Eligibility determinations for speech and language services in U.S. public schools: Experiences and tensions

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PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to examine school speech-language pathologists' (SLPs) experiences regarding students' eligibility for services in public schools within the United States. METHOD: Fifteen school SLPs participated in online focus groups to examine the complex nature of SLPs' participation within decision-making teams and describe practice experiences in U.S. schools. SLPs worked in one to 10+ schools serving students from pre-K through 12th grade. Data were analyzed using Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT; Engeström, 2015). RESULTS: School SLPs' practice is impacted by rules, community, and division of labor in schools. Participants discussed the following: culture of the work setting, interaction between team members, desire to assist families and children, knowledge of regulations, evaluation practices, and the impact of poverty, and cultural and linguistic differences. Nine major tensions were identified: need for greater SLP empowerment and advocacy, documentation of educational impact, complexities of students learning English as an additional language, concerns about evaluation data for decision making, SLPs' concerns regarding outcomes of eligibility decision making, overuse of speech-language impairment for students who do not qualify, parents' involvement in decision making, disagreement between team members, and administrations' adherence to rules. CONCLUSIONS: Within the schools, the CHAT framework was useful to identify tensions and opportunities for change at the individual and institutional levels, impacting team decision making for eligibility, SLPs' provision of services, and student outcomes. Acknowledgment of tensions and opportunities for change regarding students' eligibility for services may guide public policy; preservice training; and individual, local, and national advocacy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-198
Number of pages18
JournalLanguage, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools
Issue number1
Early online dateDec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2024


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