How Texas school districts ensure special education students don’t fall behind amid COVID-19

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 10,000 special education students in Texas are utilizing a new speech therapy technology thanks to a partnership with the Texas Education Agency.

AmplioSpeech, a digital tele-therapy service for vulnerable students, connects remote speech pathologists to kids working from home to allow a seamless continuation of learning despite ongoing COVID-19 challenges.

Speech-language pathologists tell KXAN they’ve had trouble adapting to the new at-home learning standards. On top of that, experts say that special education students are at a higher risk of falling behind their peers if their education is disrupted.

Families have also shared some of the challenges their special education students have encountered while working from home.

“The first couple of weeks were touch-and-go and we weren’t sure what we were doing,” said Ellen Kester, a speech-language pathologist and mother to a 13-year-old with autism.

Kester said some of the issues her son’s SLPs have encountered are maintaining privacy in group settings, maintaining connectivity to online lessons plans and ensuring learning accountability. She said that all testing has been put on hold, which could become an issue for monitoring progress if classes are to resume at home in the fall.

“I think that’s a really big deal for us to continue putting testing on hold. There will be kids who need services who won’t be getting them if we don’t figure that piece out,” Kester said.

AmplioSpeech virtually connects students with their instructors while also equipping SLPs with tools to engage kids, monitor their progress and schedule individual lessons for families.

“When we stop therapy, we lose those teaching opportunities,” said Julie Roberts, a speech-language pathologist for AmplioSpeech. “That’s how we are able to teach them skills and acquire the gains in the skills they do have.”

TEA offered the tool for free to the first 10,000 students signed up. Within 24 hours, more than 100 systems had signed up their students, the TEA reports. Even still, the TEA said there are a total of 250,000 students in the state who require speech therapy.

Austin ISD, Hays CISD, Lockhart ISD, Marble Falls ISD and Manor ISD are among the Central Texas school districts using the platform. Districts which have not signed up their students can still participate at a reduced rate due to the TEA’s ongoing partnership.

Do you have a story idea or tip? Connect with KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello on social media or send him an email to alexc@kxan.com.

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