Effective speech-language assessment and intervention is critical to lifelong success in communication, literacy, education, cognitive and social development, and ultimately to employment. All aspects of practicing speech-language pathology require basic academic training, advanced academic training and clinical experience. There are no routine practice areas in speech-language pathology. Speech and language therapy, whether for articulation disorders or language disorders, requires the skills of a master’s level speech-language pathologist.
History of Emergency Licensure
The issue of licensure began approximately ten (10) years ago when there was an unwritten agreement to create an interim license, through the MS Department of Education, for bachelor’s level public school employees to serve children with speech language problems. This agreement was reached, at the time, to meet a short-term emergency need. The agreement was reached with the understanding that those individuals would enroll in a graduate level program with proof of satisfactory progress monitored annually in order to maintain licensure, eventually earning their Master’s degree in speech language pathology; the entry level degree required for a professional license.
There are currently125 emergency licensed personnel still serving children in the schools. These individuals have not up-graded to a Master’s degree and no more emergency licenses may be issued.
Need for Qualified Speech-Language Pathologists in MS Schools
Children in public schools deserve the same quality of services received by children in private clinics. Appropriately credentialed speech-language pathologists are critical to the provision of all speech and language services. The focus of licensure should be to insure the qualifications of service providers remain high in order to protect the public health and welfare.
Poor communication skills can interfere with children’s ability to understand and participate in classroom instruction and may impair his or her relationships with teachers and other children. Good communication is important for speaking, thinking, writing, reading and learning. Today’s speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work with children that have chronic disabling conditions and complex multiple disabilities. These communication disorders adversely affect their academic achievement and/or functional performance and this includes a myriad of diagnosed disorders from apraxia (neurological motor disorder) to dysphagia (swallowing) to fluency and sound disorders, to only name a few.
To appropriately diagnose and serve children and put them on the path to lifelong success in communication, a Master’s degree from an accredited program is necessary. Additional requirements include 375 hours of clinical practicum, passage of a national exam and a 36 week full-time or part-time equivalent supervised post-graduate professional experience. The academic and clinical requirements are indispensable for training professionals to perform process is essential to train a professional to perform appropriate clinical assessments and to provide treatments based on the highest quality of scientific evidence, appropriate to the child’s individual disorder.
Availability of Speech Language Pathologists
Mississippi is rich in its university system in that we have four accredited Communication Sciences and Disorders programs (Jackson State University, University of Mississippi, University of Southern Mississippi, and Mississippi University for Women).
From 2002 through 2007 Mississippi accredited programs graduated 244 master’s level speech language pathologists. In spring 2008, 49 students completed their programs. Using these graduation rates, approximately 293 Speech language pathologists were available for work in the public schools.
There are currently 798 public school employees practicing speech-language pathology. Of these, 125 or 16% are practicing with an MDE emergency license, required to be renewed annually.
It appears that there is no longer an emergency need for bachelor’s level personnel to be serving our school children. Rather, it is incumbent on all advocates of quality public education, to ensure that public school children in Mississippi receive speech-language services from qualified personnel. In fact, usng qualified personnel is a basic requirement behind the federal legislation, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
It is in this light that the Chairs of the University Departments of Speech and Hearing Sciences and the MS speech Language Hearing Association have reached a consensus and offer the following solutions:
To facilitate this proposal and to ensure that all speech-language pathologists serving children in MS schools are qualified to meet their needs, we recommend the following:
Formalize and enforce the five-year non-renewable provisional license, effective immediately, allowing the approximately 125 bachelor level practitioners to continue to work in the schools under certain conditions, including required supervision by a certified Speech-Language Pathologist, while completing a Master’s degree and obtaining their Certificate of Clinical Competence in the appropriate time frame.
A collaborative funding effort to develop and implement a distance education program to increase the potential number of graduates and upgrade the skills of the bachelor level emergency personnel.
State agency assistance in the form of a stipend to Clinical Fellowship supervisors should be provided so that new graduates are attracted to school settings. Additionally, the state could offer stipends for clinical practicum supervisors to assist the university programs in maintaining appropriate supervisory ratios.
Attract more qualified applicants to educational settings by offering state and local school districts incentives such as implementing caseload/workload models to determine caseload size, offer alternative service delivery models, loan forgiveness, and participation in Critical Teacher Shortage program.
Continue to collect data on the number of positions, vacancies, number of graduates to address any concerns regarding shortage vs, mal-distribution of personnel.
Maintain this working group by continuing to meet regularly to address barriers and develop short and long term solutions for personnel issues. Expand to include additional stakeholders and decision-makers as necessary.
Thank you for this opportunity to review the problem at-hand and propose realistic solutions that will best protect and serve our children in the public schools. We look forward to working with you to refine and implement these recommendations.
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This document was delivered to the Mississippi Department of Education Superintendent on Friday, July 11, 2008.
The authors of the document were:
Zenobia Bagli, Chair
Department of Communicative Disorders
Jackson State University
Gloria Brister, Chair
Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology
Delta State University
Lennette J. Ivy, Chair
Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders
University of Mississippi
Brett E. Kemker, Chair
Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences
The University of Southern Mississippi
Joy Townsend, Interim Chair
Speech-Language Pathology Program
Mississippi University for Women
Suzie E. Rosser, President
Mississippi Speech-Language Hearing Association