5 Easy Tips to Take Data: SLP Baseline Progress Measures
Data! I know some SLPs love taking and analyzing data, but I’m NOT one of them. I learned to do it well because it is vital for demonstrating student progress. I actually thought that I was good at analyzing data, even when I worked at an ABA program. Then I tried to apply my SLP skills to marketing for my store.
SURPRISE! I’m not a natural at data. Thank goodness, then, for the training I received in graduate school! Here are some questions to get you thinking and 5 practical tips to make it easier.
Why do we need data, anyway?
It is important to figure out ways to qualify/quantify student progress. While we need it to fill out Medicaid session notes and demonstrate the need for therapy, I’ve found it is even more important for our clinical techniques. Anyone who has worked with students know that every child is unique. Students with “normal” cognitive and language skills learn without specialized teaching methods. Their brains are able to make connections between concepts and retain information.
Our students with speech/language disorders and autism need more help along the way. But how do we demonstrate that our therapy methods are actually making an impact? And how do we know when it is time to make a change in our methodology? Data. Love it or hate it, we need it.
Over my many years of therapy, I’ve developed a large repertoire of strategies to help students learn. However, taking baseline measures and frequent progress checks are the only way to tell if your strategies work. Because what worked with one student may not be what another student needs. Then it is back to the drawing board to figure out another approach!
How to individualize therapy
It starts with thinking about each student and asking these questions:
What type of educational program is the student in?
A student in an academic program has different long term needs than a student in a life skills program. Think about what your students are expected to achieve academically or in life skills over the school year. How do their communication/speech/language skills need to improve to enable them to this?
Teachers are responsible for the curriculum, including the vocabulary. What language skills and learning strategies can we provide that will help academic students with continually changing vocabulary, topics, and factual information over the year?
Special education teachers work with students on necessary life skills. What can we, as SLPs, add to their communication skills to help them more successfully interact in varied environments?
But whichever type of academic program, we are always striving to get our students to reach their maximum potential.
What behaviors do your students display that hinder reaching full potential?
Inappropriate behaviors occurring regularly are communication. They may demonstrate a lack of communication skills or indicate a problem that needs more support.
We need to address any communication needs that underlie inappropriate behaviors to support students’ ability to learn. This holds whether you are working on social language needs for a teen to be able to interact appropriately in groups or teaching basic requesting skills to a nonverbal preschooler.
How can IEP goals and student needs be addressed in a holistic way to support learning?
It can be helpful to think of speech therapy sessions as having multiple questions:
- What materials will I use?
- Whose IEP goal does each part of the session best address? This is the best time to take data.
- When do I plan to model and elicit specific skills with each student?
- Where can I include previously taught skills to ensure retention?
- How do I carry out the activity to be able to address varying needs?
- Which parts of the session can can be used to address student needs that aren’t necessarily on the IEP?
For example, with one group you may stress listening and following directions to improve auditory processing skills.
Another group may do the same activities with encouragement to interact and ask each other questions.
Yet another group might be working on taking turns while completing the activities.
At the beginning of a school year, or as a beginning therapist, you may only be able to plan the first two questions ahead of time. But as your knowledge of each student and your therapy skills grow, you may be able to include more in each session to treat your students holistically. Those are the days we go home feeling great about how our therapy sessions flowed!
What is a functional application of the goals my students can achieve during this school year?
- Think about practical applications of the IEP goal. This is the real reason why we address the goal in speech/language therapy, not just because there was a low test score.
- Then, choose a functional activity that each student will be able to accomplish at the end of the school year.
- Get a baseline measure. Use either the end point you expect the student to achieve or the first step that needs to be reached.
- If the student accomplishes this step earlier, fantastic! Demonstrate the progress and take a new baseline measure! This is so much more positive than overestimating what a particular student may be able to do, frustrating the student and setting an unobtainable goal.
5 Tips for Baseline Data
In practical terms, what does this look like at the beginning of a school year? It is definitely a stressful scramble in the beginning, but if you are able to stay with the same type of population over a few years, you start to see some patterns and can fine tune your measures.
1 – Language Sample
Get a quick LANGUAGE SAMPLE (oral or written) related to the specific goals you will be addressing. Try to collect some fun activities that will accomplish this.
For life skills students, think in terms of play skills, communicative interactions, or language skills needed for daily activities.
For academic kids, find activity worksheets that require the language skills you will address. Student workbooks that the teachers use may have some application activities at the ends of units that you can adapt to use.
Then, put a copy these activity worksheets in a page protector. ,This helps with finding pretests and making photocopies more easily at the beginning of the year.
2 – Story Retell
Read a fun book and get an example of their STORY RETELL. skills.
Or ask students to tell you about their favorite movie, TV show or game. You will learn a lot about their language skills! Being able to tell a narrative is such an important skill. You might be surprised to find which students on your caseload have difficulty with this.
3 – Social Language Skills
Think about the skills involved in board games that you own. When your students play the game, take quantitative and qualitative data about interaction difficulties.
Group games are another good choice to let you see SOCIAL LANGUAGE SKILLS in action. Check out this link for an extensive list of kids games and directions for how to play them.
Teachers are your best resource for learning about your students’ difficulties in group settings. Talk to them, or use these checklists.
4 – Open Ended Games
Take baseline performance data from a material you won’t use regularly to teach the skills. It could be as simple as having a separate set of questions or task cards that only assess performance.
OPEN ENDED GAMES are wonderful for this, since you can take measures on a different skill for each student in the group. While this packet has its own task cards, my students love this set of game boards since the characters look like the ones in games!
5 – Functional Life Skills
Put some thought into the materials that you will use with your students in more restricted educational placements. Make sure that the vocabulary and language relate to a FUNCTIONAL LIFE SKILL! Since it takes more step by step practice for life skills students with autism to learn, you want to be sure that you are building toward communication skills that will be used in everyday activities. Teacher input and observations of the student in the school environment are essential to help you do this.
After one set of materials using the targeted skills is learned, use a different yet similar set of materials. This gives more practice while expanding student use of the skills. My File Folder Sentence Activities for Autism are one way to do this. Click here to see a post on how to make your own, or try out the ready made materials to save yourself a lot of time.
Your baseline data will be what the student can communicate the first time you use the set. Then, regular data taking will show whether progress is being made.
FREE Data Sheets
Easy to use data sheets can also help, so enjoy this free set!
Watch how easily data taking becomes as you try out these tips. Hope it is a year full of progress!