01 February 2010

Assessing with the CESS - the Classroom Evaluation of Salutatory Speech

I've never told you much about some of the things I've come across in my work as a speech pathologist.  I have been concerned that even though I would obviously be changing names and protecting anonymity, that I would be somehow doing people an ethical disservice by telling their stories. 

But I think that there are a few stories I can tell in a way so as not to make fun of the communicatively vulnerable, so I will attempt a series of posts called The Speech Files.

This first story does not tell the story of the communicatively vulnerable, it involves a primary school principal and his on-the-spot speech assessment.

During my time working within schools as the itinerant speech pathologist, at any one time my caseload consisted of between 15 and 19 individual schools.  Service provision in this framework meant that each school saw me for a few hours a fortnight and school staff and families were required to provide follow-up work in between my visits.  Understandably, school principals were keen to make sure my time at their school was used wisely.

On a typical visit to one of my schools, the Year 3 teacher was away.  This was a little frustrating for me, as he had nominated one of his students to fill an assessment place (where I carry out an assessment of the student's speech and language skills and provide recommendations) and he hadn't left instructions with his replacement regarding where the official referral form was, nor which student I was to see.

The principal was nearing retirement age.  He was a small but fierce man who dragged respect from students and staff alike.  But I had to see him to ask if the referral form was in the school office, or if he knew which student it was who was referred, (not that I can legally see a student without the official referral or the signed parent permission form.)

I saw the desperation on the principal's face.  Panic!  He didn't know where the forms were, and he knew that I would not be paying another visit for a fortnight.  He was desperate for this student (whoever he/she was) to be seen as soon as possible, and attempted to brush away my firm resolve not to see the student without the formal paperwork.

By golly, this student was going to be ferreted out, and assessed by me, that very day!

He said, "Come with me to the classroom and we'll see if we can work out which student it is."

What was he going to do?  Look on the teacher's desk for the paperwork?  Look in the teacher's handover instructions to the substitute?  I had no idea.

I was certainly not prepared for an impromptu speech assessment carried out upon the entire class.

Please understand this.  Speech and Language Assessments are extremely well-researched psychometric evaluations that have withstood intense scrutiny regarding their validity and reliabilty, and their statistical analysis has been thoroughy tested to make sure that we are testing what we claim to be testing, that similar assessments will show similar results, and we can truy draw the conclusions regarding a child's skills from their performance on the test items.  It's big stuff, people!

The principal didn't understand this.  He devised an on-the-spot screening assessment right then and there, and from the students' barked responses, I was supposed to (a) pinpoint the exact student with the speech problem, (b) overlook the need for formal paperwork, and (c) assess the chosen student right away.

He stood glaring at the class of Year 3 students, trying to divine who the student with speech difficulties could be (or was it language? I wondered.  Or was the student referred for a language-based listeracy problem?)

"Right!" he snapped.  "Stand up, one by one, and say 'Good Morning, Mr Terry*' in a loud, clear voice!  You first!"

A frightened boy pointed to himself.  "Me?"

"Yes!" the principal hissed impatiently.  "Yes, you!  Stand up and say 'Good Morning!'  Go!"

The student half-rose.  "G-good morning Mister Terry," he said, forced into a sudden stutter in panic.  He sat.

"Right!  Next!" snapped the principal.

Stand.  "G'morning Mister Terry!"  the next student said, and sat.  And so on around the classroom.

Stand.  "G'morning Mister Terry!"  Sit.

Stand.  "G'morning Mister Terry!"  Sit.

Stand.  "G'morning Mister Terry!"  Sit.

Stand.  "G'morning Mister Terry!"  Sit.

At the end, there was an awkward silence.  The principal said "Hmm," and turned to me.

"Did anything strike you?" he asked.

Anything apart from the absolute lunacy of the total farce he has just instigated in the name of a whole-class speech screening assessment?  Nope.  Nothing there I don't think.

"I think I'd better wait for the teacher to come back and give me the referral form."

"Hmm.  Okay then.  Will we see you next fortnight then?"

"Yes, you will."

"Okay then."

And I took my leave.  To my knowledge, the CESS (Classroom Evaluation of Salutatory Speech) has never been standardised or published.  I think it may have got a rubbishing in a medical journal too ...

* - name changed


Emily Sue said...

You must admit, though, it would have been pretty funny to see his reaction if one kid had said "Good morning Mr Tewwy"...

Crazy Sister said...

Oh dear!

CraftyMummy said...

Can imagine the man in question - sounds like the guy we had when I was at school!

Long dark hair, blue eyes said...

Thanks Kate - that made me laugh out loud. I can just picture that happening!

Anonymous said...

I've been in similar situations - it's nice to be in such demand, but seriously much easier for all concerned when the impromptu assessment sessions are over!! Looking forward to further speech files Kate. Dani

Mamma has spoken said...

I'm still in shock as to how many schools you had to serve! I'm an SLP in America and I'm in ONE school full time with two other full time SLP's. Of course we do have special need students in that same building too, with a total population of 900 students. But still 15-19 schools! No wonder you only did testing with no therapy. Guess that wouldn't be so bad......

Jen said...

that's funny.

Tracy P. said...


Joy said...

Well you have to admire his git-er-done style. No government red tape for this guy.

Great story.

♥ Joy

veiledturnip said...

Some people have no idea. I would have picked the first child as he stuttered a bit!! ;o)
At least he wasn't too upset that you couldn't pick out the chosen child!