Your Data Allows Positive Outcomes Take Shape for the Students You Serve
Sherlock Holmes once declared, “There is nothing like first-hand evidence.”
As someone with a job in school-based occupational therapy (OT), you’ll find that this fictional detective’s words have real-life relevance. First-hand evidence is critical to what you do.
You must investigate the disabilities and disorders students live with in order to deduce which therapeutic techniques will help them perform school tasks. Then, you must employ the solutions you’ve deduced for those students’ health and well-being to parents and guardians, teachers, and local school district administrators.
What do you need to accomplish these goals? The answer is elementary: evidence.
At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we’ve been promoting and providing evidence-based, data-driven special education and related services for over 20 years. Here are some basics you need to know about using data and evidence to make a positive difference for students who qualify for OT in schools.
Observing and Identifying Occupational Challenges at School
Professionals who work in school-based OT jobs know “going to school” isn’t one simple task. Looking closely at what any given school day brings, you will notice a large number of specific tasks students must manage.
Think of just a few examples:
- Unzipping and zipping a jacket, opening food containers at lunch, and other activities of daily living
- Keeping supplies in a desk or a backpack organized
- Attending to and focusing on their work, and engaging with all aspects of their classroom environment, including their peers
- Writing legibly and copying information from the board accurately
- Locking and unlocking a locker
The closer you observe a typical school day, the more activities—the “occupations” in occupational therapy—you’ll identify. For some students, these occupations come easily. But students with disorders and disabilities need your help.
The school-based OT’s job description is, as Ashley Opp Hoffman writes for AOTA, to “look at the whole child and tackle individual tasks, helping students find ways to do the things they need and want to do.” And the first step in tackling those tasks is observing them.
Collecting Quantitative and Qualitative Data in Real Time
Once you’ve observed and identified the occupations students need help with, you’ll design and implement school-based OT interventions. But your data collection responsibilities aren’t over. Sound evidence becomes even more critical when treatment begins.
You’ll collect and work with two kinds of data:
- Quantitative data is measurable and objective. Standardized skill assessments, checklists, rubrics that break down target tasks into components, tally sheets of pluses and minuses—these tools help you gather data you can count. Measurable metrics like duration, frequency, and accuracy give you a factual basis for evaluating a therapy’s relevance and effectiveness.
- Qualitative data is more subjective and requires interpretation, but it’s no less valuable. Video recordings of sessions, samples of students’ work, your anecdotal notes—data from such sources provide fuller pictures of interventions so you and the whole IEP team can make the best-informed decisions about continuing, modifying, or stopping observations and care.
Whether quantitative or qualitative, it’s important you collect your data in real time during therapy observations. Retrospective measurements and reflections have their place. But real-time data collection is less subject to error and better reflects the intervention’s relevance and effectiveness.
Remembering Why Data Collection Matters
School-based OTs are constantly refining their evidence-gathering techniques. You’ll want to stay on the lookout for the best data collection forms to help you record all the information you should be looking for. You may also want to utilize occupational therapy apps, which can make obtaining data faster, easier, and even more secure.
However you collect it, remember your evidence isn’t an end in itself. It allows you to answer many important questions:
- What measurable change is happening in a student’s ability to accomplish school-related tasks?
- Is this change happening faster than it would be if the student were not receiving OT?
- Does the amount of change justify the time and cost of continuing the OT?
- Is the change enough to ensure the child will experience greater success as a student?
Every member of an IEP team wants what’s best for the student. When you’re consistently and methodically collecting reliable data, you’re ultimately contributing to the student’s best outcomes.
That’s the power of first-hand evidence in school-based OT. There really is nothing like it.
How the PTS School-Based Academy Helps New Occupational Therapists
If you’re new to your school-based occupational therapy job, PTS invites you to take advantage of our School-Based Academy.
This program familiarizes new therapists like you with strategies and resources for professional growth. We can help you not only collect data more effectively but also:
- Manage your caseload more efficiently.
- Build better IEP frameworks and writing stronger, more practical IEP goals.
- Make connections and forge valuable relationships with other school-based professionals.
The School-Based Academy is only one advantage to working with the PTS team. Find out more about joining us and becoming the skilled and successful therapist you want to be.