Mariel Solomon from ASHA is on the blog today, sharing more ways to help data work for you! – Natalie
As school-based SLPs, we know that data is vital to our decision making process – it helps us determine if a student would be eligible for services, what goals to write, when to shift focus in therapy, or meet the criteria for dismissal from services. Getting data takes time, though, which we don’t always have. There are ways to make the most of the data you already have or make data easier to get to show your value as an SLP and improve the quality of your services.
Let’s start by thinking about data as internal data and external data.
Internal data can be described as the information you collect directly from your students and how you determine that they’re making progress. You know that your work as an SLP makes a difference in your students’ lives, but sometimes, people outside of the profession may need a little help to realize that your work matters. You can use data to show that your interventions result in a student’s academic or social progress and reveal the value of SLP intervention.
Reviewing individualized data can also help you figure out if it’s time to explore a different treatment approach or service delivery model. For example, some students with speech sound disorders in weekly groups aren’t making as much progress as you would like. Looking at the collected data, you notice that school holidays and field trips make it difficult to see that group of students. Would shorter, more frequent sessions be more effective than weekly, 30-minute groups in improving articulation for this group of students? That’s where external data can come into play.
Sometimes you also need external data, collected from research articles, to show your value or for quality improvement. Clinical practice guidelines and consumer resources can show the value of an SLP. In a clinical practice guideline, a group of experts often use research evidence to make recommendations about the management of a disorder. Guidelines from other disciplines recommending SLP services (like a group of doctors recommending SLP assessment) give weight to your contributions on a multidisciplinary team. Consumer resources like Talking About a Generation show how speech and language problems can affect long-term outcomes, such as health and socioeconomic status, which can demonstrate a need for SLP services.
Remember that question earlier: “Would shorter, more frequent sessions be more effective than weekly, 30-minute groups in improving articulation for a group of students?” This question is about quality improvement so that your students can make progress. Systematic reviews, meta-analyses, or data collection systems like the Pre-Kindergarten National Outcomes Measurement System (Pre-K NOMS), can help you answer those quality improvement questions. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are types of evidence that gather and assess a body of scientific studies related to a clinical question, then investigate how much the evidence supports various diagnostic or treatment approaches. Time-saving online tools like the ASHA Evidence Maps house systematic reviews that are already appraised for quality and with summarized key findings. The Evidence Maps even has a ‘Service Delivery’ filter (pictured) to easily what the evidence says about more frequent sessions.
ASHA developed Pre-K NOMS as a voluntary data collection system to demonstrate the value of SLP services for children (3 to 5 years old) with communication and swallowing disorders. The Pre-K NOMS National Data Report summarizes findings from NOMS data collected in healthcare and school settings. You can see how various aspects of SLP services (like total hours of treatment) influence changes on the Functional Communication Measures (FCMs), a series of seven-point rating scales used to capture an individual’s changes in functional communication and/or swallowing abilities. What’s great about the national report is that it’s freely available to all ASHA members even if you’re not a NOMS participant!
Back to our question about frequency of sessions. In the national data report, the Articulation/Intelligibility FCM summary reveals how more sessions and hours of treatment lead to greater improvement in the FCM. Since this report uses real-life clinician data, it can be paired with scientific studies to confirm that the results of the studies are trustworthy.
Beyond the data
Data can be great, but sometimes it only tells part of the story.
Let’s look at an example: data from an evaluation may show that a student has problems with grammatical forms. From the data alone, it looks like this student qualifies for SLP services. But what the data can’t tell you is that the student is an English Language Learner. That affects how you look at and interpret the data. You need consider the student’s home language and its influence on English and determine if there are language concerns in his home language. According to ASHA’s definition of evidence-based practice, data should be considered with clinical expertise and client perspectives (even though you may need to prioritize one of the components over the others). The webpages on evidence-based practice and making a clinical decision can help you make the most of the data you have.
Mariel Solomon, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinical research associate for ASHA’s National Center for Evidence-Based Practice in Communication Disorders (N-CEP), where she focuses on pediatric speech-language pathology topics for resources such as the ASHA Evidence Maps. Prior to working at ASHA, she was a clinician in a variety of school settings, ranging from early intervention to post-secondary education services. For questions or comments, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.