Students Across Campus Collaborate to Role Play Evaluation Team Report Meeting

James M. Loy, Miami University

Before the meeting begins, the students are sitting at large circular tables, where each will be acting in the role of the professional they hope to become. Represented throughout the room are future school psychologists, special education teachers, and speech pathologists, as well as general education instructors. 

And they all have an important decision to make. 

photo of ETR meetingHere in Miami University’s Shriver Center, these students are collaborating in an authentic simulation of an Evaluation Team Report (ETR). Their job is to share their collective insights and assessments to determine if a fictional 7th-grade student named “Ann” is eligible for special education.

In real schools, ETRs happen whenever parents or educators suspect that a child may have some kind of disability. The evaluation process includes various tests, professional observations, and in-depth discussions before the team then decides upon an appropriate eligibility category. 

ETR meetings are common in schools today. But they do require the highly specialized input of many different professional fields, many of which don’t often interact with one another in higher education. For most, such collaborations don’t happen until they have found a job and are actually working in a professional environment.

“When we go to public schools, we’ll be working with occupational therapists, early childhood education teachers, speech pathologists, school psychologists,” says Tyler Caudill, an inclusive special education major. “But we never get that chance to work together [in college]. So when we go in the field, that can create problems in your first couple of years. Not knowing how to interact with them, or not knowing what their job role is.”

student explaining a topic to a groupSo this exercise is a way to introduce students to an experience most will inevitably have to navigate. But it is also about illustrating the importance of collaboration and communication, especially within the context of an ETR, which can affect the entire course of a child’s educational future. 

And problems can and often do arise when the isolating nature of certain fields create knowledge gaps that must be bridged. “It is definitely a challenge that schools are facing,” says Sarah Watt, Miami University assistant professor of educational psychology.

The work of a school psychologist, for example, is very different from that of a speech pathologist. And because of the confidentiality surrounding disability eligibility protocol, combined with the idiosyncratic jargon that is used throughout education, it can quickly become a very complex and confusing process, even for experienced educators. 

“So when a special education teacher talks about how a student wrote 15 CWS on a CBM,” Watt says, “it would be confusing to someone not used to those evaluation tools.”

Similarly, when a speech pathologist attempts to convey how a student may have a phonological disorder because they exhibit signs of fronting by incorrectly substituting the articulatory placement of /k/ sounds, it could be equally perplexing.

a group of students doing an exercise at a table“I remember my first ETR meeting, and I had no idea what to expect,” says Sarah Heimkreiter, Miami University assistant clinical lecturer and speech-language pathologist. “It was very overwhelming and intimidating. When I started here three years ago, one of my goals was to initiate this process. We also have requirements for our accreditation to have interdisciplinary learning experiences for our students. So this is a great way to collaborate and give students that experience, to be in the moment and learn at the same time.” 

After the exercise, both Meredith Orozco, a speech pathology major, and Kathleen Cavanagh, an inclusive special education major, found the ETR meeting to be the kind of interdisciplinary experience that would have been impossible to get from a textbook.

“A lot of issues came up that you can’t anticipate in the classroom,” Orozco says, which is also the same kind of applied learning that Miami always strives to provide. 

“It’s extremely practical experience,” Cavanagh says. “As a special education major, this will be a big part of my job. And that’s something that Miami does a really good job at. I have had a field experience almost every semester. And being able to go into those environments and learn is really, really nice.”