What is a caseload analysis?
A caseload analysis is an data-based process that uses data to assess the amount of time needed for VI professionals to adequately and appropriately educate their existing student caseloads. A caseload analysis consists of two distinct activities:
- data gathering, and
- data analysis.
Attention to both processes should be equal—both are of equal importance. One can gather data in variety of ways. Generally, administrators look at a one-week or a one-month snapshot of how the VI professional allocates his or her time. Given that a VI professional usually works one-to-one with a student, and must travel to several campuses, homes, and/or districts to carry out required duties, taking a snapshot of how time and resources are allocated is a must. Once that data gets broken down into identifiable increments, analysis can take place.
Analysis of the data requires looking at several factors inherent in the VI professional’s typically itinerant job.. These factors include
- assessment responsibilities,
- direct instruction opportunities,
- collaborative consultation responsibilities,
- activities to support instruction, and/or
- travel to the home, school, and community where the instruction takes place.
Once analysis of data takes place, administrators can more easily predict needs for present and future staffing, and with long-term analysis, establish and clarify staffing patterns. There are many different tools (or methods) developed to conduct this analysis, but generally the results of various approaches are comparable. Both administrative staff and VI professionals should analyze collected data.
- Caseload analysis is an important part of program management.
- Among the most influential factors for job retention cited by VI professionals are caseload size and composition.
- The data must be both gathered, and analyzed. Effective changes can only be made with reflective thinking about the student’s needs and the data collected.
- Caseload analyses are conducted on a regular, periodic basis and when the district (or service area) has a significant change in student population or professional services.
- A caseload analysis is based on verifiable data, not just verbal comments or recollections.
- A caseload analysis is conducted collaboratively by a member of the administration and a VI professional. Both members are needed in order for data to be valid and for changes to be made based on the analysis.
- Changes made to VI staffing patterns will be preceded by an updated caseload analysis.
- Data gathered in a caseload analysis reflects what students need, not just what the district is currently providing.
Is it a “caseload,” “workload,” “severity,” or “service intensity” analysis?
Many tools refer to this process as a “caseload analysis.” While this term may be fairly common among VI professionals, it may or may not be familiar to administrators. While terms may vary, at the core it is an intentional, reflective, and data-driven process in which student information is collected and analyzed. Following the analysis, decisions about the program are made based on the data.
This process also analyzes the type of instruction needed (direct or collaborative consultation), activities in support of instruction (materials preparation and acquisition, community consultations), the time needed to travel between instructional locations, and the time needed to complete assessments/evaluations related to a suspected disability or high-stakes testing.
VI professionals may spend most of their time driving, consulting, and preparing materials; working with parents or other members of the community in support-type programs; and assessing students—not just providing direct instruction. Also, the amount of time outside of direct instruction may vary significantly from student to student, and from year to year, depending on individual students’ needs. It is for these reasons that data gathering and analysis is not only necessary but critical.
There are multiple types of caseload analysis tools available. This document describes a few. It is also reasonable to develop one to meet the needs of the VI professionals in your district. Whether the tool is called a “caseload analysis,” “severity rating scale,” or “service intensity,” it should include robust and reliable data from the following sources:
- documented assessments in all of the expanded core curriculum (ECC) domains
- the amount of time needed to serve students through direct instruction and collaborative consultation (measured in minutes)
- the amount of time needed to perform activities in support of instruction (preparing and acquiring materials, braille support, liaising with family and community members, etc.) (measured in minutes)
- the amount of time needed for traveling between instructional sites
- the amount of time needed for assessments and/or evaluations related to a suspected or existing visual impairment. Additionally the VI professional may have responsibilities related to high-stakes testing.
Why should I conduct a caseload analysis
- Caseload analysis translates program practices into hard data that can be used for program development and evaluation. Such data become useful when communicating with people who are not familiar with the program, such as cooperative boards or superintendents.
- Whenever you are considering adding, deleting, or modifying a VI position, the information gleaned from a caseload analysis helps you justify your actions by providing concrete data. Caseload analysis ensures that
- your VI professional’s time is being used in the most efficient, cost-effective, productive way possible, and
- the caseload is not so large that quality services cannot be provided.
- As districts change, grow, and respond to new district and statewide initiatives and federal requirements, individual use of time can morph gradually. It is beneficial for the students, VI professionals, and administrators to periodically review data on how VI resources are being used. If changes are needed, the data from the caseload analysis will reflect the nature of the needed changes. In districts with more than one TVI or O&M specialist, the caseload analysis will help allocate students between VI professionals to most efficiently and effectively meet the needs of students. In the end, the caseload analysis is about quality control, ensuring the highest possible quality of services to students.
What does a caseload analysis take into consideration?
- A caseload analysis includes how much time is needed for VI professionals to meet the unique needs of each student. Being able to complete the caseload analysis assumes that assessment data for each of the nine domains of the expanded core curriculum (ECC) exists. If this data is incomplete, districts will need to complete the assessments prior to analyzing the data.
- A complete caseload analysis will include consideration of the time needed to adequately meet students’ needs. Include data related to:
- Student-related factors
- severity of the impairment
- assessed instructional needs in ECC
- Instruction in the domains of the expanded core curriculum (ECC)
- Direct instruction in the home, school, and community
- Collaborative consultation
- Activities in support of instruction
- Planning, preparing, and professional development, including time needed to prepare for meetings and to learn assistive technologies and instructional techniques
- Modifying materials, including modifying print formats, braille, translating print to tactile maps, drawings, manipulatives, etc.
- Material acquisitions
- Consulting with family members
- Liaising with agencies, organizations, and member of the community for instructional purposes
- The amount of time needed to travel to each instructional site in the home, school, and community
- The geographical location or pattern of the instructional locations
- Conducting functional vision evaluations (FVEs), learning media assessments (LMAs), and orientation and mobility (O&M) evaluations for students with suspected visual impairments
- Conducting FVEs, LMAs and O&M evaluations for existing students
- The nontraditional but critical data above pose challenges. Each domain of the ECC must be assessed and are often not part of the typical assessment process. In order for students to optimize their independence and achieve their transition goals, VI professionals need to work beyond school hours, in nontraditional settings, and with a broad array of community resources. All of these factors should be considered in a caseload analysis.
Why don’t we just pick a number of students, say 15, and use that as a “cap”?
- There are many reasons why this would not be an equitable solution. The range of ages and severity of the students’ impairment(s) dictates a multitude of intervention options.
Degree of severity and/or media used
- Students with total blindness require extensive intervention and modification from birth through graduation. Generally speaking, with a caseload of 12 students, it would be very labor intensive for a VI professional to carry three functionally blind students, especially if one or two were in the primary grades, or in high school with a heavy math and science load. In such situations, either the caseload should be modified, a braillist hired, or another solution implemented that would not compromise the quality of services to the students.
- Infants and toddlers with low vision are at a critical developmental stage. During this time, consistent and frequent intervention may mean the difference between using vision to its fullest, and functioning at a lower level.
- The functional impact of additional disabilities is affected by the student’s ability to use and understand visual information. For students with significant additional disabilities, the services provided by the VI professional may balance services via direct instruction and collaborative consultation.
Service delivery modality
- Some students may require frequent collaborative consultation with the educational team in order for intervention to have its greatest effect. Active, professional collaborative consultation requires more than just “stopping by” the classroom for 15 minutes twice a month. Active collaborative consultation requires thoughtful, reflective interaction with parents and an array of professionals. Collaborative consultation includes working with and observing the occupational and/or physical therapist(s), the speech therapist, classroom teacher, intervener, community members or employer, and district administrators. It isn’t uncommon for the VI professional to be the “hub” of this communication circuit.
- Caseloads are made up of various types of students requiring different kinds of assistance at different stages of their lives. This makes “picking a number” an unsatisfactory approach.
Who should conduct the caseload analysis?
In deciding who should be a part of the caseload analysis, two equally important participants must be accounted for:
- Administrative staff
- Service delivery staff (i.e., VI professionals and relevant paraprofessionals)
Both are critical to the success of the analysis. Service delivery staff (including VI teachers, O&M specialists, braillists, paraprofessionals, and interveners) provide data about the students, services needed, and services provided (which may be different). The administrative staff are necessary to assist in the analysis portion of the data gathering and to facilitate necessary changes.
- The administrator is able to translate program data into strategies for change and communicate those strategies beyond the special education program, such as to superintendents or governing boards, and to make necessary budget adjustments or plans.
- It may also be desirable to include “a guide” from outside the district. This is especially useful if participants are fairly new or inexperienced (either in VI services or conducting a caseload analysis). Sources for VI expertise include regional education centers (such as service centers, intermediate school districts, or outreach staff at schools for the blind). A guide can be useful in ensuring that the process doesn’t get “bogged down,” lose focus, or otherwise not complete the process.
When is the best time of the year to conduct a caseload analysis?
- Caseload analyses are most useful when completed in time to make budget recommendations and staffing decisions. Allow enough time to
- introduce the process to the VI staff,
- let them provide information, and
- discuss the results once the process is nearing completion.
- While student populations and schedules are always subject to change, there are times when changes tend to be less frequent, usually starting in October, or about the 5th –6th week of school. If you are using a model that requires the teachers to keep a daily log for one week, select a week that does not have holidays, school events, or class parties.
- If you currently do not have a full-time VI teacher, but will be using the caseload analysis to justify a new or expanded position, the analysis can be done at any time before the budget is finalized and hiring decisions are made.
How long will it take to complete?
The amount of time will depend on the district, the number of participants, and the type and completeness of the data available. What is clear is that this is a process, not a single event. Most models require that information be collected prior to completing the analysis portion of the meeting. Therefore, the process is divided into two phases: data collection and data analysis.
During the data collection part of the process participants may discover that some data are missing or perhaps inconsistent between participants. This may cause a partial delay while the missing data are collected.
Assuming that the data are all available, complete, and robust, it is conceivable that the analysis could be completed in a single meeting. However, it is more likely that multiple meetings will be necessary.
Since resource allocation and successful advocacy for programmatic changes will be based on the results, it behooves the pro-active administrators to respect both phases of the process.
Several sensitive issues may arise in caseload analyses. These include, but are not limited to, the issues listed below:
- Students should have access to instruction in the expanded core curriculum based on current assessed needs. Staff may not be experienced in conducting assessments, and may rely on informal “teacher observations,” which are not recorded from a structured observation or based on data. While observational data is a valid form of data, one should gather specific data and document these from observations that take place over multiple settings and multiple observations. (See Chapter 11: Expanded Core Curriculum, when it becomes available.)
- Determining the services needed should be based on data from both formal and informal assessments, not just reflection. It is possible that VI professionals may not have the skills or be familiar enough with the resources needed to assess and/or provide instruction in the expanded core curriculum (ECC). If that is the case, professional development in ECC domains should be explored. The expanded core curriculum provides VI students with the basic building blocks for independence and empowerment, and is an area the VI professional should be thoroughly familiar with.
- Many VI professionals spend significant and regular amounts of time before and/or after the school day preparing materials for their students. This time should also be included in the data gathering and analysis.
- VI and O&M consultants from the regional or intermediate service centers, state schools for the blind, or the like may provide technical assistance in conducting the caseload analysis; for example, assessing needs in the expanded core curriculum or arranging for professional development in areas not yet fully developed.
- Some VI professionals may view the caseload analysis process as a questioning of their professional expertise, the use of district resources, or other factors one might take personally. Care should be taken when introducing the process. It is quite possible that adjustments in the work habits of the VI professional will need to be changed as a result.
Which of the caseload analysis tools/methods should I use?
Methods included in this section represent those that are most widely used and freely available. An additional method is expected to emerge by 2015 (VISSIT or Visual Impairment Scale of Service Intensity of Texas). Each method reveals approximately the same information. Data should include not only time that is currently spent with each child, but also the time needed if the student was to be fully assessed and instructed in domains related to the expanded core curriculum.
- Though the methods produce similar results, you and your staff may have a preference for one tool/method and find it easier to use that than the others. If the focus is on the following, the results will be valid, no matter which tool is used:
- Careful records of the services provided and time needed to provide those services.
- Reflective consideration of a student’s actual assessed needs, not just reflections on services currently provided. This may require an inventory of existing, current, and needed assessments. In the case of missing assessments, the analysis should be halted until all of the data are complete.
- Attention paid to analysis and reflection, and not just to the data-gathering process. The team should carefully analyze the data, and reflect on the implications therein.
Can we make our own?
In addition to the tools listed below, districts may also develop their own caseload analysis tool. Regardless of the method used, the outcomes of all caseload analyses should result in determining the amount of time VI professionals need to adequately meet the needs of their students and should be based on current assessed needs.
Districts may opt to develop their own method. To do that, the following steps should be followed:
- Gather the information about the needs of each student regarding the expanded core curriculum. If each of the nine domains have not been assessed, steps to complete these assessments should be built into the process.
- Document the amount of time needed (in minutes) for activities in support of instruction. This includes the time needed for planning, preparing, documenting, and for consulting with family and community members for instructional purposes.
- Document the amount of time needed for direct instruction in the home, school, and community for each student. Also document the amount of time needed for collaborative consultation. An additional factor in this step is to reflect on the level of parent engagement and the amount of time that may be required as a result of parent involvement.
- The amount of time needed for traveling between instructional locations. Additionally, if a district has more than one VI professional, information should be gathered about the location of each instructional site.
- The results from Steps 2, 3, and 4 should be shown in the number of minutes per week needed. Districts may develop forms, spreadsheets, or other types of documents to capture these data.
Once the information has been gathered, the caseload analysis team can analyze the data. With 37.5 hours per workweek, minus 30 minutes per day for lunch, there are 2,100 minutes per week available The caseload analysis team then reflects on what the data tells them and what, if any, changes need to be made.
Summary of sample of caseload analysis tools
- The caseload tools and summaries are presented in alphabetical order. While not explicitly expressed, all caseload analysis tools are based on the assumption that all students have been evaluated in all areas of the expanded core curriculum (ECC).
Collaborative consultation documentation.
- In support of whatever caseload analysis process selected, districts may also want to start using a form to help document information related to collaborative consultation activities. Attached are sample forms which may be used and/or modified for that purpose.
- Collaborative consultation forms - download (.doc 101kb)
The AER Itinerant Personnel Division or APSEA Guidelines for Determining Caseload Size for Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments
- This tool divides students into categories according to age groups. Within each age group, the hours needed to adequately serve the student are specified. This data reflects vision status, direct service, and/or consultation needs, as well as time for adapting materials and/or preparation.
- Definitions of terms and categories are provided. The outcome will be the total number of hours comprising the caseload of an itinerant teacher with suggestions for an acceptable range of hours for both full- and part-time positions.
- Review the APSEA Guidelines for Determining Caseload Size for Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments
Colorado Guidelines for a Caseload Formula for Teachers Certified in the Area of Visual Impairments
This collects information in three domains: 1) Direct and indirect service to students, 2) Travel time, and 3) Related professional responsibilities. It collects information about severity or intensity of services needed, activities in support of instruction and travel time. Colorado Guidelines for a Caseload Formula for Teachers Certified in the Area of Visual Impairments - Download (PDF 198kb)
The 2010 edition* of the Michigan Severity Rating Scales for Students with Visual Impairments
- This comes in three sections. The Vision Severity Rating Scale would be applicable for students in general education settings and may be applicable for some students with additional mild impairments.
- The Vision Severity Rating Scale for Students with Additional Impairments is intended for students who have additional moderate-to-profound impairments.
- The Michigan Orientation & Mobility Severity Rating Scale is specific to orientation and mobility specialists.
- All scales are sequentially structured in terms of impact of visual functioning as it relates to the student’s educational program. These scales could be used to analyze a caseload before a vision professional is hired, because the assessment predicts the amount of service needed based on the complexities of individual students.
* The Michigan Severity Rating Scales in visual impairments were modified in 2012. The change was such that those scales are not recommended by this author. This recommendation only applies to the VI scale, not to the O&M scale.
What do I do with the information?
- As a result of the analysis, you should start to see patterns emerge. You will notice patterns of time spent working with students, traveling, preparing materials, attending meetings, and consulting with others.
- Typically, there are 37.5 working hours in the educational workweek. Compare the totals of time spent against the 37.5-hour week and you should get an idea of how much time your VI professionals are taking to get the job done. If more than 37.5 hours per week per VI professional is needed, then review the following factors:
- The number of schools served. The number of campuses, and therefore administrators and varying administrative procedures required at each campus, will affect the functioning of VI professionals.
- The amount of time spent traveling between locations. Travel for VI professionals is a critical part of the job. It also consumes time and budget resources. Are the travel patterns for the VI professional(s) efficient and workable?
- The ages and grade levels of students. Infants require immediate intervention with frequent training for families and early childhood specialists. VI professionals provide information specific to development of infants with visual impairments. Emergent readers, both tactile and low vision, require intensive intervention and coordination with general education personnel. As students get older and curriculum becomes more visually challenging, coordination of modifications and direct instruction become critical. For example, once students enter middle school, VI professionals must meet and plan with approximately 5 new teachers per semester to provide curricular adaptations and recommendations for modifications.
- Direct vs. collaborative consultation. Students receiving direct services require individualized lesson planning for VI goals, in addition to classroom collaborative consultations with all staff. The collaborative consultation model requires frequent meetings with related service and instructional personnel, community resources, parents, and others providing specialized methods and materials as needed. Collaborative consultation services should not be considered “passive.” The active focus is on other professionals and parents, not the student.
- The number of hours per week spent performing activities in support of instruction. Sufficient time should be allotted for materials procurement and preparation, lesson preparation, research, and consultation with agencies and community resources, including medical resources. Due to the heterogeneity of the students, if there are 15 students, there are at least 15 separate preparations. Is there a better, more cost-efficient way for the VI professional to spend his or her time? For example, would it be more cost-effective to hire a paraprofessional to assist with the materials preparation and brailling then to have the VI teacher completing all of it? Typically, braillists cost approximately one-half to two-thirds of a VI professional.
- The number of students who read Braille. Braille students require a tremendous amount of preparation, planning, and consultation in order to access the general curriculum. Braille readers in pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade may need 3 hours each day of the VI teacher’s time (in instruction and preparation). Older braille readers should receive approximately 5 hours of direct service weekly, not counting the amount of time needed for preparation and consultation. If the VI teacher is responsible for brailling, the amount of time needed for brailling materials (especially math and science materials) may be significant, even with computerized programs.
- The types of services delivered. These are the major factors you will consider. Once you have collected relevant data and discussed all of it with your VI professionals, you will have a much clearer picture of the position and its demands. The data collected will help move the decision to reallocate existing staff resources or hire additional staff beyond the realm of conjecture. It will provide evidence to support requested programmatic needs, whether those include additional staff, and/or targeted professional development for existing staff. Maintaining data collections of this nature and the results of the analyses over the years will help to see if a pattern is establishing itself, and if so, using that pattern to predict needs over time.