How to Determine If Your Students Truly Master a Skill

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When writing goals, it's easy to indicate that the student has mastered a skill with 80% accuracy over 3 consecutive data collection sessions. But has he really mastered the skill? A few years ago I learned how to determine if your students truly master a skill. The student could achieve 80% over 3 consecutive sessions, but what if you were to continue another two or three sessions and he didn't achieve that percentage? Can you truly say he mastered the skill?

Mastery or More Work Needed

Cumulative accuracy is highly suggested for data collection with children with apraxia (Ruth Stoeckel, Sue Caspari), so my thought is that it will better determine if a language impaired student has truly mastered a skill. It seems that my language students will do well on a skill one day only to have forgotten what was taught the next time they come to therapy. They may eventually achieve 80% accuracy for three sessions, but using the cumulative criteria takes into account those days of poor performance. I know that once they have achieved 80% cumulative accuracy and are able to maintain it, they have mastered the skills.
Here is an example of a student who achieved at least 80% accuracy two times in a row 3 different times:
Now look at her cumulative accuracy:
If the goal had been 80% accuracy over two consecutive data collection sessions, I would have marked that goal as mastered. But, is it? This student obviously needs more work on this skill.

Google is a Timesaver

What is cumulative accuracy/criteria? It's basically a "running record" of your student's performance. I keep a record of how many correct responses were given as well as how many total responses. For example: if the student is working on multiple meanings, she may have 15 correct responses out of 35 attempts. I record those numbers on Google Sheets through Google Forms and keep a running record of the responses. I include a formula so I don't have to do the math; the spreadsheet does it for me. All I have to do is keep an eye on the final number to determine mastery over a certain amount of time. The beauty of the formula in the spreadsheet is that as more data is entered, the sums and the cumulative average adjust on its own.
UPDATE: Apparently Google changed something because as you add more data, the sums don't automatically adjust. I have had to leave blank rows and then insert the formula for the sums. If you have to add more rows you will need to modify the formula to reflect the additional rows.

In some previous posts, I demonstrated how to use Google Forms to make progress reports less stressful. With cumulative data, I just had to change the form to accommodate the number of responses instead of using only the percentage.
Is it necessary to use Forms in order to use Sheets? No, but I found that it's faster (for me, anyway) to just plug the information in Forms instead of having to insert a row above the sums and then take time to make sure I'm putting the numbers in the correct columns.  If your school isn't a Google School, you could easily make a spreadsheet on Excel with the same outcomes. An advantage to using Google Sheets is that once you put the formula in a set of columns, it remembers the formula and will transfer it to the other sets of columns so you don't have to insert the formula for each set.

Letting Google Do The Work For You

How exactly do you go about letting Google do the work for you? Please watch this tutorial and many questions will be answered!
Questions? Comments? Leave them below or email me at .
Other posts offering tutorials so you can work smarter:
Organizing Your Data for Progress Reports
Using Google Forms to Make a Therapy Schedule
Using Tasks in Google Calendar
How to Make a Chart to Report Homework Results

**Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google LLC, used with permission*

How Classroom Testing Changed How I Prepare an IEP

picture of a laptop on a desk with a piece of paper. Chalkboard in the background.
Be honest: Do you look over your students' classroom testing results? I mean, really look at the results when developing an IEP? As a school-based SLP, it is my job to support the classroom teacher by providing speech/language therapy to students who struggle. I have to admit that I've been very lax with looking at the results of the test that my students have to take a few times a year. I would print the results and stick it in the folder without a lot of thought. My school system previously used the STAR test to determine a student's progress for reading and math. We now use the iReady, which has changed how I prepare an IEP.

What is the iReady? According to Curriculum Associates, The iReady Diagnostic is an adaptive assessment designed to provide teachers with actionable insight into student needs. The Diagnostic offers a complete picture of student performance and growth, eliminating the need for multiple, redundant tests. Diagnostic results also set a personalized learning path for each student, ensuring they're working on instruction that matches their unique learning needs.  The test is administered via electronic device three times/year. After looking at several of my students' results, I'm hooked! I have been amazed that the results from the test correspond with the language test results.

Breaking It Down

Let's take a look at the results and how it will help with writing an IEP.
(Click on the pictures for larger views.)
The first page gives you some very helpful information. In this Reading Assessment, you can see that this student tested on a Grade 2 Reading Level. When the domains are broken down, we can pinpoint where the deficits are. This student does well with phonological awareness, phonics, and high-frequency words, but vocabulary and comprehension of informational text are in the red. Comprehension of literature is also a deficit, but not to the extent of the other two.

Now let's see what kind of information we get from looking at the results for the deficit areas.
First, take a look at the "Developmental Analysis". This student has a "serious vocabulary deficit" and there is a possible cause. In this case, it could be due to "second word categories and multiple-meaning words."
Next, look in the "Can Do" box. Don't dismiss this box when writing an IEP; it's perfect for writing the strengths! Of course, you can add to it during the meeting as the team is discussing the student, but this gives a fantastic starting point when creating the draft.
The "Next Steps & Resources for Instruction" intrigue me because it's what we need to focus on during language therapy. Look through and you'll see it's exactly what we do in therapy.
The Can Do sections also give great ideas for starting points in therapy. Even though this student is able to describe story elements and make inferences, the results indicate that she is on Level 1. Since the student is in 3rd grade, the level should be higher. Look through these "Next Steps & Resources for Instruction":

Are you understanding just how valuable these results can be to SLPs during IEP writing and developing a language program for each individual student? Goals and objectives (if needed) are right there, especially when compared to the results of language testing.
Lastly, take a look at the Information Text Comprehension results:
This student can do a lot in this area, but with support. The goal is for the skills to be done independently. How are we going to support the teacher?

The Correlation Is Surprising

I'm not a reading teacher (we have interventionists for that) but I do work on the language skills required for a student to be a proficient reader. Every time I look at a student's results from this test, I am amazed at how closely related the results are with my language testing. Almost everything is spelled right out. It is so easy to cross-reference the results from my testing with the results of the iReady.
I will say that I have had teachers tell me that they take the results with a grain of salt; they aren't convinced that the results are an accurate indication of where the student is in literacy. They seem surprised when I tell them that from my perspective, the results and the suggestions are right with my language testing.

How to Gain Access to the Results

I don't have direct access to the results; I have to contact either my SpEd Teacher or my Interventionist for the results. It only takes a couple of minutes for them to email them to me, and I am only asking for them as their annuals come up. As meetings are held strengths and goals are tweaked (as they should be for meetings), but these results give the team an excellent starting point in the development of an IEP. An added plus is that it definitely helps with individualizing the IEP since the results are individualized.
To answer my own question posed at the beginning of this post: In the past, I didn't really look at the results, but you can bet I do now. The classroom teachers may not be completely on board with the information, but I think it is invaluable to SLPs.
How would you answer my question? What testing does your school system use to determine progress in reading?
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Education Law: Does It Make You Nervous or Fascinated?

Scrabble pieces scattered on table with the word "Law" in the middle
Disclaimer: This post by no means is meant to be viewed as legal advice. I am not an attorney, nor am I an expert on social media. This post should be viewed as a summary of key takeaways from a presentation by an attorney who practices law in the State of Tennessee.

Education law: Does it make you nervous or fascinated? It makes some people nervous to the point of being scared of it. Personally, I find it fascinating. Maybe it's because I'm a definite rule-follower. I want to do things right; I don't want to get in trouble! Our SpEd Attorney spoke to the Special Ed Teachers in my school system and gave us a lot of information in a very non-threatening but informative way. I think his initial plan was to split the 3 areas he spoke on in equal parts; however, he ended up spending a lot of time on the subject of social media.

Social Media can be a good thing

Social media can be such a good thing when used in the right way. We have to remember that we are employees, and everything we do can be viewed as a reflection on our employers and our profession. How many of us have gained ideas to help our therapy through social media? I don't think I would know what new things are happening in the world of Speech-Language Pathology without it. With social media, we have to be aware of the law in order to protect ourselves and our students.

1. Defining the line between concern and involvement

This is not pertaining to social media per se, but our former attorney told us not to give out our personal numbers to parents or "friend" them on social media. Their number one interest is their child, and even though they may be your "best friends", there may come a point when mama bear protects her cubs and shows her claws, as well she should. You have to remember that you are working for their children, not to be their friend. I see teachers who are just starting out in education talking about texting/messaging their parents and I inwardly cringe. In all my years in this profession, I have only given out my number maybe 3 times. Even then, it was only in emergency situations (like having to reschedule a meeting due to inclement weather). I don't accept friend requests from parents or TAs. My undergraduate program trained us well in the art of separating our professional life from our personal life. We were told over and over not to get too personally involved in our students. There is a fine line between being concerned and involved; experience will help you out with defining and not crossing that line.

2. Be familiar but careful

Our attorney ("our" being my school system's special education dept.) indicated that 68% of adults have a Facebook account and the largest growing demographic of social media is women over 55. Our students are on it so it's imperative that we at least have a working knowledge of it. Did you know that when you close Facebook without logging out the site continues to "mine" what sites you're going to? That's how those ads you see are pertinent to you. I think Snapchat may be a thing of the past (at least with my demographics it is). I remember one of my sons telling me about it and mentioning that the picture "goes away" after so many seconds. WRONG. All posts are kept on a server for data or ad targeting. 
Almost everyone I know is on some form of social media. In my opinion, parents are the most vocal. On Facebook, my community has a "speak out" group, and believe me, they DO speak out. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don't. As a school employee, I would think it would be very difficult to restrain from making comments. I haven't ever looked at that group but have heard about some of the postings. I feel very positive that some administrators have had to contact parents to request posts be removed or, at the very least, retracted. 

3. Know your school district's social media/cell phone policy

For your own protection, take a look at your school district's social media and cell phone policy. If you don't know where to find it, ask your administrator. If you don't understand it or need clarification, ask your administrator. 
The attorney presented 3 different scenarios concerning students and discussed whether there are infractions. In the first case, a student is using social media during class. Disciplining the student should be referred to the school's policy on cell phone usage during school hours. (The students should be aware and understand the school policies.) 
In the second case, the student insults the teacher on Facebook. This boils down to when it was posted.  According to the attorney, if it was posted during school hours or during a school event, it can be compared to the student verbalizing the insult to the teacher and the student may be disciplined accordingly. If it is posted after school hours, nothing can be done. In 2017, EducationDive posted an article on this subject. The court ruled that what the students do in their time away from school is not the school's business. You can read more here.
In scenario 3, a student threatens another student online. In this case, please look at your state's policies/laws. In my state, cyber threatening is a zero-tolerance offense. 
He also presented 3 situations specific to school employees. First bottom line: don't post anything during school hours. I know there are times when I will schedule something to be posted, but in order for these posts to go live, I have to actually get on Instagram for it to be posted. I can schedule Facebook and Twitter posts to automatically post and (if I had it) I could schedule Instagram posts to be automatically scheduled through a program. I am assuming that if investigated enough, there would be evidence that I scheduled a post during school hours and didn't actually access social media at school. The second scenario has an employee blasting teacher pay online. Apparently, this is okay, as long as a specific person or administrator is not named. I'm not sure why anyone would ever even think about doing this last scenario, but apparently, it's happened: an employee insults a student on Facebook. The attorney said there are 3 laws on confidentiality: State, FERPA, and IDEA.  Information that is protected under FERPA: birthdates, addresses, grades, scores, discipline, and health. Honestly, I would think it would be better just to hold your tongue (or fingers in this case) and just be quiet.

4. Parents and Social Media

About parents and social media use: The parent is allowed to discuss his child's grades online. He is also allowed to call the teacher various names on Facebook (freedom of speech). That being said, if the parent states untruths about the teacher or insults the teacher (such as saying the teacher can't teach & is having an affair with a colleague or administrator), the teacher can sue the individual but not through the school system. This (according to our attorney) would be a personal matter. 
We, as educators, need to know that if a parent abuses their child on social media it is our duty to report this. Find out your district's policy on reporting abuse and follow it. Our attorney said that if we file a criminal complaint with police it will not be anonymous; however, if DCS (or your state's children services department) is contacted, you can say the report is anonymous but make sure you ask for the intake number and write it down. When giving a report, keep emotions out of it and only state the facts. 

What about "Freedom of Speech"?

While reading different cases of teachers being terminated due to social media posts, I noticed that the 1st Amendment was referred to. In the article "Facebook Fired", Kimberly W. O'Connor, Gordon B. Schmidt, March 2015 (Sage Journals), Pickering v. Board of Education (1968) was cited. A teacher was fired because he wrote a letter to the editor criticizing "allocation of funds between academics and athletics". The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this subject is a matter of public concern; therefore, Pickering's 1st Amendment Rights were protected. 
The research article goes on to say that if the person is speaking as an employee (in our case, as our district's employee) we are not covered by the 1st Amendment. Further reading of the article convinces me that our best defense is to say nothing about students in our posting on social media. 
Not at school or at a school event? It doesn't matter. Cases have been heard that have supported the school district's disciplinary action against an employee. Personal blog? Doesn't matter. If you have a personal blog and post school-related remarks you could be held liable. 

It's just not fair!

You may be thinking to yourself: This just isn't fair. Why, as a school employee, am I held to a higher standard in my personal life than people in the corporate world? Think about it: throughout the history of education, teachers have been held to a higher standard. In the infancy of our country, teachers were fired for doing things that were considered "immoral" for that time. In the 1800's, the rules were pretty specific:
They were a little more specific in 1915:
List of rules for teachers from 1915
From Open Culture
As school employees, we shape little ones' lives. During the school week, the students are in school more than they are at home. They look up to each of us, no matter what our role in the school is. Maybe it's just me being Old School, but it just seems right to me. 

Don't be nervous by education law. Educate yourself, ask questions, and just follow the law. Keep your students and their parents off of social media and keep your comments (both good and bad) about them to yourself. I don't know this to be a fact, but if you post something about a child, I would definitely have the parent look at the post first and sign a waiver. That being said, the best thing to do is to steer clear of it.
pinterest pin with scrabble pieces on the top with the word "law" in the middle; the bottom has the words "Educaiton Law: How does it make you feel?" on a green chalkboard background.

State Convention Take-Away: Finding a Bright Spot

Sun peeking through trees with grassy ground
Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels
Another state convention has come & gone. While this one will not stand out as a great one in my mind, the networking made it worthwhile.
I started the convention with a presentation with a couple of friends. We stayed up until 1:00 a.m. putting the finishing touches on it. In addition to the presentation, we had a booth in the exhibit hall.
3 women standing behind table with educational products
L to R: Me, The Speech Attic, The Speech Owl

Meeting & Greeting

Even though the convention was a little disappointing, there were definitely some shining moments. Besides hanging out with those two, we met and were reacquainted with other SLPs and grad students throughout the state. With the help of some amazing SLPs, we were able to give away a lot of therapy materials and SLP swag.
Products specific to Speech Language Pathologists scattered on floor

Using Music in Therapy

Another HUGE bright spot was listening to an SLP from Tennessee present on using music in your therapy sessions. We all know how motivating music is to our kids. Eva Hampton, M.A., CCC-SLP, encouraged us to use songs the kids know and use them to our advantage. "Who Let the Dogs Out" can be used for 'wh' questions and for the /h/. Or, take a popular song that the kids know and make up your own words according to their target. Older kids can make up their own lyrics to popular songs.
She also shared this really cool pie chart that she created to help illustrate the importance of home practice. If you know anything about me, you know how much I stress home practice. Every one of my book companions includes home practice; heck, just about everything in my TpT store includes home practice of some kind! Thanks to Eva's generosity, she has allowed me to share her chart with you:

Pie chart with explanation on how the chart was calculated below it
Not only would this chart be fantastic to stress the importance of home practice, but it would also be ideal to show parents when their child is being referred for additional testing. Once they can actually see the amount of help their child is receiving from the SLP, the parent may agree to further evaluation if they were hesitant before. And...if the student is getting less than 2 hours/week, you can tell the parent that the little red sliver is actually smaller than the chart. I can't express just how much I love this chart and how grateful I am that Eva took the time to do the math and make this chart. 

It's always fun to get away from school and be around "your kind" for a few days. You know what I'm talking about: people who actually "get" you and what you do. 

Do you go to your state convention? Why or why not?

Words, Pictures, Sentences, or All of the Above on Articulation Cards?

Picture of 3 cards with a picture of a coin; 1 with no label, 1 with the word "coin", and 1 with "coin" in a sentence.
I need to preface this post by saying this is completely my preference. To each his own when it comes to what we prefer in our therapy rooms! When it comes to articulation therapy, what do you prefer: words, pictures, or all of the above on your articulation cards?

A Feeling of Independence

Personally, I prefer the picture with a word. I've used Super Duper's cards for most of my career, at least since the company is been in existence. I appreciate the target sound being in red ink. I use that to talk about where in the word the target is. An added plus is that it helps the student with their reading. We will tap out the word like they learned in the classroom to determine which position their sound is. With the /r/, we look at the letter before the 'r' to determine if they should anchor their tongues for a beautiful vocalic /r/.  For homework with the older students, many times I will have them write the words they didn't produce correctly and take that home for homework. When the word is on the card they can copy it onto the homework sheet. This gives them a bit of a feeling of independence and doesn't make them feel less than adequate because I don't have to spell the word for them.

Avoiding "Robot Speech"

Once the student is on the sentence level, I don't want dependence on a written sentence. I want spontaneous responses in the student's own voice. I use Smarty Ears Articulate It! with my Quick Speech students. When they are on the sentence level I don't change the level; I want them to make up the sentence. If the student is not a fluent reader, having the written sentence under the picture may hinder the sentence being spontaneous. Likewise, if the student is a non-reader, there may also be some difficulty with being able to repeat sentences. I tell the student to say the sentence "like it's one big long word" to avoid "robot speech".

When a younger student first begins on the sentence level, I will say, "Tell me something about a _____." If the target word isn't used, then I will model their sentence and insert the target word. It usually only takes a couple of trials for the concept to be understood. Then if the word is left out of the sentence I will say, "I didn't hear _____" and the sentence is produced using the target. This is how I've done it for years and it works for me.

Where Repeating Sentences Appears

After the student is proficient at making up his own sentences I will throw in having him repeat sentences after me. This works especially well with my /r/ students. I have a book that I had to buy for undergrad that has sentences for every sound and every combination of sounds. The /r/ section includes sentences with multiple /r/ and /w/ sounds within a sentence. Once they are proficient with those I know we can almost say the sound is mastered.

I have friends who will begin the sentence level by generating the sentences for them at first; that's what works for them. Just to test this out, I had a student say his own sentences during Quick Speech. When he said his own sentences he averaged just above 90% accuracy. When I used the sentences provided by Smarty Ears, it dropped to around 75% accuracy.

As I said: To each his own! It's not that one is right and one is not right, it's what works best for us. Which is your preference: words, pictures, sentences, or all of the above on articulation cards?
Pinterest Pin with purple background & 3 articulation cards with the words "What's your preference for artic cards?" under. Title of blog post is in white on a framed green chalkboard background under the purple.
  • Get a full run-down on the steps I use during articulation therapy in this post.
  • Mommy Speech Therapy explains her process in this blog post.
  • Caroline Bowen explains Traditional Therapy in this article; she includes a slideshow for further demonstration.
  • Speech and Language Kids provides suggestions for choosing the appropriate speech therapy process here.

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