Service Delivery in the Schools – Is it Individualized?

IDEA mandates, and ASHA recommends, that special education service delivery, as well as the frequency and duration of those services, be based on the needs of the individual student.   We have recently heard a lot of information from TEA regarding “patterns of service,” again requiring that districts make data-driven, or “student centered,” decisions around service delivery models, and that service delivery decisions are not made for “administrative convenience.”  A new study by Brandel and Loeb (2011) in the latest Language, Speech, Hearing Services in the Schools, finds that nationally SLPs use a pretty limited range of intensity and service delivery models, despite the student’s severity or type of disability.

The study included over 1,800 SLPs selected randomly from across 50 states.  The study found that the average caseload of the participants was 50.72 students, which is consistent with the ASHA Schools Survey data.  The participants reported that 74% of their students received intervention outside of the classroom, while only 12% were seen in shared instruction in the classroom.  A few more, 21%, received intervention in a self-contained classroom.  When asked which features impacted the program intensity and service delivery models most, SLPs reported that they felt that the nature and severity of the disorder made the most impact, followed by the student’s needs regarding access to the general curriculum; however, the researchers found “little variability across disabilities and severity level with respect to program intensity and service delivery model (p. 471).”  A program intensity of 1 or 2 times per week for 20-30 minute sessions was most frequently recommended.  The researchers also found that caseload size influenced program intensity.  Further, students were seen in groups outside of the classroom, regardless of severity, grade, or type of disorder.  The researchers found that experience and year of graduation influenced the type of service delivery model used.   Why?

Well, only 25% of the respondents reported receiving elementary classroom-based intervention experiences in graduate school, and even fewer reported experiences in secondary classrooms.  Further, large caseloads may have explained the need to provide services primarily in groups.  Regardless, the authors go on to explain that “there are no efficacy studies that have evaluated the claim that 2–3 times a week for 20–30 min in group settings outside of the classroom is an effective service delivery model (p. 475)”.

So what does this mean for us?  We need to take a moment and think about why we recommend the schedule of services that we do.  Is it because “that’s the way it’s always been done?”  Or do we have some data to support that it works?  We also need to think about where we provide services.  If a major concern is our students’ access to the curriculum, then the curriculum is in the classroom.  If we don’t know how to do it, then we need to seek out colleagues to help or professional development resources.  For example, consider participating in my Wednesday Webinar Series – Classroom Based Language Intervention: .  Don’t wait for TEA to find a “pattern of service” in your SLP program – design it around the needs of the students instead!


Brandel, J. and Loeb, D.F. (2011).  Program Intensity and Service Delivery Models in the Schools:  SLP Survey Results.  Language Speech and Hearing Services in the Schools, 42, 461-490.

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