The Special Education Referral Process: The Teacher Perspective


A friend recently said to me that it is easy to judge a decision you do not have to make. Government, community, and parents harshly criticize teachers, but rarely are people privy to the difficult decisions and enormous responsibilities placed on teachers each day. Included among the daily management of a classroom is tracking the progress of each individual student. When a teacher suspects a student may need extra attention to reach academic requirements, there are a lot of steps that must be taken by a teacher and a school to get a student the extra help he or she needs.

Schools and teachers take a number of steps, small and large, to help a child achieve academic success. When a child begins to demonstrate learning difficulties, the first step a teacher must take is to track data. No education interference can happen before there is quantifiable data that displays areas in which a child is falling behind. For example, it should be noted if a child regularly does poorly on tests, is not reading a standard amount of words per minute, cannot focus at any point in class, and so on. Any and all information should be tracked with correlating test scores, homework grades, and dates of occurrences. Once a teacher believes sufficient amount of data has been gathered, this information can be shared with the school administrator in charge of response to intervention (RTI) or special education.

A crucial part of student intervention is the support of the parent(s). No parents want to hear that their child is struggling, but with proper support a child will successfully learn tools to combat his or her struggle or even completely overcome the difficulty. Parents are often worried of a child being stigmatized with a term such as ‘special education’. The idea of ‘special ed’ often conjures images of children with severe intellectual disabilities, which is not comforting to a parent of a young student. In reality, special education covers a wide range of needs in a classroom. Parent involvement can make a big difference for a child. Teachers do as much as they can in their time with a child, but additional help at home will boost a school’s effort.

The most common strategy for RTI or special education is classroom inclusion. Schools want to keep students in their regular classroom as much as possible instead of isolating them from the herd. It is important for a student to continue socializing with his or her peers. In certain cases a student may be pulled out of class for certain lessons, but more often than not a child remains in class and is co-taught by a special education teacher. Some students simply receive special accommodations such as receiving extended test time, different seating, or altered assignments.

Incorporating a student with RTI or special education provisions can be a longer process than most teachers would like. An individualized RTI or special education arrangement is an official agreement, meaning the devised plan must be detailed with goals and desired outcomes. These arrangements are not taken lightly and are meant to have a real impact on a student’s academic achievements. After a teacher has submitted the RTI request for a student, it could take months for official arrangements to begin. A child is required to see a school psychologist, who, in many districts is shared among several schools and has a very tight schedule. Scheduling, psychological evaluation, and paperwork can result in a lengthy wait for a student in need.

Despite some of the obstacles a teacher and student face when pursuing special accommodations, one of the best things a teacher can do for all of his or her students is get to know them. The bigger a teacher’s connection with his or her student, the easier it will be for any teacher to identify an individual student’s needs.


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