and what he is expected to achieve in the course of this IEP?

What are some tips you use to write legally-defensible PLAAFP?