To relieve its chronic shortage of speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and to allow the district to devote more resources to early intervention services, Sparta Area School District partnered with PresenceLearning, provider of online speech therapy services for K-12 students. By using PresenceLearning’s online speech therapy services, the district can allocate more time to early intervention services to shorten the amount of time a student spends in special education—or prevent it entirely.
“Our motivation for using PresenceLearning started with a pressing need to fill an SLP opening,” said Peggy Jadack, director of Pupil Services at Sparta School District and principal of High Point Charter School. “SLP shortages have affected both our schools and five or six other local schools outside of our district. The few qualified SLPs in the area are in very high demand and can’t meet all the schools’ requirements. We looked into hiring a traditional contractor for our speech therapy services but we could not find one.”
After partnering with PresenceLearning, Sparta Area School District’s three on-staff SLPs work with one of PresenceLearning’s online SLPs to prevent overflowing caseloads. Research published by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) indicates that large caseloads negatively affect student progress and contribute to high rates of SLP job dissatisfaction and turnover. Now, each on-staff SLP has a caseload that ranges from 40 to 50 students, in line with typically recommended levels.
Now that the district’s SLPs have more manageable caseloads, the district has the flexibility to devote more resources to its early intervention initiative, also known as “Response to Intervention” or RTI. Many students receiving RTI services have speech-language issues that prevent them from learning to read and mastering crucial language skills needed for all other academic areas. Early intervention helps diagnose and address these issues, decreasing the amount of therapy students will need in the future or eliminating it entirely.
“We have seen a real growth in the number of students coming into the district who qualify for special education,” said Jadack. “One of our goals as educators is to help students as early as possible, preventing their assignment to special education if possible. By implementing RTI services, we hope to address students’ issues early, enabling them to stay with their peers in general education, ultimately reducing the number of students requiring special education.”