3 best tips for writing a great report...and feeling confident at meetings

Improve your diagnostic reports and reduce report-writing stressors with our this blog! Covering essential report sections and how a well written report can help you in meetings. Read on now and take your skills to the next level!

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easyReportPRO Tips

By Michelle Boisvert

Are you a school-based speech-language pathologist who writes diagnostic reports?  We know how overwhelming the task can be, so we're here to guide you through it!  Today, we're discussing what needs to be included in a diagnostic report—from background information and communication skills to evaluation results, diagnoses, and recommendations.  With our help, you'll have and feel confident presenting that professional report in no time!

Tip 1: Know the Point
A speech-language pathologist (SLP) who works in a school will often be asked to write diagnostic reports.  SLPs might evaluate over 50 students per year, and these reports serve several vital purposes and must include specific and necessary information.

Diagnostic reports are written after testing and provide a comprehensive overview of a student's knowledge and skill level.  They are required to justify the "entry point" into special education (Panbacker et al., 2001) and happen every three years or sooner.  Therefore, SLPs must write reports objectively and accurately to describe the student's speech and language skills and the impact on functional or academic access.

Another reason SLPs write diagnostic reports is to document and track a student's progress over time.  For example, evaluations and subsequent reports are needed when SLPs discharge students from IEP services. By comparing current and previous standardized scores, the SLP identifies the student's skill level and how they compare to their peers of the same age.  Discharging students from services can often be a complicated and sometimes difficult situation.  It is helpful to talk to educators and caregivers about the "exit criteria" right from the start of the IEP process to help the team make informed decisions about when (and if) a student will transition off an IEP. 

Look out for our blog on using an exit criteria rubric and a team approach for discharging a student from services.  
Let me know when it's posted!

Diagnostic reports can be used to support medical billing, insurance claims, or funding requests.  For instance, by documenting a student's speech and language deficits, the SLP can help to ensure that the student receives the services, tools, and technology they need to support communication.

It is worth noting that these reports give caregivers, educators, administrators, and team members a better understanding of a student's functioning.  This information enables teams to make more informed decisions about differentiated teaching approaches, services, other referrals, accommodations, strategies, and treatment plans.  These reports are also a resource for all team members, providing a clearer picture of the student's communication profile. 

With so much riding on diagnostic reports, it is easy to see why these reports are necessary.  Moreover, all school-based SLPs need to understand the importance of writing comprehensive, accurate, and professional documents to feel confident presenting their hard work to team members.

Tip 2: Focus on the necessary information
Before you start writing the report, familiarize yourself with the format used for reports based on your setting, as this will help you know what information to include.  The format will vary depending on the school district or state, but some specific information should always be a part of the write-up.

For example, aside from the identifying information, a report for school-based speech-language pathologists should include the following components:

  1. Referral Question: Include the specific areas of concern and why educators or caregivers requested this assessment.
  2. Sources of Information: List the methods and names of assessments used to gather information.
  3. Background Information: Provide a brief overview of the student's demographic information, cultural background, and relevant medical history. If you have access to previous speech and language evaluations, note them here with the key findings.  
  4. Educational Background: Describe the student's school performance, participation in special education services (if appropriate), and any other relevant information, such as if the student is frequently absent.
  5. Description of Communication: Write a brief description of the student's syntax, semantics, articulation, and fluency within an unstructured conversation or language sample.
  6. Observations and Interviews: Describe the student's communication within structured and unstructured activities (i.e., classroom, lunchroom, and playground) related to listening, speaking, and social interactions. Include educator impressions if available. 
  7. Assessment Results: Report the specific assessment findings. Include the name of the assessment, a brief description and purpose, the results, and the interpretation.
  8. Diagnostic Impressions: After the results, provide a summary of the outcomes' impact on the student's ability to access the curriculum and any additional conclusions.
  9. Recommendations: List specific strategies and techniques to support the student's communication and referrals to another specialist.
  10. Treatment Goals: Write the proposed treatment goals and any possible associated objectives.  NOTE: Some districts may require this to be done at the meeting and not part of a report.
  11. Signature Line: The SLP's name and title should always be at the bottom of the report.

Want an example of all those report sections?  Click here!

Tip 3: Use the report to organize your presentation at the meeting

When SLPs have a clear structure to the report, they can use that when it comes time to present the findings in a meeting. The specific referral questions are an excellent way to start things off and follow up with something positive about the student. I typically mention something the student said or did in the unstructured times of the evaluation before moving on to the testing results.

Some SLPs and related service providers have recently used visuals in their presentations. For example, graphs or charts may display information in a way that is easier for caregivers and team members to understand. Although presenting at a meeting can be nerve-wracking, I do my best to be confident and speak clearly. I make eye contact and keep my tone conversational.  

When starting as an SLP, I would practice my report presentation beforehand and time it. The best advice a colleague gave me was to keep the report to under 8 minutes (depending on the extent of the assessment). Remember, initial and 3-year meetings are typically scheduled for 90 minutes, and there is a lot of information to cover, especially if there is a big team or a more complex student! Finally, I always offer the team the opportunity to ask questions.

If you're looking for more resources on how to write a diagnostic report, check out the references below.  Thanks for reading!

ASHA (n.d.). Eligibility and Dismissal in Schools.  Retrieved from https://www.asha.org/slp/schools/prof-consult/eligibility/.

Bhatnagar, R., (2022). Speech Therapy Medical Billing & Coding Guide for 2022.  Retrieved from: https://neolytix.com/speech-therapy-medical-billing-coding/

Pannbacker, M., Middleton, G., Vekovius, G. T., & Sanders, K. L. (2001). Report Writing for Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists.  Retrieved from: http://courses.washington.edu/sop/ReportWritingChapter.pdf

Sylvan, L., (2016). When It’s Time for Goodbye. ASHAWire.  Retrieved from: https://leader.pubs.asha.org/doi/10.1044/leader.FTR1.21092016.44

About Michelle: Michelle is the co-founder and lead clinical developer of easyReportPRO, a powerful software that helps speech-language pathologists (SLPs) create high-quality diagnostic reports quickly and easily.

Michelle's expertise in telepractice and technology-enabled strategies, combined with her personal experience of burnout and considering leaving the SLP profession, gives her a unique understanding of the challenges SLPs face, especially when it comes to the high workload of writing diagnostic reports. With this blog, Michelle aims to share her knowledge and experience to help SLPs use technology to optimize their report writing process, save time, and achieve a better work-life balance.

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