Executive Function – What is it, and why do SLPs need to know about it?

According to Dawson and Guare(2010), Executive function refers to “high-level cognitive processes required to plan and direct activities, including task initiation and follow-through, working memory, sustained attention, performance monitoring, inhibition of impulses, and goal-directed behavior (p. vii).”  I had the opportunity this month to listen to Dr. Elaine Fletcher-Janzen talk about executive functioning and how it impacts student learning.  Executive function can be divided into 2 categories – meta-cognition (which includes meta-linguistics) and behavioral regulation.  We’ve talked a lot in our field about meta-linguistics, and I couldn’t stop thinking, “How do executive functions and language interact?”  And after a day of training, my answer was, “A LOT!”  I also started to do some looking at research, and here’s what I found.  Hungerford and Gonyo (2007) looked at scores on the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) to see if they predicted scores on the CELF-4 for students referred for language testing.  They found that the BRIEF predicted working memory, receptive language, language content, and core language scores on the CELF-4.  They didn’t find that it predicted expressive language; however, the researchers thought that it wasn’t predicted because the CELF-4 looked primarily at language at the sentence level, and limited executive functions were needed at that level.  Singer and Bashir (1999) reported that, “Metacognitive strategies, by and large, consist of routines that are mediated with language (p. 267).”  In their case study with George, they found that teaching him executive functioning strategies, his language skills grammatical structure and cohesive ties improved without direct intervention.

Dr. Fletcher-Janzen made the statement, “Teach executive functions from the top down.  Demand organization and then help them organize.”  This made me think about narrative-based interventions – are these interventions so successful in the research because they support student executive functioning skills, too?  Do they support student organization of language which, in turn, helps students support their understanding of language?

So, as you are planning you next therapy session, ask yourself these questions:  Am I teaching language top down and helping children learn how to scaffold their own learning? Or am I teaching discrete skills and expecting my students to generalize?


Dawson, P. and Guere, R. (2010).  Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents:  A Practical Guide to Assessment and Intervention.  New York:  Guilford Press.

Hungerford, S. and Gonyo, K. (2007).  Relationships Between Executive Functions and Language Variables.  Paper presented at the American Speech Language Hearing Association Conference, 2007.

Singer, B.D. & Bashir, A.S. (1999). What are executive functions and self-regulation and what do they have to do with language learning disorders? Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 30, pp. 256-273.

2011-2012 STAAR Accommodations Update #4

The STAAR Accommodation Triangle is the new organizational structure for assessment accommodations for students with disabilities.  This is a much different approach than the organizational structure for the past and current TAKS Accommodations.

The TAKS accommodations are organized by the following four categories:  Presentation, Response, Setting, and Timing & Scheduling.  Even though all of the current STAAR accommodations could also fit into the above TAKS accommodation categories, you will not find any mention of those four terms when it comes to STAAR.

The Triangle
All of the STAAR accommodations are classified into the following three types: Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3.  The Accommodation Triangle organizes accommodations by type in accordance with the specificity of the eligibility criteria and the need for TEA approval.  As you move down the triangle, from top to bottom, the number of students eligible for each accommodation will shrink.  For example, a larger group of students will meet the eligibility requirements for the accommodations listed as a Type 1 or 2, as opposed to Type 3.

Accommodations by the Numbers & an ARF
There are four accommodations categorized as Type 1, eleven as Type 2, and four as Type 3.  It is also important to note that Type 1 and Type 2 accommodations do not require you to submit an Accommodation Request Form (ARF) for approval.  The submission of an ARF will only be required when a student will be using a Type 3 accommodation.

TEA’s Definition for Each Type
Type 1 Accommodations:  This type of accommodation is available for students who have a specific need and who routinely, independently, and effectively use the accommodation during classroom instruction and testing. It is not necessary to submit an Accommodation Request Form to TEA.

Type 2 Accommodations:  This type of accommodation includes the requirements of Type 1, along with additional specific eligibility criteria. It is not necessary to submit an Accommodation Request Form to TEA.

Type 3 Accommodations:  This type of accommodation requires the submission of an Accommodation Request Form to TEA. For accommodations listed in the Accommodation Triangle under Type 3, the appropriate team of people at the campus level (e.g., ARD committee, Section 504 placement committee, RTI team, student assistance team) determines whether the student meets all of the specific eligibility criteria and, if so, submits an Accommodation Request Form. Type 3 also contains accommodations that are listed as “Other,” which includes any accommodation that does not appear in the Accommodation Triangle.

For accommodations not listed in the Accommodation Triangle, an Accommodation Request Form must be submitted to TEA. The request must be approved by TEA before a student can use the accommodation on the statewide assessment. Any accommodation that requires the submission and approval of an Accommodation Request Form must be documented in the student’s paperwork as “pending TEA approval.”  Accommodation Request Forms must be received by TEA at least one week prior to testing to ensure enough time to process.  Requests sent after this deadline will NOT be processed.

FREE Webinar: Choosing the Right STAAR Assessment

SESSION FULL:  An archived recording will be posted soon after the live event.

How can you be sure that your STAARs are aligned and each student will be taking the appropriate test?
Join ESC XIII Education Specialist, Laura Abbott, for a 60 minute webinar as she reviews some practical techniques to ensure students receiving special education services are given the correct STAAR assessment.
Join Laura Abbott as she will…
  • unveil a single-page process for assuring that the appropriate assessment will be selected with confidence.
  • teach you how to make the correct decision based on instructional need, student history, and current student data.
  • discuss in detail the STAAR Modified participation requirements and the role they play in the decision making process.

WHO SHOULD ATTEND?  Administrators, general educators, special educators, and anyone else who plays a critical role in deciding the appropriate STAAR assessment for a student.

SESSION FULLAn archived recording will be posted soon after the live event.
This Friday, November 18, 2011 at 10:00 am CST

Click on the links below to access some pre-webinar information.  Both links are recent blog posts focusing on the STAAR Modified participation requirements and a sneak peek to Laura’s STAAR Alignment tools.
An archived recording will be made available to those who registered for the session but were either unable to attend or were placed on the waiting list.

NEW Expert Interview with Jonathan Winn

How does a brand new teacher quit after his first two years because he was so miserable, to come back to create the most popular class on campus?

Jonathan Winn, San Diego’s 2011 HS Teacher of the Year, did just that.  His passion for teaching was reignited by a fellow Algebra teacher; he studied, learned, and copied his way back into the thrust of creating a highly energizing and engaging classroom.  His passion for teaching and learning really comes out in the interview.  He shares his amazing comeback story, along with some of his favorite instructional techniques:  questioning, guided practice, checking for understanding, and most importantly how to help students believe in themselves.

Take the interview with you… Right click here to download the MP3 version.

To learn more about Jonathan, check out this video on Edutopia.com.

2011-2012 STAAR Accommodations Update #3

The following information will affect every educator and student on your campus.  Please be sure to share this Accommodations Update with everyone on your staff.

One of the biggest changes to the statewide accommodations system is the new Optional Test Administration Procedures and Materials document.  This document describes eleven procedures and materials that may be used during the STAAR, STAAR Spanish, STAAR Modified, STAAR L, and TELPAS statewide assessments.  These optional procedures and materials may be provided to any student who needs them, based on his or her needs.  The following list of the eleven procedures and materials will include some supports that have previously been considered accommodations.

Optional Test Administration Procedures and Materials for Any Student

  1. Preferential seating
  2. Signing test administration directions OR translating test administration directions
  3. Reading the test aloud to self
  4. Scratch paper or another workspace
  5. Reading assistance on the grade 3 mathematics test
  6. Read aloud the writing prompt, except for the English III analytical prompt
  7. Minimizing distractions
  8. Colored overlays
  9. Magnifying devices
  10. Blank place markers
  11. Highlighters or colored pencils

Decisions and Documentation
The decision to provide a student any of the above options should be made by the appropriate student decision team at the campus level.  The table below illustrates the appropriate student decision team that will determine the appropriate optional procedures and materials for a particular student and where the decision should be documented.

Student Committee/Team Documentation
A student receiving special education services ARD Committee IEP
A student receiving section 504 services Section 504 Placement Committee IAP
A student not receiving sped or 504 services RTI or Campus Level Team Determined at the local level

6 Critical Highlights

  1. Many of these procedures and materials were previously considered accommodations.
  2. These eleven options were chosen due to their close relationship to instructional best practices.
  3. The use of these optional materials and procedures will NOT be recorded on the student’s answer document.
  4. They are available to any student who needs them.
  5. The student should have successful experience with the specific procedures and materials.
  6. Every educator needs to be aware of these new optional procedures and materials, as they are available to any student who needs them.