Have you realized the HUGE impact of high caseloads on RTI for speech therapists? It’s always been a lingering issue, but since the pandemic of 2020 hit, the issue has definitely grown. Virtual learning has definitely played a part in the caseload crisis. Let’s discuss the impact of high caseloads on RTI for speech/ language services and tips for what you can do to help this issue.
What is MTSS/RTI?
There are so many abbreviations in the world of special education. What do MTSS and RTI stand for? MTSS means Multi-Tiered System of Support and RTI stands for Response to Intervention. Often times, educators use these terms interchangeably but there are some distinct differences.
RTI is a multi-tiered approach focused on providing direct services, supports, and interventions for at-risk students. You will often see a visual representation using a pyramid when RTI is discussed. Think the bottom layer is Tier 1 and the top narrowest part of the triangle is Tier 3 intervention. Tier 1 instruction would be what all students receive-universal instruction. Tier 2 would be small group support and Tier 3 would be individualized instruction (think direct special education services.)
MTSS is a distinct approach that builds upon the original concept of tiered support, as with RTI, but is more pro-active. MTSS, unlike RTI, addresses systematic barriers and conditions for both students and educators.
To qualify for special education services (Tier 3), students must demonstrate two things:
First, educational impact (checklists included to document academic including specific common core standards).
Second, lack of response to interventions or ongoing need for significant interventions. This RTI Packet helps you prove both with data. If you take a concern to your special education team and have data to prove a student isn’t progressing with your help, you have documented the need for specialized instruction from a speech-language pathologist. Another resource to use for intervention for Speech is the Ultimate Speech Sound Home Packet Bundle.
Caseload vs. Workload
What is the difference between your caseload and your workload?
According to ASHA:
Caseload refers to the number of students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSPs), and 504 plans served by school-based speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and other professionals through direct and/or indirect service delivery options. In some school districts, caseloads may also include students who receive intervention and other services within general education designed to help prevent future difficulties with speech, language learning, and literacy.
Workload refers to all activities required and performed by school-based SLPs. Workload includes the time spent providing face-to-face direct services to students as well as the time spent performing other activities necessary to support students’ education programs, implement best practices for school speech-language services, and ensure compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA, 2004) and other mandates.
Traditionally, a school SLP’s workload has been conceptualized as almost exclusively synonymous with caseload; the reality is that caseload is only ONE part of the picture. When a student is added to a caseload for direct services, significant amounts of time within the school day, week, or month must be allocated for additional important and necessary workload activities.
The Caseload Crisis
Now that we understand what all these terms mean, let’s discuss the caseload crisis. In the past, ASHA recommended a maximum caseload number. However, some states and districts interpreted the number as a minimum rather than a maximum. Others ignored the recommendation, citing that there is no research to support a specific caseload size.
ASHA no longer recommends a specific caseload number for the following reasons:
- There is no research to support a specific caseload size.
- The needs of students receiving speech-language services vary greatly, and a specific caseload number does not take into account this variation. For example, a caseload of 40 students with very mild communication disorders could be manageable, whereas a caseload of 40 students with severe disabilities is not likely to support the provision of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
For these reasons, ASHA encourages assignment of SLPs based on workload rather than caseload.
Some states have NO CASELOAD CAP! In other states, it is unbelievable high. For example, in Ohio the caseload cap is 80, using a weighted caseload model. Some states require a workload approach but not all states do. In most states that have attempted to adopt a weighted caseload model, the legislation has not made the writing clear enough. Districts say they are complying by “considering” different factors but they do not have to prove the model that they use to determine the workload approach.
Why do High Caseloads Impact the Quality of RTI?
It’s sometimes obvious that caseloads have an impact on the quality of IEP services provided by an overburdened SLP. What about the impact on the rest of the school community? When the caseloads are overwhelmed any at-risk students suffer. There simply is no time for prevention or intervention.The impact of high caseloads on RTI is a great one. Here are some ways that high caseloads impact the quality of RTI:
-After the pandemic, a kindergarten teacher might have 10 students to refer for speech or language services. Typically, a speech therapist would like to do some whole group instruction to prevent those students from needing services. However, with higher caseloads there is no time to provide extra things like this.
Additionally, speech and language groups are already so large. This means that there is no room to add additional students and still get adequate trial data.
Next, there is no extra time to prep materials for others (parents, aids, teachers) or even themselves.
-Finally, no flexibility in SLP’s schedules makes it almost impossible to meet with and coach parents for things to try at home.
What Can We Do About This?
Try using “ready to use resources” for RtI such as:
Advocate for Your Workload!
Do you feel that your caseload is too high this year? What are you doing to make it work?
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