Adventures with Academics…no wait… Education

In the past week, I have had several instances where the phrase “does it impact his/her education” has come up. report card

The first, was a discussion I was having with my principal and a few teachers. The Principal mentioned how in one of her previous schools, an older elementary student (5th or 6th grade) had an /r/ problem and was not being seen because “it didn’t affect his education” since he had all As and Bs.

In another instance, a discussion was held in an online forum where SLPs were not allowed to help students with single-sound errors because it was “not impacting their education.” In yet another instance, in the ASHA School Based Issues list-serve  the  need for “educational impact” was raised.

What I’d like to know is: when did grades become all of education?

 When children come to school it’s not to learn academics. The teachers aren’t preparing them just for learning mathematics, reading, penmanship, and social studies. From an early age, they are also taught social skills, public speaking, how to present oral reports, collaboration, and (in a good school or with good teachers) self-confidence. These aspects are a vital part of the “education” process.  Don’t believe me? Okay… look here:

From the Common Core State Standards for 5th grade: ” CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.5.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.” 

Still not convinced? Okay, try this 6th grade standard: “CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.6.4 Present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.”

Now, since I abhor the idea of having to wait until 5th or 6th grade to work on an /r/ or /s/ problem, let’s see what I can find a bit earlier. Here’s a 3rd grade standard “CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.4 Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.”

I think I’m beating a dead horse with the standards (and I try really hard not to do that too often, so let’s change gears just a bit).

What does the profession have to say about “educational impact?” 

This is an excerpt from the Division 4 Perspectives. Yes, it mainly has to deal with stuttering; however, what works for stuttering works for articulation as well.

“In some cases, the student who stutters (SWS) may be viewed as a “slow learner” by the teacher and classmates because they are difficult to understand or they do not speak at all in class. For example, a SWS may be embarrassed to ask a teacher to clarify misunderstood concepts.” Insert “articulation error” for “stutter” and it’s still 100% accurate.

From the same article: “…the SLP can address issues of decreased participation in classroom discussions, difficulties giving oral presentations, decreased oral reading fluency, and reluctance to participate in cooperative learning projects. These children may be “passing,” but are not maximizing their potential.”  Hmm…there’s some food for thought. They may be “passing” but not “maximizing” so by NOT providing services we are actually causing detriment? Oh oh…that’s a discrimination lawsuit waiting to happen.

This is from the Division 16 perspective. It is specifically geared toward School-based issues. It reads:

“The Reading/Language Arts Content Standards for most states address listening and speaking skills or written and oral language skills. The California frameworks include “share information and ideas, speaking audibly in complete coherent sentences” (California State Board of Education, 1997, p. 5) and “speak clearly and at an appropriate pace for the type of communication (e.g., informal discussion, report to class)” (p. 15). Adverse effects would then include the student inability to achieve speech clarity in the oral applications of the language arts curriculum.”

More from the same article:

“In a recent IEP, a speech student volunteered that he didn’t speak up in class because of his speech problem. Some students are embarrassed about their speech. As a result of their concern about how they sound, they may not participate in the classroom discussions if given opportunity to avoid it. Many teachers grade students on their classroom participation. Being reticent to speak up in class could affect their grade.”

Perhaps most importantly is a critical element regarding education that is over-looked. The purpose of education is NOT to get them through grade 12 (are you surprised by this?). It’s not to encourage them to go to college or vocational school (say what?). The purpose of education is to prepare them for life and to help them become functional adults. Functional adults capable of going on interviews, holding down jobs, etc. From the time a student enters kindergarten we are working toward that end. By teaching a student how to “do” school, they learn work ethics, following directions, completing assignments, interview skills, how to become self-starters, how to advocate for themselves (which translates to negotiating salary and working conditions), independent thinking, etc. By not providing services to those students with single-sound errors, we are hindering their ability to become functional adults. 

Don’t believe me? This is from the Division 16 perspective again:

“An additional consideration of adverse effects due to poor articulation may place limitations on a student’s vocational choices. Education  provides everyone with a greater number of options in the world of work. If one’s speech  adversely draws attention to a person, careers such as sales, media, retail, and customer  service are a few choices that may not be considerations for a person with a speech disorder.”

One of the first things my principal thought of when she heard the student speak was “how was he going to get a job?” She had a point – regardless of whether or not it’s true, society views people with speaking differences as less than perfect. This is evident in the number of comedy sketches that portray people with articulation errors and the number of people looking for accent reduction therapy. People think it’s “funny sounding” and if two candidates apply for the same job, it most likely will not be the one with the articulation difference that gets hired.

So…the next time someone asks you “How is it affecting his education” look beyond grades…look beyond academics and look at his education – his life. If you can honestly say that not being able to say /r/ or /s/ won’t adversely affect his life when he’s an adult – more power to you. For me, I’m not willing to take that chance. I want to know I have done everything possible to help this student be successful in life – and if that means I advocate for them to be able to receive services so they don’t sound different from their peers….then that’s what I’m going to do.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. How does your school district help these students? How can we all advocate to get these students help?

Until then…Adventure on!



17 thoughts on “Adventures with Academics…no wait… Education

  1. In my district, impacting a child’s education includes the things you discuss. I think it’s interesting when I hear that single sound errors don’t qualify a student. I completely agree with everything you say….I feel it is my job to make sure that all of the students are good communicators, whether it is a student who has significantly decreased intelligibility or one with just a distortion of /r/.

  2. I agree with this article, and appreciate the listing out of the CCS that related to speech. I will, however, also point out, while I have no problems seeing academic impact for a student needing speech, I have also not picked up/dismissed students for a lack of academic impact. If the student has NO motivation to change, has a positive attitude toward speaking, the errors are not distracting, and/or only noticeable to someone really listening for it (see Van Riper’s original definition of a disorder), then I will point out the lack of academic impact. I do not relish the prospect of “spinning my wheels” seeing a kid that doesn’t even want to be there. [Just my 2 cents! :)]

    • I agree completely Kelly. If it’s not a problem for the student, it’s a difference not a disorder. If they aren’t motivated it won’t work. However, there are students who are never given the opportunity to try to change because of the lack of “qualification.”

  3. In theory, I agree, and am glad to see the Common Core Standards to back this up, but if I identified every student in my school that had only developmental or single artic errors, I would have to hire another SLA because of the increase of paperwork to me (which I can’t – they’re holding us to the budget – no increases). So what I do is, if the student tests out OK for everything else (during an evaluation) and only has artic errors and they are not substantial (clinical judgment here – I base that on whether or not the student is intelligible to peers and adults – if not, I recommend a 504 Plan) and are developmental, then I set the student up with informal therapy (Speedy Speech). I have yet to have a parent disagree with this approach and my district is thankful to have reduced paperwork. My goal is to provide every student with what they need, with the least amount of intervention and disruption. And, for them to have no artic errors when they go over to the middle/high school! I am new here and I have a couple of students over there that are still interdentalizing /s/ and one substitutes /s/ for /sh/ and her name has /sh/ in it!! I think that is reprehensible and totally preventable. I would be interested in hearing from others on this subject, as I think this drives a lot of our workload and costs in the school systems.

    • Thanks for the comment Pam. I’m a little confused though. Please know, I am not attacking you in any way – just curious about how things are happening in other areas.

      I’m curious how you are able to provide these students with a 504? You have jumped from IDEA to an Office of Civil Rights document. My understanding of a 504 is that it is a life-long document designed for those students who need accommodations due to life-limiting problems. How are you qualifying an articulation disorder as 504 worthy? Also, if a student is not intelligible to peers – wouldn’t it more than a single sound error – and therefore would qualify for an IEP? Since 504s are not SPED – my principal is in charge of them. How do you get your administration to do that?

      I certainly don’t provide services for developmental errors – but by 2nd grade there are no developmental sound errors. It sounds as though you are not qualifying any students for articulation at all? Is that correct? I find it fascinating how different school districts handle things.

      Thanks again for the comment. You’re comments are always thorough and intriguing.

      • My district, in the past, has provided 504 Plans for students with mild artic errors, so it was a challenge for me to change to this – I am spending most of my time getting kids OFF 504s because they are so inappropriate. The child has to be substantially unintelligible (severe CAS, for example) for me to consider this. The district only recommends an IEP when there are other factors – OHI, SLD, Autism, etc., not if there are only developmental artic errors.

  4. Such a great post. You gave us some valuable information to share with “the higher ups” and our fellow SLPs.

    I usually word my reports with something like, “this adversely affects the child’s performance in the classroom environment by impacting his/her ability to properly communicate with classmates and teachers. The ability to participate in active and interactive communication with peers and adults in the educational setting is essential for a student to access education and the extent of a child’s mastery of the basic skill of effective oral communication is included within the standard of educational performance set by the U.S. Department of Education.”

    Thanks again for this post. I think I will be able to make my above wording a bit “more tight” because of the post. I have said it once, and I will say it again, Mary ROCKS!

  5. Great article Mary ! I once contemplated how I could consider making a straight A honors student, with a mild stutter, eligible for services. Then in interviewing him I learned about his career aspirations. He was contemplating between a research medical doctor, tax lawyer, and/or software engineer…….still trying to decide which job would require the least amount of human contact. One and a half years later we have a new sports announcer at the football games, a student who is participating in voluntary stuttering (this was a huge hurdle), and a student with a whole new set of career aspirations. As mild as his stuttering might be it still had the potential to drastically impact his school participation and eventual life choices. I have learned to never underestimate the power a communication disorder can have on a student’s success. I am very thankful, I have an administration who fully understands and works with me to provide these students with whatever they might need.

  6. Hi Mary,
    I’m your newest follower!
    Thanks for the post-I love hearing other’s thoughts-especially since I’m the only therapist in my district! I totally agree that we should be providing services for these students. I think a lot of us out there get hung up on the idea that “providing services” equals “student being on an IEP.” This is just not the case anymore. An IEP, as a legal document, requires some sort of evidence that academic performance is being affected. So…for my students that are relunctant to participate because of their speech, like Erik, I simply list that and the supporing Common Core Standard right in their IEP (to prove that it IS affecting their education). However, for students that have only 1-2 sounds and are getting all As and Bs, I cannot legally justify that student being on an IEP. Does this mean we cannot work with these students? No! We still need to be providing intervention (according to RTI) when the need arises (please see my post We should be providing services to students based on their needs and when the need arises.
    Thanks for this lovely post and hopefully it will clear some things up.

  7. I may have shared this on one of your other fabulous posts, but here’s what we are doing in my district: if there is one developmental sound error, the student is seen “informally” for speech services, and not given an IEP. I see the students for 20-40 minutes a week and provide a home program for the family to follow. If the student has multiple errors or phonological processes, they are given an IEP at my discretion (as long as it’s a speech only student). My rationale for this is that mild artic kids should only need intervention for a short time, so this allows me to pick kids up, work with them, and continue to monitor them without holding a meeting every time something changes (i.e. wanting to scale back the frequency with which I see them, changing over to monitor them during a time when I am in the classroom, etc.). However, some of the kids that have multiple errors/phonological disorders are difficult to understand, and that does impact them educationally- it decreases their ability to be understood by adults and peers, which can lead to social/emotional concerns. I use something similar to Erik’s line, but I think I’ll borrow some from him now! I also have my kids that end up with writing difficulty because of their phono disorder (e.g. writing “hab” for “have”), which is an educational impact.

    Of course, this creates a smaller caseload overall with a higher workload. Great for the RtI model, not so great when it comes to hard numbers! And I can’t help but wonder what will happen in 2 years when part of my evaluation will depend on student performance. Will I want my caseload kids to be the more complex kids that will probably be in speech for years, or will I want some kids I can dismiss quickly to look more productive? It sounds terrible to say now, but at least in my state, the evaluation process has become a hot topic, and I’m sure we will eventually have that discussion. But that’s a post for another day!

  8. I don’t know if we’re behind the times here or ahead…. but I still see kids even for one sound error. However, I am starting to see kids under Intervention and not IEP for a while for these “one sounders”

  9. Great post, and I certainly agree with your educational impact indicators. In WI, not only does there have to be a significant educational, social, or emotional impact and the sound(s) being past developmental ppropriateness but also sound errors have to significantly affect intelligibility. That last eligibility piece can be difficult to document since “distracting to the listener” isn’t the same as intelligibility. The word SIGNIFICANT is contained within our three-pronged eligibility twice.

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