School-based speech-language pathologists serve a critical role. More and more students require services than ever before, and suffer when there is no SLP at a school site. SLPs have a plethora of roles and responsibilities, and schools need to hire qualified personnel to ensure that services are performed appropriately.
Supporting Students with Special Needs in Schools
The population of students with special needs in schools is increasing. Special education, as a whole, is requiring not only more teachers but also more specialists. Speech-language pathology, in particular, is experiencing a significant uptick in demand at public schools. Between 2018 and 2028, overall job growth for SLPs projects to be 27%, and schools are a significant source of that demand. In a 2018 ASHA survey, 54% of school-based SLPs noted that there were more job openings than those looking for jobs.
One factor is that healthcare for premature babies is improving. These infants frequently develop swallowing disorders, which can lead to a need for an SLP as they mature. Additionally, individuals with swallowing and speech issues are identified and diagnosed at a younger age, increasing the number of young children requiring services.
Even with this growing demand, recruiting and retaining speech-language pathologists is challenging for schools. One primary factor that discourages SLPs is low salaries. Many pathologists feel that the compensation is considerably lower than what they should receive, based on the number of responsibilities they have. Another significant issue for school-based SLPs is difficult working conditions. These conditions range from high caseloads to limited time to service students. Often, caseloads can reach up to 60 students. In one study, 59% of SLPs reported that such numbers were unmanageable.
The greatest challenge, according to research, is excessive paperwork. The priority for many clinicians is supporting students with special needs in schools, not filling out endless forms. One study reported that 83% of SLPs listed disproportionate paperwork as their top concern.
The causes of these challenges are complex. The overall number of SLPs in the country has been increasing steadily over the last decade. However, many of these professionals are choosing to work in hospital settings or with older adults. In schools, demand has been increasing faster than the number of certified pathologists. Special education budgets have been decreasing, resulting in more work for fewer specialists. Additionally, college and SLP training programs are experiencing faculty shortages, which results in fewer trained and certified SLPs.
Roles and Responsibilities of a Speech-Language Pathologist
An SLP in a school-based setting has a set of core responsibilities. They serve students across all grade levels, encompassing the entire array of speech-language disorders. SLPs need to tailor services that adhere to IEP goals, including academic, social-emotional, and vocational. They assist students with communication, speech, and language issues, and customize services to help those students achieve success in academic classes. Additionally, these specialists bolster student literacy by ensuring that speech-language services contribute to improved communication. Another role of the SLP is to differentiate speech and language disorders from other factors, such as secondary language acquisition.
SLPs have additional roles at their schools. They conduct assessments to identify children who need services and tailor treatment plans for students. Specialists are responsible for intervention, as well. The method of intervention varies depending on the present disabilities, age, and goals of the student. SLPs also collect and analyze data, and design programs using this information. With a focus on the Least Restricted Environment for each student, SLPs need to adjust and modify their service delivery models continuously.
Speech-language pathologists and assistants have different roles in the various levels of school. In preschool and elementary grades, SLPs and SLPAs focus on pronunciation, which may be through rhyming activities, pictures, and different games. As students progress through middle school and early high school, the SLP and SLPA hone in on vocabulary development, spelling, and grammar, while parceling out more responsibility to students. Later in high school, SLPs become a crucial part of the transition team or students. They help the special education teacher, transition teacher, and counselor develop a plan for students with speech-language disorders to transition to post-secondary life successfully.
Roles and Responsibilities that are NOT in the SLPA Scope
Speech-language pathologist assistants are valuable to the SLP, but too often, they complete tasks that are outside of their scope of responsibilities. SLPAs should inform students, families, and professionals that they are SLPAs, not SLPs. Administering assessments, evaluations, swallowing screenings, and diagnostic tests are the responsibility of the SLP, not the assistant. The pathologist alone should also perform clinical procedures. The SLPA is not to interpret evaluation data.
The SLPA should not participate in certain activities without the SLP present. Some of these instances include partaking in parent conferences, supplying interpretive data to students and families, writing or modifying treatment plans, or signing formal documents. Additionally, SLPAs should not choose or discharge students from speech-language services, nor treat students without the pathologist's supervision.
How to Recognize a Qualified Applicant Vs. an Unqualified Applicant
How do you know if an SLP applicant is qualified? In general, they meet the following requirements:
- Licensed by the state in which they are practicing
- Passed the Praxis II - SLP exam
- Completed a clinical fellowship and clinical hours
- Hold a Master's or doctoral degree
- Certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
If ASHA certifies an SLP, they have met the requirements above, including passing the Praxis, completing the fellowship, and obtaining a Master's or doctoral degree.
A qualified SLPA will have:
- One of the following:
- Completion of an SLPA program degree
- Bachelor's degree in communication sciences and disorders
- College degree with at least two years of study in related speech-language coursework
- Been certified by ASHA
Again, if certified by ASHA, an SLPA is considered qualified, as they have completed all of the requirements, and more.
So, how do you know if an applicant is unqualified? If an SLP cannot produce proof of state license, Master's degree, Praxis II exam results, and clinical fellowship report (depending on the state), they are unqualified. Alternatively, if they demonstrate that they are ASHA-certified, they are qualified.
If an SLPA produces proof of ASHA certification, they are qualified. However, if they cannot show that they completed the basic requirements listed above, they are considered unqualified.
Schools should only hire qualified SLPs and SLPAs. The process that qualified applicants undergo ensures that they are trained and capable of delivering professional services. An unqualified applicant can have any background, possibly with no actual speech or language experience.
However, states do have different requirements, so you must be familiar with your state's certification and qualification updates. All 50 states require, at minimum, a state license and Master's degree in speech-language pathology to be considered qualified as an SLP.
How Do Employers Check Qualifications?
There are different levels of qualification. A license shows that an applicant has met the requirements to practice speech-language pathology while providing states the authority to remove those individuals who practice without it. A certification, meanwhile, is not mandatory in many states. However, it demonstrates that a candidate is highly qualified, as they have achieved substantial training. SLPs can obtain the CCC-A or CCC-SLP (Certificate of Clinical Competence), which is granted by ASHA. Those that go even further along receive the Clinical Specialty Certification (CSC), which gives them the title of "Board Certified Specialist" in the field.
The requirements for practicing in the field of SLP vary by state. Every state requires a license, while some states demand that candidates pass the state jurisprudence exam. Others require the CCC-SLP license as the minimum to practice speech-language pathology. Those states that require certification are Alaska, Delaware, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Virginia also require the CCC-SLP, but not the clinical fellowship component.Employers can check and verify an applicant's level of qualification. Most states have a searchable database where employers can input candidate information to see if they are licensed. As an example, the state of Oregon provides this option. An online search for "verifying SLP applicant qualifications in _____," with your state filled in, should produce the result you need.