Working in schools can be a unique and rewarding career for a speech-language pathologist (SLP). By working in schools, SLPs gain a unique view of the role that communication plays in social interaction and students’ classroom performance. Each state has specific requirements for school-based practice. ASHA’s State by State page features specific information on issues such as licensure laws and state policies/regulations—so you can learn what you need to know in order to work in your state’s public schools.
SLPs play an integral role in education and are essential members of school faculties. They help students meet state and school district performance standards by assuming a range of responsibilities:
ASHA’s Roles and Responsibilities of Speech-Language Pathologists in Schools professional issues statement outlines the critical roles, range of responsibilities, collaboration, and leadership fundamental to school-based practice.
SLPs primarily provide services to students in special education programs, but they also support students in general education who are struggling. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal law that governs special education and related services to all children with disabilities, including children with speech and communication disorders. The goal of public-school speech-language pathology services is to remediate or improve a student’s communication disorder such that it does not interfere with or deter academic achievement and functional performance.
IDEA allows for the implementation of a Response to Intervention (RTI)/Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) model. Although schools commonly use RTI/MTSS, federal law does not require it. RTI/MTSS enables students (who are struggling in general education) to receive alternative interventions in areas of need. Such interventions determine whether their performance is due to learning difficulties or the need for differentiated instruction. School-based SLPs may play a significant role in the RTI/MTSS process. Some schools fully embrace the RTI/MTSS model, whereas others do not.
Salaries in schools vary widely across the country. ASHA’s Schools Survey provides salary data for public-school SLPs in each state. According to the Schools Survey, the median academic-year salaries for clinical service providers in schools, by facility type, is as follows:
SLPs can earn additional income by working in after-school or summer-school programs. Some states offer salary supplements to SLPs who hold the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) credential. Schools also provide retirement plans, health benefits, and favorable schedules.
Students who demonstrate difficulty in classroom tasks, fail screenings, or do not make adequate progress when receiving services through a referral process or RTI/MTSS model may be referred for special education determination through an eligibility process. The determination of eligibility for special education services is a multistage process that should answer three questions:
The criteria for eligibility and dismissal of services are based on federal, state, or local guidelines.
Service delivery in schools is typically conducted through individual or small-group sessions or in the classroom, in collaboration with teachers and other education professionals.
Caseload refers to the number of children you serve in a school. Workload refers to all activities required of, and performed by, school-based SLPs. Workload includes the time spent providing direct services to students as well as the time spent performing other activities necessary to support students’ education programs (e.g., documenting services, completing Medicaid claims, participating in meetings about students).
You can quantify your workload using the ASHA Workload Calculator to see how your scheduled work hours compare to your actual work hours. The tool serves as a talking point when advocating for a manageable caseload and workload.
IDEA and other federal or state laws and regulations, including the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), drive the documentation requirements in schools. IDEA requires that all students who receive special education have an Individual Education Program (IEP). The IEP is the blueprint for the services that each child gets and should include a statement of the child’s present performance level and measurable annual goals. These goals include academic and functional goals that will help the child benefit from the educational curriculum. SLPs must complete IEP progress reports, by law, at a minimum as often as students in general education receive progress reports. Usually, SLPs complete at each grading period, typically about four times a year.
Most states have adopted the Common Core State Standards as part of an initiative to prepare students for college programs or to enter the workforce. The standards encompass the areas of reading, writing, speaking and listening, language, and mathematics. SLPs should be familiar with the standards in their respective states so that they can develop IEP goals that complement and integrate the Common Core curriculum for their students.
SLPs work in partnership with others to meet students’ needs—often teaming with teachers, administrators, psychologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and other related professionals.
Speech-language pathology assistants (SLPAs) typically work in the school setting under the supervision of an SLP. The scope of practice for an SLPA is narrower than that of an SLP and is designed to support, not supplant, the SLP’s work. ASHA recommends that SLPs supervise no more than two SLPAs at a time.
ASHA’s Information for School-Based SLPs offers clinical and professional information and resources specific to school-based practice.