You have accessThe ASHA Leader ArchiveSchool Matters1 Jul 2018

Weighing the Workload Options

An SLP helped create a weighted workload system to ensure necessary staffing levels among the 100-plus SLPs in her education agency.

    I am one of more than 100 speech-language pathologists employed by the Heartland Area Education Agency (AEA) in Johnston, Iowa. Three years ago, we could see a crisis coming.

    We faced not only a steadily increasing number of students on our caseloads, but also an expansion of the services those students required. Our solution? A strategic planning process around workloads/caseloads resulting in a weighted workload system.

    Eight SLPs—including me—and the AEA special education director participated in system-wide thinking about caseloads and standards of practice. This AEA covers a large region—6,369 square miles—serving 53 public school districts and 30 accredited private schools. The eight SLPs involved in this project represented this variety of school settings and experiences: Together we created a balanced workload system that could work for an SLP serving two or three rural schools as well as for SLPs serving a single school in a large urban area.

    How it began

    Three major factors drove us to assemble this planning team—growing caseloads, increased paperwork requirements and new regulatory mandates, such as how our multi-tiered support system (MTSS) integrates with special education evaluations. We also lacked a clear system for determining how much “SLP time” each school received. Administrators making decisions about SLP assignments didn’t understand our scope of practice and weren’t aware of paperwork responsibilities. They needed clear data and guidance on how to make those decisions.

    AEA administrators initiated a request for volunteers to serve on a workload document committee. They tried to balance representation of SLPs serving urban and rural districts, and different ages. We realized that the logical solution was to develop a data-based system to capture the range of SLPs’ workloads across our education agency. We also grasped the importance of educating decision-makers about our role and contributions to student academic achievement. After all, even the best data can’t capture a day in the life of an SLP!

    We started by reviewing research, support documents from ASHA (see sources, including the Practice Portal page on caseload/workload), information from other AEAs in the state, and growth trends in school districts we serve. We used this environmental scan to generate a workload spreadsheet for SLPs. Using our research and experience, we established a point system based on time requirements for student and school-setting responsibilities.

    The state IEP system allowed us to determine the median amount of service minutes per month provided by SLPs at Heartland AEA. Then we identified factors that influence the amount of work required to meet a student’s needs and assigned a value to these indicators to create our current workload system. A technical advisor created formulas in a spreadsheet to support efficient data entry.

    Administrators making decisions about SLP assignments didn’t understand our scope of practice and weren’t aware of paperwork responsibilities. They needed clear data and guidance on how to make those decisions.

    How it works

    The workload weighting system assigns each student a base score of 1. The base score accounts for the agency’s median minutes per month and up to 60 minutes per month for planning and record-keeping. A score can increase or decrease after factoring student- and assignment-based indicators.

    Student-based indicators that raise the base score include IEP minutes per month exceeding the agency’s median number of minutes, use of augmentative and alternative communication devices, re-evaluation requirements, and minutes of additional support to school personnel per an IEP. We also account for students undergoing evaluations at the time of the workload data collection, or if a student receives support through our response-to-intervention and MTSS frameworks.

    Assignment-based indicators account for mileage—some SLPs accrue a lot of windshield time in rural Iowa!—number of buildings or homes (for early intervention) visited per month, clinical fellow or graduate student supervision, and service on special committees.

    After completing, adjusting and clarifying the workload document, we disseminated the new system to all SLPs to gather a spring benchmark. After completing our individual spreadsheets, we received our own calculated workload number. We further clarified the directions for each student- and assignment-based indicator to improve reliability.

    The following year, we set up the workload system to record three benchmark periods (fall, winter, spring). At the end of our first full year of implementation, we ironed out a few more kinks to ensure common understanding of the data sources and accurate data input.

    Our AEA has used the weighted workload system to increase the number of SLPs in specific regions.

    Beneficial outcomes

    The 2017–2018 school year marks our second full year of implementing the workload weighting system. Each SLP enters their data into the system a minimum of three times per year. Administrators use the collected workload data as a baseline for making decisions about SLP assignments, new hires, transfers, full-time employment allocations and other staffing issues.

    So far, the system works in our favor. Based on workload data and growing enrollments, our AEA hired 10 new SLPs in the last two years, with at least three hired mid-school year. The system isn’t flawless, of course, and we still need to educate SLPs and some administrators about a workload approach.

    At the beginning of this school year, my region decided to complete the workload spreadsheet monthly. We noticed caseload numbers increasing significantly since last spring, and felt more frequent data collection would highlight specific assignments that needed immediate workload relief.

    My assignment was a beneficiary of a new hire in February because of the sound data our workload document provides. Not surprisingly, the opportunity to adjust my caseload midway through the school year resulted in improved service delivery to students. I completed screenings and evaluations more quickly and thoroughly, increased collaborative consultative support with teachers, and was confident that my schedule permitted the time allocated on IEPs to meet student needs.

    After experiencing the strategic planning process to develop a weighted workload document for Heartland Area Education Agency, I advocate the use of a workload approach for speech-language services in the schools. I encourage SLPs to educate themselves and others about our roles and responsibilities and explore service-delivery options that embrace flexibility and quality instruction while also considering workload demands.


    Author Notes

    Kerri (Schwarze) Schwemm, MA, CCC-SLP, is a clinician for the Heartland Area Education Agency in Johnston, Iowa, working in elementary and high schools. She is a participant in the ASHA Leadership Development Program and an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 6, Hearing and Hearing Disorders.

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