Shout It Out: We Are Critical to Students’ Academic Achievement We need to broadcast our key roles in helping K–12 students meet more rigorous college- and career-readiness standards, rooted in language. From My Perspective
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From My Perspective  |   September 2015
Shout It Out: We Are Critical to Students’ Academic Achievement
Author Notes
  • Barbara J. Ehren, EdD, CCC-SLP, BCS-SL, is chair of ASHA’s Speech-Language Pathology School Issues Advisory Board and director of the doctoral program in communication sciences and disorders at the University of Central Florida. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; and 16, School-Based Issues. barbara.ehren@ucf.edu
    Barbara J. Ehren, EdD, CCC-SLP, BCS-SL, is chair of ASHA’s Speech-Language Pathology School Issues Advisory Board and director of the doctoral program in communication sciences and disorders at the University of Central Florida. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; and 16, School-Based Issues. barbara.ehren@ucf.edu×
  • © 2015 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Article Information
School-Based Settings / From My Perspective
From My Perspective   |   September 2015
Shout It Out: We Are Critical to Students’ Academic Achievement
The ASHA Leader, September 2015, Vol. 20, 6-8. doi:10.1044/leader.FMP.20092015.6
The ASHA Leader, September 2015, Vol. 20, 6-8. doi:10.1044/leader.FMP.20092015.6
One of the best-kept secrets in education is that speech-language pathologists make valuable contributions to academic achievement and college and career readiness. Often when teachers and administrators speak of the “speech teacher,” they think only of articulation therapy and wonder how someone who helps children “pronounce words” has anything to offer in addressing the vexing problems involved in teaching children and adolescents to meet the high expectations of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or similarly complex standards.
Of course, we know that SLPs in schools do much more than articulation therapy, but that wasn’t always the case. There was a time in our profession when the speech—and not the language—aspects of communication constituted most of our work, and perhaps history accounts for this lingering identity. Despite working hard, SLPs sometimes report feeling marginalized, on the periphery of academic problem-solving. Some say that other educators don’t understand or appreciate our roles in the schools.
The problem is not just a matter of SLPs feeling diminished. The real issue is that a valuable human resource is not being employed to its full advantage. Because now, more than ever, schools are under pressure to meet criteria involving standards mastery, and can ill afford to underuse any potentially game-changing resource. We SLPs are potential game-changers: The CCSS and similar standards require manipulation of complex language, and as students across the grades struggle to meet these demands, schools need language-savvy professionals who can identify and address language difficulties at the base of academic underachievement.

SLPs sometimes report feeling marginalized, on the periphery of academic problem-solving. Some say that other educators don’t understand or appreciate our roles in the schools.

A call for raising awareness
Although it is clear that SLPs have the language knowledge and skill set to assist with mastery of academic standards, it is also clear that some school districts may not have enough of us to fill this need across the grades. In many places, SLPs serve many schools, services in secondary schools are minimum, and districts find it challenging to fill vacant positions.
However, this really is a “chicken or egg” situation. On one hand, there are too few of us in some districts for other educators to see our full impact as valuable contributors to academic achievement. On the other hand, when other educators do not understand our contributions, they do not advocate for our services or for adding speech-language pathology positions.
I have always contended that if administrators and school boards really understood who SLPs are and what we can do, they would clamor for full-time services at every school, beseeching the finance gods to find more money to hire SLPs and fund slots in university programs to alleviate the critical shortage. We SLPs need to assume responsibility for raising such awareness to change the landscape of school services. It is critical to take action on several fronts to raise awareness among all stakeholders.

If administrators and school boards really understood who SLPs are and what we can do, they would clamor for full-time services at every school, beseeching the finance gods to find more money to hire SLPs and fund slots in university programs to alleviate the critical shortage.

ASHA provided the important component of leadership on the national level in 2010 when it promulgated a position statement and a professional-issues statement identifying the roles and responsibilities of SLPs in schools. This statement affirmed that “Speech-language pathologists in schools have critical roles in education and are integral members of school faculties.” Two of the key roles in this area that relate to academic achievement are:
  • Providing unique contributions to the curriculum. SLPs provide a distinct set of roles based on their focused expertise in language. They offer assistance in addressing the linguistic and metalinguistic foundations of curriculum learning for students with disabilities, as well as other learners who are at risk for school failure or who struggle in school settings.

  • Highlighting language/literacy. Current research supports interrelationships across the language processes of listening, speaking, reading and writing. SLPs contribute significantly to the literacy achievement of students with communication disorders, as well as other learners who are at risk for school failure or those who struggle in school settings.

For this important step forward by our association to make a difference, we school members need to make use of these documents in shaping our practice.
Another example of leadership at the national level is the work of the ASHA school services staff who work on our behalf to influence the big picture. However, though critical, work at the national level is insufficient to accomplish all that needs to be done to change perspective and customs in every district. It has to be done in tandem with efforts closer to the source of the problem. If other educators don’t understand who SLPs are or what we do, we have to ask ourselves, “Who is in the best position to spread the word about SLPs’ contributions in my school, district or state?” The answer should be evident: “I am.” Therefore, we need leadership from individual SLPs.
Prep your elevator speech
To promote SLPs’ spreading the word about their contributions in schools, ASHA’s new Speech-Language Pathology School Issues Advisory Board has mounted the “I Contribute” challenge with help from the State Education Advocacy Leaders (SEALs), a network of SLPs working to influence state and local administrative and public policy decisions that affect delivery of speech-language pathology and audiology services in schools.
SLPs who work in schools at all levels (state, district and school) are encouraged to record a 30-second “elevator speech” that highlights the valuable contributions they make to academic achievement and college and career readiness, and to find venues to disseminate the video. You can try posting the clip on school, district or state websites; wrapping it in a multimedia presentation; or giving the presentation at faculty and parent meetings. You could also create a text version to distribute in newsletters or on websites. For further information about this challenge, contact Deborah Dixon.
All of us can show administrators and faculty what we do through video clips of our work with students who are struggling with the language underpinnings of curriculum standards (with parent permission, of course). With flip cameras, smartphones, or computers with built-in cameras and recording software, this is not difficult to do. And, to be sure that colleagues in schools view us as “go-to” resources for students struggling with mastering standards, we always have to be self-reflective. Ask yourself, “Am I really doing things that will help students master the standards? Do the goals and objectives on which I am working relate to language underpinnings of curriculum standards?”
An equally important question is “Can I document that the work I am doing really is making a difference academically?” For example, if Sylvia is struggling with reading comprehension in her fifth-grade classroom, we might target improving Sylvia’s performance at distinguishing the main idea from details in classroom work given by the teacher. Helping to improve classroom work can go a long way in convincing teachers of the value we add.
Another important arena for data collection is results on system-wide tests. Although it is difficult to make a claim that SLPs made the difference on an academic test for a student who has been struggling, we can use pre- and post-intervention performance to indicate a trend, especially if there are comparable students with whom we are not working who may not be making the same progress.
An example is a middle school SLP who was providing services in a sixth-grade language-arts classroom to struggling students. Due to scheduling constraints, she couldn’t go into another comparable language-arts class taught by the same teacher. State test scores in reading and writing for the class that the SLP was serving far surpassed the scores for the other class. The best of all possible ways to make a strong case for SLPs’ contributions is for school-level SLPs to collaborate with a researcher at a university to design and implement an empirical study to quantify impact.
School SLPs are in an excellent position to make valuable contributions to K–12 curriculum standards and the college- and career-readiness standards that anchor them. However, misperceptions about our roles can lessen our potential impact on the academic achievement of students who struggle. At school, district and state levels we need to take responsibility for changing others’ misperceptions by collecting data on—and raising awareness of—our impact, to fully realize the reach of our professions.
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September 2015
Volume 20, Issue 9