Pre-Referral Strategies for Special Education

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

girls sassy

When I was in graduate school for learning disabilities XYZ years ago (years disguised to protect my vanity), I wrote a paper with the title “Overrepresentation of Minorities in Special Education.” It was a huge undertaking and the paper ended up asking more questions than it answered. The gist of my thesis was that behavior issues unfamiliar to the average middle class teacher were causing more SPED referrals for minority students than for others.

The professor took pity on me and gave me an A probably because I had the temerity to tackle the subject in the first place. As I was researching the topic, I realized one of the keys to success is to give teachers the support they need to identify and remediate difficult behaviors before the referral process is under way.

Since then, much has been written about the pre-referral process for students with behavior disorders. Teachers become frustrated with kids who are acting out. They have no way to mitigate behaviors before they escalate. In many cases, they don’t know how to set limits and provide options to students who are frustrated in their own right. Students have a way of behaving themselves into a corner from which there is no escape. Both teacher and student need strategies to de-escalate situations that can get out of control.

Many years after the ambitious paper was written, I have experienced difficult kids and have found ways to work with them to find viable solutions to problems. There are some wonderful resources available for teachers now, especially since the advent of the Internet (see the end of this article to find some of them). My favorite is a big red book called “Pre-Referral Intervention Strategies” by Stephen B. McCarney, Ed.D. There are hundreds of forms and checklists for teachers to use. The resources establish step-by-step behavior interventions that work.

Schools are developing a team approach to work through problems to prevent referral.

Team members:

  • Work together to identify a child’s learning strengths and needs,
  • put strategies into action, and
  • evaluate the impact of the interventions so the child can succeed in the general education classroom.

Since public law 94-142 was implemented, the goal has been to mainstream children into the least restrictive environment, ideally the regular grade level classroom.

A team should include parents, psychologists, and other teachers who meet with the child in other classrooms, a special education administrator or behavior specialist. It’s not always possible to bring parents to meetings, but an interview with them is essential so you can know how they deal with behaviors at home. When strategies are finally developed, they work much better if they are delivered in a coordinated fashion at school and at home.

At a team meeting:

  • A child’s strengths, interests, and talents are described.
  • Reasons for referral are listed, including behavior and academic achievement.
  • Interventions previously tried are discussed and if any success has been achieved. (Interventions may include accommodations, modifications, and behavior plans to try at home and in classrooms.)
  • Interventions are shared to address immediate concerns.
  • Interventions are carried out.
  • Strategies are evaluated to see what works.

Here are some resources to help with developing a pre-referral team approach in your school.

Pre-Referral Intervention Manual
Strategies
RTI – Response to Intervention
Parents in the referral process
Other resources

As always, keep in touch and let me know how your school works with pre-referral teams.


Grant Name: Family Service Community Grants

Funded By: Autism Speaks

Description: Autism Speaks seeks to directly support the innovative work of autism service providers in local communities across the United States. The focus of our Family Services Community Grants is three-fold: to promote autism services that enhance the lives of those affected by autism; to expand the capacity to effectively serve this growing community; and to enhance the field of service providers.

Program Areas:   After-School, Arts, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE, Library, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Technology, Vocational

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline: 3/25/2015

Average Amount: $5,000.00 – $25,000.00

Telephone: 917-475-5059

E-mail: sselkin@autismspeaks.org

Website: Autism Speaks

Availability: All States

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