Sunday, February 9, 2014

Special Education Referral Process

In order to explore the referral process for special education I had the opportunity to interview both a Vice Principal and a 6th grade teacher at a local Middle school. Here is a summary of our conversation detailing the processes that they use at their site.

Middle School Vice Principal on the referral process:

Students who are considered to be at risk and in need of intervention go through a process called a SST that stands for Student Study Team in which parents, students, teachers, and a counselor meets to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the student. Using a Response to Intervention (RTI) pyramid of academic and behavioral interventions, the goal is to intervene at the lowest level possible in an informal manner prior to making a formal request for assessment and consideration for special education services. Informal interventions are implemented and monitored over an agreed-upon period of time. If the student does not show adequate progress they are then referred to the school psychologist for official testing for special education services.  Students can be referred by teachers, parents and/or administration. All testing must be agreed upon by parents through an Assessment Plan. Once an official Assessment Plan has been signed by parents testing, a meeting to go over testing results, and  the creation of an IEP must occur within 60 schools days by CA State law. After the school psychologist reviews the students grades, attendance, behavior, antidotal information from teachers, and completes the testing process, an IEP is scheduled to discuss the findings with the students parents. The IEP team consists of a general education teacher, a special education teacher, a school psychologist, a school administrator, and parents. All decisions made for the student must be made as a team. It is essential that the student remains in general education classes as much as possible while meeting their needs; this is called least restrictive environment.  Goals will be written in the areas of weakness. They must be standards-based and grade level based but yet scaffolded to help bridge the gap with the student. The special education teacher is responsible for monitoring the progress on goals and reporting such progress to parents on a regular basis.

Middle School Teacher on the referral process:

Students who are not making adequate progress in the classroom are provided extra support by scaffolding the lesson, given extra time, using the lowest level necessary of the RTI interventions, and seeking strategies that work for other teachers by talking about the student within team meetings. At this school the team is made up by a grade level interdisciplinary team called a Professional Learning Community (PLC). It is composed of  1 LA teacher, 1 SS teacher, 1 science teacher, 1 PE teacher, 1 elective teacher, and 1 math teacher. Students are placed in classes based on their PLB. These teams meet 1x per week to discuss all student and to identify those who may be struggling.  Most students who struggle have a tendency to act disconnected, sometimes have behavior issues, earn poor grades, have missing assignments and homework, and receive low scores and/or failing scores on assessments. Our school provides core replacement classes in reading for any student who is reading two or more grade levels below grade level. We also provide an additional math intervention for students who have difficulty understanding the grade level curriculum. Struggling students are discussed in team meetings on a regular basis and communication home is made. Progress reports are handed out every two weeks, and grades are uploaded daily on each teacher's website so that students and parents have access to real-time information. Our teachers refer kids to the SST process all the time if they are struggling academically and the team has exhausted all informal levels of intervention. We also offer after school Homework club, and many teachers are available before school, lunch time, and after school, to provide personal help.

After my discussion with both the Vice Principal and Teacher, I feel that this school has a great set up for identifying struggling students. They are not quick to throw anyone into special education, or exclude them from mainstream classrooms, but try to exhaust every possible way to help them before turning to the formal process. My favorite aspect of their system is the PLC. By assigning students to one PLC for the entire year this allows the teachers to really monitor their progress through all classes. It reminds me of the set up seen in the Finland’s Formula for Education Success ( If one student is struggling in one subject but excels in another it may give the teacher more insight as to how they can help them. I think this schools serves as a great example for other schools. They seem to have a great process worked out that works for every student.

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