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:

Team Members

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?


If the interventions are effective and your child seems to be back on track, schools generally continue with the plan and hold future meetings as needed. This suggests your child doesn’t need a special education evaluation at this time. Most likely, he will benefit from instruction in the general education classroom with continuing interventions.

If the interventions don’t bring about desired change, the team may decide to:

  • try another intervention or alter the current one, starting the process again, or
  • refer your child for special education evaluation to find out if he’s eligible for special education services as a student with a disability.

Letitia’s Story

Letitia was failing her seventh grade science class. Her mom worked with her to complete assignments and study for tests, but she still got very poor grades. Her mom went to school to discuss Letitia’s problems with the science teacher. They decided to refer Letitia to the pre-referral team. Together, they filled out the form, listed their main concern — Letitia’s failing grades in science — and what her mom and teacher had already tried — reading tests to her, outlining the chapter at home, providing in-class time for review prior to tests.

Her mom met with the pre-referral team who brainstormed other interventions that might help – supplying copies of the teacher’s overhead notes and outlines, providing a study guide with key information to learn, using graphic organizers to show main concepts and ideas in a visually, getting extra time on tests. The team agreed to try the first two interventions.

With help from other school staff, the science teacher wrote brief study guides for each chapter of the textbook and made copies of overhead notes and outlines. He provided them to any student, including Letitia, who requested them. Her mom promised to use these tools when studying with Letitia. At the end of four weeks, the team met again. Her mom reported Letitia was finding it easier to study now because she knew what information was important. Her mom liked the study guides, notes, and outlines because they helped her ask questions to prepare Letitia for tests. The science teacher reported Letitia’s assignment grades improved from a D- to a C+ and her test grades went from F to C-.

The team decided to continue the accommodations to see if, over time, Letitia would continue to meet her goal of better grades in science. They agreed it wasn’t necessary to have Letitia evaluated for special education services because the interventions were helping her succeed in the classroom.


The pre-referral process helps you ensure school staff members are aware of all factors that affect your child’s learning. It allows you to collaborate — work as a team — with educators who teach your child. Whatever the outcome of the process, your involvement will impact your child’s educational program in a positive way.


If you feel that your child has a learning disability, you have the right to ask for testing at any time without waiting for the pre-referral process.

Learn more about the pre-referral process and evaluations at Understood.org, a comprehensive resource for parents of kids with learning and attention issues .

Reviewed 2010