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Legislative audit: Dept. of Ed deficient in its requirements for speech, hearing professionals

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A legislative audit has recommended the West Virginia Department of Education be given two years to improve its continuing education requirements for speech-language pathologists, audiologists and assistants.

The speech-language pathologists, audiologists and assistant who work for the DOE do not have to be licensed by the West Virginia Board of Examiners of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology and are instead certified by the DOE.

The board has proposed, through a Sunrise application, a revision of the state code that would require all speech-language pathologists and audiologists employed by county education systems to be licensed by the board, and for speech and audiology assistants to be registered by the board.

A legislative audit determined that the DOE's 18 hours of continuing education requirements for speech and hearing professionals are deficient.

The audit recommends the DOE be allowed two years to improve its requirements, and if the DOE does not make the adjustments, then the Legislature should consider changing state code to require speech and hearing professionals employed through the DOE to be licensed by the Board.

The legislative audit found that 433 speech-language pathologists, audiologists and assistants were certified by the DOE for the 2011-2012 school year, but only 224 were certified by the DOE and also licensed by the Board of Examiners of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology.

The Board and the DOE have similar requirements for speech-language pathologists and audiologists and the same testing requirements, but they differ when it comes to continuing education.

The DOE regulations require 18 hours of continuing education per year, but it does not require those hours to be in their professional area to renew the certification. Twelve of the 18 hours for continuing education could come from any of seven categories, which include classroom management skills and student and program evaluation methods and instruments. The audit found that, theoretically, all 12 hours could come from just one of the priority categories.

The DOE requires 20 hours every two years, which averages out to 10 hours per year in continuing education, but the DOE requires a certain number of hours be obtained in the areas of study in which the person currently is teaching.

The audit proposed that the simplest solution would be for the DOE to require an adequate number of continuing education hours be devoted to the field of speech pathology.

The board's sunrise application, if approved by the Legislature, would allow for speech-language pathologists and audiologists to either apply for a Level 1 or Level 2 license by July 1, 2013, if it is accepted. That would require 177 speech-language pathologists and six audiologists to become licensed by the board, according to the legislative audit.

A Level 1 license requires speech-language pathologists to obtain at least a master's degree, and an audiologist must have a doctorate degree. But, the board's application would allow audiologists who currently practice with a master's degree would be grandfathered in as a Level 1 licensee.

The audit found that the board's proposal would create a uniform continuing education requirement for all speech professionals, but it also would impose additional costs in initial and renewal licensure fees for those who are exclusively DOE-certified professionals.

The audit found that most states do not require speech language professionals who work within the school system to be licensed or registered by their state speech pathology boards. And the audit conducted a DOE survey in 2011 that found a shortage of speech-language pathologists working in West Virginia schools.