Persistence pays off in quest by language-skills expert

By Doug Snover

Kyrene School District speech therapists have some new tools with which to help elementary and middle-school students struggling with language skills, thanks to an $11,000 grant from Qwest and the persistence of speech therapist Diane Forbes.

Forbes wrote--and rewrote--the application that prompted Qwest to provide $11,000 to help Kyrene schools buy new testing materials for the district’s speech therapists.

A resident of Gila Springs and a speech language pathologist at Kyrene de la Paloma Elementary School in Chandler, Forbes said the grant was used to buy up-to-date testing materials that help her and Kyrene’s other speech therapists evaluate students lagging in language skills.

Some students suffer from what Forbes and other therapists term “language delays,” meaning they aren’t keeping up with other students in their age group in areas such as vocabulary and grammar.

Some lag in “the acquisition of the rules of language,” Forbes said. “Things that kids pick up naturally. Things like tense and the way we use pronouns.”

Children with deficient language skills suffer in the classroom and have difficulty staying focused on assignments or following directions, she said.

“They are struggling to communicate effectively in the classroom. If they want to make a comment or ask a question, it’s a struggle for them.”

The testing materials purchased with the Qwest grant money help therapists evaluate those students to determine whether they would benefit from federally funded speech therapy, she said.

Forbes said she works with approximately 45 students at Paloma who have language delays. Some eventually catch up, she said. Others are also enrolled in special classes.

Before treating students for language delays, the Kyrene District must administer a minimum of three standardized tests to evaluate a student’s problem, she said.

“Federal and state regulations require school districts to identify and provide appropriate programming for special education students through an evaluation process, which involves the use of standardized evaluative instruments.

Eligibility determination must be based on valid and reliable test scores to ensure accurate identification of Special Education students,” Forbes wrote in the grant application submitted to Qwest.

Kyrene’s previous set of testing materials was published in the mid-1990s and is no longer the most current test instrument, she said.

New test materials can be expensive.Using Qwest’s grant money, Kyrene paid $399 each for 20 sets of new tests. That’s almost enough for each of the 25 schools in the district, Forbes noted. The district also purchased several other test instruments, albeit in much smaller quantities.

“School budgets cannot keep pace with the ever-increasing costs of these new and revised instruments,” she wrote in the grant application.

“Left untreated, children with learning challenges are more likely to perform below their grade level, are more likely to be held back, drop out of school and fail to earn a high school diploma,” she added.

Forbes is just learning the new testing materials. But she’s pleased with the improvements she sees already over the previous tests.

“We do want to have the revised research,” she said, noting that private-sector therapists usually have access to the latest materials.

In an era of tightening school budgets, “I just think it’s so important that we start to build these business-school relationships,” she said.

“I would love to see other companies support public education.”

“Reliable current testing instruments, which accurately identify delays, are an integral part of the Kyrene mission,” she said.

“School and business partnerships increase available funding for our classrooms. The Kyrene School District is committed to providing quality education for all students and the Qwest grant provides needed support for our special education program.”