Special Education Referral Process Blog
by James Green
I really enjoyed learning about all of the different facets and steps to the special education process. Going into this assignment I just had a vague idea of the steps taken to refer a student for special education. It was encouraging to find that there are well researched, detail oriented steps in place for referring a student for special education.
I conducted 2 interviews to this activity. Both interview subjects have many years of experience. I interviewed Kathleen O’Rourke. She is a former elementary school teacher for over 30 years and a now she is a BTSA(Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Induction) mentor here in California where I live. “BTSA is a state-funded program co-sponsored by the California Department of Education(CDE) and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing(CTC). BTSA is an assessment system of support and professional growth to fulfill requirements for the California Clear Multiple Subjects, Single Subjects, and Education Specialist credentials.” The second interview I conducted was with Mayleen Dela Cruz, MA. Mayleen is a Special Education Specialist at Benjamin Franklin Intermediate School in Daly City, California. Both Kathleen and Mayleen are associated with the Jefferson Elementary School District.
I learned from Kathleen and Mayleen that a lot of thought and consideration goes into identifying a student for special education. In fact, more consideration goes into this process now than in the past. I found out the process for referral has changed a bit in the last year in the JESD( Jefferson Elementary School District). There are now more teachers involved in the process. Kathleen thinks this serves the student well at times but that it can also delay the process. The JESD has what’s called a SST(School Study Team). The SST consists of an administrator, the school psychologist, a special education teacher, the classroom teacher, a speech therapist, nurse, parents, and when appropriate, the student. I like how many opinions are taken into consideration. It reminds me of the video from Activity 1 about Finland. Finland has a team with a good cross-section of people to meet regularly to discuss student’s needs and progress. The SST meeting is a little different in that they meet more on an as-needed basis when it is identified a student is having problems. The SST generally discusses classroom interventions that may be helpful. These strategies begin with less intensive strategies. What I noticed here is that the LRE(Least Restrictive Environment) is a top priority. This was echoed in both interviews. I found out that the timeframe for referring a student varies. Basically, it depends on the need of the student. What may make it take longer is if a teacher lacks evidence showing that a student is struggling. So, they first think of steps that can be taken in the general ed classroom. They see if those are effective, then make further adjustments if necessary. I learned that a 504 plan can be a good option. A 504 plan isn’t a legal document like an IEP(Individualized Education Program) is. I found out a 504 plan consists of accommodations made in the classroom by the teacher for a student with a disability. It is important to note that a 504 is a general education, not a special education function. So, this gets back to trying to make every effort to be able to have the student in question be able to remain in the general education classroom. I thought about how this factors in to a teacher’s general classroom management. Probably, the best case scenario with this is that it’s possible that a few tweaks in the classroom can help the struggling student. For example, you can do things like sit the student who is struggling close to the teacher and avoid distracting stimuli. These seem like good first steps in this process. I found out that academically, it is quite evident if a student is not on grade level. A general ed teacher has an important role in this process because they are there to witness and keep track of signs of struggle such as low test scores and also possible emotional/social cues that exhibit struggle.
I found out that alternative methods of instruction must be tried out before a student can be referred for special education. This reminded me of the “School of One” video where the students at different levels in the same class were going about learning in different ways. Some are more advanced than others but ideally everyone is benefitting from the instruction, keeping in mind that accommodations may be necessary. I learned that the general education teacher is involved in the whole referral process, even if the student qualifies for special education. Mayleen told me the general ed teacher is responsible for the progress of the student before the student qualifies for special education. Then, if the student qualifies for special education the general ed teacher and the special ed teacher are both responsible for the student. As mentioned earlier, the school administration directive for special education is to always consider the LRE.
In conducting these interviews I realized what an important role parents play in this process. Parents who are involved and helpful in these meetings and interactions with the teachers can make a big difference. Because, obviously besides the student’s teacher, no one knows their child better than their parents. Mayleen told me they have had a few instances where teachers referred students, but because the parents don’t show up at the meetings it prolongs the process.
In summary, I’m really glad to know there are steps and structures in place in regards to referring a student for special education. It comforts me to know that as a teacher I won’t feel like I’m on my own in this process. I will be able to get a wide variety of opinions and be able to take steps to be able help each student reach their potential.