Before Special Ed: How Pre-Referral Works
The pre-referral process can help determine if your child needs special education services.
By Colleen Stump, Ph.D.
If your child is struggling to learn, take time to find out about how the pre-referral process works at your school. When you become involved in planning with her educational team, your child will benefit.
The purpose of the pre-referral process is to ensure your child tries reasonable accommodations and modifications before she's referred for special education assessment. Sometimes, a change in the classroom can turn her performance around and make it unnecessary to consider special education services. Using strategies that draw on your child's strengths and meet her educational needs may be all it takes to put her back on the road to academic progress. The pre-referral team goes by different names in different places. In some schools, it's called the Student Study Team (SST) while in others, it's the Student Intervention Team, Child Study Team, Teacher Support Team, and Student Success Team. Regardless of its name, the purpose of the team is to:
- work together to identify your child's learning strengths and needs,
- put strategies into action, and
- evaluate their impact so your child can succeed in the general education classroom.
There are no rules for membership on a pre-referral team. Generally, the team includes general education teachers, who are most familiar with the general education classroom and curriculum, and a counselor or administrator. The team may also include a school psychologist, special education teachers, and related service personnel, such as speech and language pathologists. Each school selects team members depending on what works best for them.
As a parent, you're a key member of this team. Although law doesn't require a pre-referral meeting and parent participation isn't guaranteed, most schools include parents in this process. You're the one most familiar with your child's health and development, family environment, academic history, special skills and talents, and learning and behavioral needs.
Although the steps may vary by school, here's what often occurs:
Your child is referred to the pre-referral team because there's a concern about his academic skills or behavior. Although anyone who knows your child can refer him, usually it's you or the classroom teacher who makes the referral. You'll be asked to identify specific area(s) of concern, such as not turning in assignments, earning poor grades in a subject area, not paying attention, having trouble understanding homework assignments.
The team meeting follows these steps:
- Review your child's strengths, interests, and talents.
- Discuss reasons for referral, overall performance level, and behavior in the classroom.
- List interventions previously tried and their rate of success. (School interventions may include accommodations, modifications, and behavior plans. Home interventions may include follow up with health concerns, behavior plans, and help with homework.)
- Brainstorm interventions that address concerns.
- Select interventions to try.
- Develop a plan for carrying them out.
- Agree on a time to meet again to discuss progress.
- Put the intervention into action and evaluate it over time. The timeline can vary greatly — from a couple of weeks to a school quarter or trimester, depending on the type of program set up.
- The team meets again to discuss the success of the intervention. As a result of the intervention, did your child's performance improve, remain the same, or decrease?