Governor Greg Abbott declared March 4-8 as this year’s educational diagnostician week and even with a shortage diagnosticians in the area, this week area districts took the time to recognize individuals that do fill those positions.
Sherman Independent School District Director of Special Education Kaye Allen spoke highly of the need to recognize those individuals for the work they do. She said the district was planning to have a special reception for them on Friday to celebrate the hard work they do.
“It is wonderful we get to spend a week appreciating these people,” Allen said. “They work behind the scenes. They don’t get a lot of credit for the important work they do.”
Denison ISD Public Information Coordinator Brian Eaves said while an educational diagnostician is a very common position, is also in short supply.
“As we have increased our special education needs to meet students, the need for diagnosticians grows simultaneously,” he said.
The increase in students being evaluated is in part due to an advancement in the way districts are learning about the education needs of students, Eaves said. He also said an increase in district growth impacts the need for more diagnosticians.
The average school teacher in the state of Texas has 22 students in one class period. The state mandates a 22-1 ratio for classroom instruction while allowing for individual waivers on a case-by-case basis. However, when it comes to special education, the case workers could be working with up to 100 students or more depending on a variety of factors.
Unlike school guidance counselors who only work with a student for a portion of the day, or teachers who work with a small number of students for a limited amount of hours, diagnosticians are working with their students even after they have left the classroom. Diagnosticians often have hard conversations with parents about a child’s mental health, learning disabilities or other life-altering conditions.
Allen spoke of the challenges her case workers endure saying it’s a tough job mentally but her people handle it well.
“It is a tough position to fill,” she said. “It didn’t used to be that way. With the number of students testing increasing because of state correction action plan requiring additional testing, recruiters are now seeking diagnosticians to sign on. We currently have 12. It does require a lot of long hours. They keep up with it. They do a great job.”
Allen said one reason for the increased demand has been more awareness by parents who are noticing issues early on. She said Sherman ISD provides support for children as young as three and follows them up to 22 years of age.
Denison ISD Special Education Director Lori May said Denison has 8 positions approved by the school board but only seven currently filled due to a resignation the district hasn’t been able to fill. She said that is despite the additional position she trying to get approved.
Part of the issue is training, May said. In addition to having a master’s degree, diagnosticians also need three years of experience before entering the specialized training program.
May said a lot of individuals who might be drawn to the position aren’t aware of its existence because it’s not widely taught at universities. Texas Education Agency Region 10 offers training but is limited in the number of people it can train.
May also said the biggest issue beyond training is once a candidate becomes qualified they tend to seek employment in the larger districts which can pay more for the work.
“They get burned out as it is a very tough job,” May said. “They are working on files on their own time. There isn’t enough time in the day to get everything they need together to make sure everything is done thoroughly. The burnout is high. They often have to continue training and end up leaving the field for counseling or administration positions.”
It’s emotionally draining as they have to talk to parents, teachers and administrators about very difficult matters, she continued.
Early detection is key in some cases to help develop a successful strategy for some students. May said it takes a whole team working with the diagnosticians to determine what works and what doesn’t for each individual student. The diagnosticians administer federal and state approved tests to determine what, if any, disability a student might have.
May said the number of individuals discovered on the autism spectrum has increased in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control have a report stating one in 59 children will be diagnosed with autism.
“Nationwide we’re learning more about autism,” May said. “It has been the fasting growing disability. We don’t fully understand why that is. To address the problem with autism have to make sure we are correctly identifying students. We have a dedicated autism team. They do a thorough evaluation with students.”
Denison has four elementary classrooms for children with autism, up from two in 2001 when she came to the district.
Sherman ISD has added over 100 students to its special education programs this school year. The district currently has 518 students under evaluation, 300 of those evaluations have been completed and May said the number of referrals has increased dramatically in the last two years.
“It is wonderful that parents are a lot better informed,” Allen said. “We are identifying students much younger. We are able to get them the support they need much earlier than before. We also work on vocational skills beyond graduation requirements. We want to help them seek employment to live independently.”