A Forum for School Leaders

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1 ONLINE SPEECH THERAPY FOR VIRTUAL SCHOOLS Shari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLP Jenny Kendall, M.A., B.S. INTRODUCTION TO SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES FOR VIRTUAL SCHOOLS By Shari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLP I m sure it is no surprise to you that the number of students enrolled in virtual schools is absolutely soaring, but you might be surprised at how fast. The most recent data related to the number of states that have enrollment in virtual schools and online courses shows over a half million students as of a year ago and the growth rate is about 20%. There is also steady growth in online charter schools. In 2011 there were 250,000 full time students enrolled in virtual schools. Compare that to just 40,000 in We are all feeling the growing need for special education services for the online student population. While there is no national data currently available, Pennsylvania s department of education reports that 12% of their online students need special education services. We know that there will be continued growth in the number of students with disabilities enrolling in online schools. Currently, the legal framework of IDEA does not specifically address special education services that are to be provided in a virtual environment. However, we believe it is likely that new policies will be put in place with the next reauthorization of that particular law. It is also clear that the federal government has taken note of these trends and it is investing in best practices in the delivery of special education services online, including speech language therapy. For instance, less than a year ago the federal government awarded a grant to the National State Directors of Special Education to establish a center for online learning and students with disabilities. This is a new initiative within the Center for Research on Learning at the University of Kansas. The growing enrollment in online programs isn t the only thing driving demand for speech language services. In fact, there are a number of issues impacting the delivery of these services, including a critical shortage of qualified Speech Language Pathologists, an ongoing issue, regardless of the venue. So online delivery of these critical services is one way to alleviate some of these issues, so that children can receive appropriate services no matter where they live or where they are getting their educational experiences. 580 Market Street, 6 th Floor San Francisco, CA

2 What is online speech therapy? It might seem obvious to you, but you would be surprised at how often this question is asked, even by educators who deliver online instruction. It works like other online instruction, using telecommunications technology to deliver speech language services from a distance. But, the big question most people have, even if they work in a virtual school environment and are comfortable with online learning, is whether speech language services provided remotely, online are effective. In fact, online speech language therapy is becoming a very well accepted method to deliver speech language services to students who attend virtual schools. This report will give you one special education director s view from the front line, so to speak, because as you know, the implementation of any new program has its twists and turns and its challenges. We asked Jenny Kendall, a special education and virtual school expert, to share her experience integrating online speech language therapy with the online instructional environment. Jenny currently oversees special education for K12 Inc. for 26 virtual academies. She has 20 years of experience with special education and ten years of that with virtual schools. ONLINE SPEECH THERAPY: A FRONTLINE PERSPECTIVE By Jenny Kendall, National Director of Special Programs, K12 Inc. I am excited to share my history with online speech language therapy and to provide you with tips and tricks from my first-hand experience. But first, let me tell you about K12, the company I work for. K12 started in 2000 and I joined the company shortly after that. We offer K12 curriculum online, supported with text material and manipulatives. We have 26 statewide virtual academies. At last count, 11.9% of our student population has disabilities. Some schools have a higher percentage and others may have a smaller or lower percentage, but on average 11.9% of our population are students with disabilities. We have students with traumatic brain injuries, autism, cognitive disabilities, multiple handicaps, visually and hearing impaired. So we have students with needs across the board and at all of our statewide virtual academies. Students are enrolled in K12 schools for a variety of reasons, and it is our job to meet their needs and figure out how we can take those wonderful regulations that define our basic services, that being IDEA, and find a grey in the language that can apply to the virtual setting that we all live and work in. I began my career as a speech and language therapist and fell in love with serving students with disabilities. I went back to school and became a special education teacher, and then years after being a special education teacher, I moved to one of the first statewide virtual academies. I was kind of a one-man band, providing instruction, leadership and guidance. I began serving as the special education director at the school. Now I am the national director of special programs for K12, and we have got quite a few schools across the country and quite a few different options. 580 Market Street, 6 th Floor San Francisco, CA

3 I began using online speech and language therapy in 2004 when I started one of the first statewide virtual academies. It was quite a challenge to find therapists as the school grew, especially in remote corners of the state. It was tough to have families drive long distances to get to therapy sessions, and there were weather issues. At that time, there were one or two providers that began to delve into the world of speech language telepractice. The classroom was completely different then compared to how it has evolved today. For families that join our schools now or have joined our schools in the past few years, online is commonplace. So now it is more commonplace and with new families it is part of our message on the front end and just the general acceptance of this nationwide. They expect us to say we are going to provide speech language therapy through telepractice. But it wasn t commonplace for our families that began using online therapy way back in 2004 who were used to driving to the therapy agency. For them, we had to say, let s show you how it can work and take you through a guidance session; let s talk to your existing therapist and see what she/he thinks. When we first began delivering online speech language therapy, there were some challenges and hurdles with the technology. In 2004, web-based conferencing tools were not so common. There were some downloads that had to be installed on computers. The responsible teaching adult or learning coach in the home had to install these products. And when they don t know how to do it, they would call the online or the telepractice provider, and that provider would talk them through how to install whatever the product is that they needed to install. They billed the school because they provided support and service. As a result, for the student who needed 30 minutes of therapy a week, it took the learning coach three hours and multiple phone calls to do the installation of different products. It got really expensive since that 30-minute speech therapy session turned into four hours that I paid for. That was the experience years and years ago. But now, there is better familiarity with technology across the board, from our learning coaches as well as telepractice providers, and there is a lot more support. The products come with white pages that tell us how to install, and there are pretty pictures with step-by-step instructions that explain what to do and if it s not working. This alleviates a lot of the technical issues for start up. Some other problems that we had were more provider-based. Going back eight or nine years, there weren t recording sessions and the progress monitoring tools were not as strong as they are today. When and if there was a legal situation, we may not have had the proof or the validation that the therapy was provided and that it was effective. So things have certainly changed over the years and they have been really positive. We are not seeing hours and hours of technology issues. The platforms that providers such as PresenceLearning use are so strong and so fantastic that we just don t see the technology issues and we see a benefit to the therapy that the students receive. 580 Market Street, 6 th Floor San Francisco, CA

4 When it comes to progress monitoring tools, I have no concern and would have no problem stepping into one of those process cases knowing that I have backups of the therapy of every session of every student s progress. I am very confident in the progress monitoring tools that are available in online platforms today. What about buy-in for online speech therapy? Way back when, it took some time to get the staff on board. Now, it is commonplace and I think what is so helpful to everybody entering a virtual school is watching the live therapy sessions with students or the recorded sessions of live sessions with students. You can get a really good feel of what online speech therapy looks like and feels like. You can also play around with the tools. I think that helps anyone new to online therapy and to get peers accepting and buying in. When you are looking at establishing relationships with a telepractice agency, you will want to be clear about your expectations of that provider. Ask them how long they ve been in business and what kinds of data they have. Ask them if you can try out their platform. Ask them tough questions about how they monitor progress. Be sure you have a contract that defines your expectations and your hopes for quality, progress and service for your students. The other thing that I think is hugely important to success with online speech therapy is communication and collaboration. What we have done is to work with large therapy agencies, not just to provide telepractice, but also to have meetings from my level to the CEO of the company. We talk about what we are seeing globally, across the board at all of the K12 schools, how can we work together, how can we can improve. There needs to be communication from the special education teacher, the speech language therapist, to the learning coach, and really anybody who is involved in the student s education. The therapist is the key member of the team, not an exclusive member that joins for 30 minutes once a week and provides therapy for the students and then walks away. The therapist is part of the IEP team and is involved in progress monitoring across the board. How can we better involve our online speech language pathologists into the academic realm of what the students do day-in and day-out? Part of the answer is preparing the therapist for your school and your model of education, but particularly those in the field of special education. We have a lot of lingo and language that is specific for special education, but then we also have lingo and language that is specific for our particular school setting. I say things like OLS -- Online Learning Schools. In the curricular area, we have something called GUM --Grammar Usage and Mechanics. But if I say gum you might be thinking of chewing gum like Trident, so we need to make sure our therapists are familiar with our language and our platform. 580 Market Street, 6 th Floor San Francisco, CA

5 We also have to provide support to the therapy agency, making sure that parent and student and the learning coach have an introduction to the therapy in the platform and to the therapist to be a part of that guiding process and really establish communication. Be very clear about how often we are going to talk about the therapy and what are we going to talk about. Be sure that if there is a problem with the speech and language therapy platform, that solving the problem isn t just between the learning coach and the therapist. The school needs to be involved too. If there is a problem and the learning coach and students are not meeting as expected for sessions, that is not just between the learning coach and the therapist, that the school and the IEP team in aware and involved. It is not a 2:1 kind of ratio. Success depends on a team working together and establishing clear lines of communication. In the virtual school, the responsibility for writing an IEP and for managing IEP meetings looks a little bit different school to school. Primarily we use a web-based conferencing tool. The student s IEP is pulled up on the screen and all parties are in attendance, including the therapist. Yes, the online speech language therapist is actually a part of that team and is required to be in attendance. It is a great time for the team to look at a student s progress and answer questions. The IEP is typically an annual document but hopefully it is reviewed on a quarterly basis on the same platform. It is important to give the team time to talk together to see how they can work together to meet the student s needs. Scheduling students in the online environment is so much more flexible than the old way and when I say scheduling, it s about the face-to-face component. Online delivery leads to flexibility. The therapy is based on a time that works for the therapist and the family and the student, so it is much more wide open than the traditional therapy. One of the best benefits of using online speech therapy is the flexibility of scheduling. The therapist that we work with from PresenceLearning and other agencies are fantastic. The many windows of time for therapy means students in our virtual environment are not pulled away from their general education and special education teachers. It means less transportation time and more time for students to work on academics and therapy. I couldn t rave more about the flexibility in scheduling. Sometimes I m asked if our students get to express their preference regarding having online intervention versus live therapy. I think any decision in regard to what would be developed in an IEP is an IEP team decision and the student is definitely a part of that team. The student s ability to vocalize their wants and needs vary student by student, but the student is definitely a part of that team. If our students express what they need, the school will work with the students and the family to honor that request. Ultimately it is an IEP decision, with the student being a key part of that team. There are times that face-to-face therapy is still warranted and necessary so it is really based on the needs of the students, the leader who drives that. 580 Market Street, 6 th Floor San Francisco, CA

6 Over the years we have had a few parents who did not want to be involved in online speech therapy services. A lot of times we were able to overcome this by introducing this method slowly, continuing the conversation. We promise the family and the student that they can try online therapy and talk about it and explore it, and can agree that it may be the best practice. But, if it doesn t work, we need to go back and reconsider, so keeping that open line of communication is critical. I have had a few parents that were slow to move, but in most cases, the movement occurred in a couple years and the families are now very satisfied with the telepractice. Sometimes it just takes time and really showing families that you are there to work with them and promising that we will work through it, and if the online therapy doesn t work, we can go right back to where we were with the traditional approach. 580 Market Street, 6 th Floor San Francisco, CA

7 About The Authors Shari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLP Shari Robertson, PhD, CCC-SLP is a Professor of Speech-Language Pathology and Dean s Associate for Graduate Studies and Research at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She has taught undergraduate and graduate coursework in language development and disorders, phonology, counseling, literacy, and clinical experiences for 15 years. Dr. Robertson has been an ASHA member for thirty years and is a two-term past-president of the Pennsylvania Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Dr. Robertson is a well-known speaker on a variety of topics across the country and internationally, including as an invited presenter at numerous ASHA Conventions, ASHA Schools Conferences, and ASHA Health Care/Business Institutes. Jenny Kendall, National Director of Special Education Programs for K12 Inc. Jenny Kendall is National Director of Special Programs for K12 Inc. She oversees special education, Federal Title programs, RTI and more across 26 statewide virtual academies and additional unique blended learning environments. She was previously the Director of Special Education for the Ohio Virtual Academy, a school powered by K12. Ms. Kendall has worked in the field of virtual education for over ten years and the field of special education for over twenty years. 580 Market Street, 6 th Floor San Francisco, CA

8 About SPED Ahead SPED Ahead is an opportunity for school administrators and special education specialists to catalyze discussions about new ideas and promising practices that help exceptional students achieve. With a series of free interactive online events and related multimedia webbased resources, we will explore answers to tough questions and shape effective leadership strategies for addressing special needs students challenges for literacy skills, scholastic achievement and peer relationships. About PresenceLearning At PresenceLearning, we love to see children thrive, which is why we are making the promise of live online speech therapy (sometimes called telepractice) come true. With the ongoing shortage of SLPs (speech language pathologists) and budget pressures in school districts reaching crisis proportions, innovative modes of delivery have become essential for giving children the speech therapy services they need. A large and growing body of research, starting with a seminal study by the Mayo Clinic in 1997, demonstrates that live online speech therapy is just as effective as face-to-face therapy. Our mission is to make live online speech therapy practical, affordable and convenient while providing an extraordinary therapy experience for each child. The PresenceLearning solution includes: access to our large and growing network of top-notch SLPs the latest video-conferencing technology the most engaging games and evidence-based activities time-saving collaboration and practice management tools targeting SLPs and educators Join the growing group of SLPs, educators and parents committed to seeing children thrive as part of the online speech therapy revolution. 580 Market Street, 6 th Floor San Francisco, CA

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