Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) in school districts across the country have returned to school, often with the new (or renewed) obligation of addressing the “Common Core” (or the “Career and College Readiness Standards” as the Common Core State Standards [CCSS] is referred to in some states.) The SLPs’ reactions are likely to include the following:
- With all the students on my caseload, how can I possibly do something else?
- This is just another education fad; it’ll pass in a couple of years.
- From what I hear about these standards, they aren’t applicable to the students on my caseload.
- I’m focusing on the IEP goals, they are most important for my students.
These are common reactions, reflecting the current challenges and pressures of working as an SLP in the schools. However, it is important that all SLPs working with children, whether in schools or other settings, understand that the CCSS is now the lens through which educators must view the achievement of all students, including students with speech-language impairments. The education standards movement has been in place for over two decades, with states first adopting their own standards and developing assessments to measure student achievement of those standards. More recently, the National Governors’ Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, used teams of educators, business professionals, and policy-makers to develop the Common Core State Standards. Released in 2010, 43 states have adopted the CCSS. The Standards serve as the basis for state assessments developed by two consortiums, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.
As SLPs study the CCSS, they will find that the Standards encompass a hierarchy of language skills from phonological awareness to the ability to understanding diverse perspectives, from comprehension of discipline-specific vocabulary to syntactic complexity in speech and text. The CCSS emphasize oral language and phonological awareness in the primary grades, as kindergarteners must demonstrate skills in counting, pronouncing, blending, and segmenting syllables in spoken words. The CCSS expect secondary students to use oral communication effectively to present findings and support their evidence clearly and concisely using a style appropriate to the audience and task. In the vocabulary area, students must demonstrate such diverse skills as mastery of morphology for understanding meaning to becoming adept at understanding euphemisms, hyperbole, and paradox. Students’ skills in the conventions of Standard English develop from early skills in using nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to secondary level skills in using parallel structure in their oral and written communication.
The CCSS provide an excellent vehicle for SLPs to use to support collaboration with their education partners. As SLPs communicate with teachers, the CCSS provides a common vocabulary to describe student expectations and performance, thereby facilitating the education team’s focus on needed language and communication skills. A typical child on the SLP’s caseload will have difficulty acquiring standards from prior grade levels. The CCSS can serve as a resource SLPs can use in explaining the effect of children’s speech-language impairments on their ability to master specific standards. By using the language of the CCSS in describing students’ performance, the SLP’s ability to communicate with teachers and administrators about the challenges the child is and will be facing is enhanced.
SLPs will find that an analysis model facilitates their ability to integrate the standards into their intervention planning. A 5-step model builds upon SLPs’ extensive knowledge of the language and metalinguistic skills and leads to development of collaborative direct and classroom-based intervention activities. In step 1, SLPs work collaboratively to identify the standards needed for success. SLPs will analyze the CCSS, identifying the specific expectations that will rely on the student’s language and communication skills. Due to the magnitude of the CCSS, this task quickly becomes overwhelming. Therefore, SLPs are urged to follow the practice of their education partners—creating teams to review the standards. By working with colleagues, SLPs can focus on the areas that relate to their expertise. For example, SLPs with specialization in fluency can review the standards for expectations for oral communication and presentations. SLPs with a passion for literacy can focus on these standards. Another approach would be for SLPs to focus on all standards or the grade levels they serve (or the grade levels their students have just left and will be moving into). Not only does teamwork minimize the workload, it enables the creative generation ideas that flow from a collaborative group of professionals. The Plural book, Common Core State Standards and the Speech-Language Pathologist: Standards-based Interventions for Special Populations, provides SLPs with examples of the language and communication expectations of the standards.
The model’s second step focuses on detailed identification of the language and communication skills needed for success. This analysis addresses phonology, morpho-syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic and metalinguistic skills. The SLPs will find standards that require competency in speech sound production and fluency as well. This is another task completed well by a team of SLPs, reducing the workload and facilitating the brainstorming and analysis. The result will be a comprehensive understanding of the standards.
Step 3 shifts the attention from the standards to individual students. The SLP will complete a thorough analysis of a student’s current skills and needs. Data sources include standardized assessments, observations of the child in the classroom, classroom work samples (e.g., narratives, spelling tests), and probes of specific skills. Many of these items will be found in the Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) of the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). However, SLPs will find that they will want to generate skill-specific probes to understand the nuances of the child’s needs as they plan for intervention.
At this point, the SLP’s focus shifts to consideration of the expectations in the child’s classroom. The SLP will use information from observations to identify the language of the classroom communications, especially directions, texts, and instructional activities. A specific focus on morphological-syntactic constructions and vocabulary will enable the SLP to focus on specific skills the child will need for success. If multiple SLPs have children in this same classroom, this can be a joint activity.
The final step is to design intervention. Children’s academic success relies on their ability to apply the language and communication skills developed under the guidance of the SLP into real-world settings (i.e., the classroom). Therefore, the intervention should be a combination of direct intervention and collaborative classroom-based intervention. This combination of approaches allows for a specific focus on skill attainment, followed by application of that skill. The SLP may find it particularly valuable to participate in classroom center activities, working with specific children and facilitating their mastery of skills through collaboration with other students. This step relies on a collegial working relationship with the child’s classroom teacher(s), with time for planning to enable both professionals to identify which skills they will focus on and the nature of interventions.
The use of a stepwise model for analyzing the standards and applying this information to the strengths and needs of a specific child enables the SLP to tailor intervention to what matters for children—academic success. It is only through the SLP’s comprehensive knowledge of the academic standards and analysis of the specific linguistic expectations of the standards that students with language and communication difficulties can successfully meet the academic demands of 21st century schools.
About the Author
Lissa A. Power-deFur, PhD, CCC-SLP, ASHA-F, is a professor in the communication sciences and disorders program at Longwood University in Virginia. Among the courses she teaches is public school methods, which focuses on supporting children’s mastery of the language expectations of the Common Core State Standards. In her clinical role at Longwood, she has collaborated with local school districts for service delivery. She received her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in speech-language pathology at the University of Virginia. She is a Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the Speech-Language-Hearing Association of Virginia, and regularly volunteers for the profession. Dr. Power-deFur has served as a state education advocacy leader and as a member of numerous education-related committees at ASHA. She is the ASHA 20142016 vice president of standards and ethics in speech-language pathology. Additionally, she received The ASHA Leader Outstanding Service Award for her 2011 article on special education eligibility.