Special Education Referral Process.

We all want students to succeed to the best of their abilities. Educators and parents play a large part in how this success is achieved. When a student is struggling for any reason this can place great stress on them and cause them to act in any number of ways. The earlier the intervention the better. Finland’s teaching strategy definitely proves this. Their interventions are as early as possible and students benefit greatly from it.

I had the chance to speak to a school counselor at an international school in Seoul as well as discuss these questions in a Facebook group for teachers back in South Africa, with multiple teachers.


  1. How is a student identified for special education referral?

  • School counselor: The initial identification is usually made by a teacher, who will notice certain “abnormal” behavior or low academic performances. The teacher and a small group of other people will try some alternative strategies to improve the student’s education before reaching out to the parent.
  • Facebook teachers group: When teachers do their baseline assessment at the start of the school year, they are usually able to identify barriers students might have. There are multiple barriers with different signs from child-to-child. Eg.  Pencil grips, struggling to read or pronounce words correctly. Restlessness, tardiness etc.

      2.Who takes responsibilities for the progress of the child before and after referral?

  • School counselor: The process starts with the teacher, who will make contact with the school counselor. The counselor will act as the main contact point from here on out and work with the student, teacher, and parents. The school team (consisting of the teacher, principal, counselor, and specialist) will develop a plan before contacting the parent.
  • Facebook teachers group: Schools will have SBST (School Based Support Team). The student’s teacher along with other members of this team will take responsibility for the student. An educational psychologist will write a report motivating why the child needs special education. After referral, the teacher will implement new strategies or tools and monitor the progress with the team. If the barrier is of such a nature that the plan doesn’t succeed or the teacher can’t cope the case will be referred to a national SBST. The national team don’t work directly with the student but will guide the teacher. Doing fault annalists on their lesson plans or creating an individual lesson plan.

      3. What is the school administration’s directive for special education?

  • School counselor: At this school, they accept students based on how well they will be able to integrate into the school. There are not enough resources for Tier 1 students on the RTI. Tier 2 students will be assessed before to determine whether they will be able to succeed at the school with the resources available. Most of the tier 3 students are accepted. The school psychologist and counselor help on the decision made here.
  • Facebook teachers group: South Africa has 2 systems in place that the school adheres to.  1. First, there are special education schools. These schools are only for students with severe disabilities. Teachers are highly specialized and learners range from 3 -18 years with various learning & physical disabilities. Classes are usually not more than 15 learners….depending on the physical size of class & number of wheelchairs in the classroom. 2. Mainstream schools adhere to the SIAS (Screening, Identifying, Assessment and Support) document. Teachers and school staff need to assure that all documents are filled in and that the student’s needs are met. If the student still doesn’t succeed they are referred to an inclusive unit in the department of education in their province.

      4. What provisions are made for students identified for special education?

  • School counselorFor students at the school typical provisions include giving extra time for the students. Students with dyslexia for example spelling will not be taken into account. Tests might be given verbally or adjusted to the individual student’s needs. Give preferred seating, away from distractions or closer to the board. Students can also be given modified assignments.
  • Facebook teachers group: It all depends on the student’s needs/barriers. Concentration, impulsive behavior, physical, handwriting, reversal of letters/numbers, struggling to read /pronounce words, loses things.
    Different ways of instructions & assessments, break down into smaller components, repeat instruction & learner must verbalize instructions.

     5. What are the level of parent involvement in referral process and special education?

  • School counselor: The school will work as closely as possible with the parents from the start to ensure success for the student. They are included in all the steps and need to give consent at various stages of the assessment. Parents will also be given strategies to use. Often parents might be reluctant and so the level of involvement will differ.
  • Facebook teachers group: Parents are involved as much as possible. Written and verbal consent needs to be given and forms need to be filled out. This is especially important when the SBST team inquires about the student’s history and family situations, to determine the cause of the behavior and appropriate strategies for helping the student.

There are more or less 5-8 main phases/steps in place to help students get the help they need. (Schools adapt steps as they need it.)

Phase 1:  Recognition

All students have to master/reach certain developmental milestones at approximate ages. Some reach them earlier and some a little later but most of their peers will reach these milestones at more or less the same age. When one of these milestones are not reached or skipped, there is a direct impact on all other aspects of the child’s life especially education and learning.


Who: This phase usually involves the homeroom teacher, school specialist and depending on the school policy the parent.

What: If the student has exhibited behavior that is not conducive to his/her learning. Problems can be noticed in a variety of abilities including academical, social, emotional, behavioral and or physical abilities.

Examples of student behavior: Bullying, delaying work, incomplete work, not interacting on any level of the class, easily getting upset or sad. Sometimes the student will work incredibly hard but their test/assessment results will not be reflective of this effort.

How: The teacher might make notes and gather examples of the student work. The can then set up a parent-teacher meeting to discuss some of these issues and the appropriate support system for this student. Other schools the teacher might first call in a “specialist” that can attend one-or-more classes to identify the problem and work with the homeroom teacher to try and address this problem, making a clear plan of action, before meeting with the parents.

Example: Giving the student coping mechanisms, extra time to do work, small goals to reach throughout the school day. This can include using a timer for students to keep track of time or bike pedals under the table to burn energy while working (ADHD). Changing seating charts in case a peer might be causing the problem or if the student needs to sit closer to the board (sight), teacher (hearing) or away from the door and other students. Using other font types like Dislexi (Dyslexia). Addressing student bullying or emotional issues.

  • Has this happened before?
  • Is it a constant issue or does it only happen in a certain context?
  • Refer to developmental age and compare the behavior to the norm.

Phase 2:  Pre-Referral

Who: Every school has its own intervention team consisting of different members. Normally in this phase, you would see the team consisting of the teacher, special educator, principal, school psychologist and depending on the student problem one or two more members. The parent is also involved in this phase.

What: Here the problem will be clearly identified. A personalized plan for the students learning will be developed and implemented. This plan will have alternative education strategies for the student, teacher, and parents to follow.

How: The team will refesaint-paul-public-schools-pyramid-response-to-intervention-prti-by-jmdvt6-clipartr back to the RTI pyramid. Assessing whether the child needs are at:

  • level 3: Students who are able to cope with mainstream classes and teachers are the main facilitators, who use different teaching pedagogies to address student needs. (80% of students)
  • level 2: Students who can work in mainstream classes but may need some additional help in small groups or 1-on-1 sessions ( 15% of students) or
  • level 1: Students who need intensive individual instruction (5% of students)

Phase 3:  Referral

Who: School team, Parents, and any other adult caregiver

What: In this phase; the school team will monitor and discuss the progress or lack of- progress made by the student after the new strategies were implemented. The formal process of referring the student will commence. Consent must be obtained from the parent and they have the right to revoke their consent at any time during this process. This will determine whether schools can continue onto the evaluation phase or not.

How: School will decide to start the official referral and will obtain parental consent. The evaluation will be completed within 60 days.

Phase 4 & 5:  Evaluation & Eligibility

The evaluation phase in the USA should be in line with the IDEA act. There should be no discrimination during the evaluation where several aspects of the student are evaluated. Students with disabilities will be entitled to FAPE in an LRE. In South Africa, the testing will follow the new SIAS (Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support policy). This process works best when every person involved does their work well to ensure the best outcome for the student. The student will be deemed eligible if his/her condition affects their education negatively and that special services will help them benefit/achieve better in education.

Who: A multi-disciplinary team will work together bringing different views to the process. Eg. Occupational therapist, psychologist, school counselor, principal, medical doctors and whoever might benefit the students case the most. The parent is involved and informed on every test and result.

What: They will assess the extent of the situation depending on the problem presented. Assessments will/can be made to the students:

  • Intelligence
  • Achievement
  • Behavior
  • Disability-specific evaluations
  • Medical evaluations

How: As mentioned above this phase is dictated by the IDEA’s act in the USA entitling students who are deemed eligible in 30days for a FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) in an LRE (Least restrictive Environment). The testing can include numerous psychological tests like the Wechsler IQ scales or the Human Figure tests, hearing or sight tests.

Phase 6:  IEP (individualized Education Program) Process 


Who: The student’s parents/guardian and school district representative, members of the multidisciplinary team, the student and other individuals involved in the case.

What: This is a contract between the parties involved that outlines the serves the child will receive. A student profile will be included in all the evaluations and academic achievements. The start and duration of the program as well as a statement about special instructional factors, transportation needs, participation opportunities with non-disabled peers and progress report frequency and methods.

The LER will be addressed and a BIP (Behavior Improvement plan) if needed.

How: The school team alongside the multidisciplinary team will work together to form these statements and develop the students profile. They will set short and long term goals for the student and benchmarks. They will also recommend special education and other services need to the student to achieve these goals.

Phase 7:  IEP implementation

Who: The IEP team, parents, and student.

What: The IEP team will make sure the IEP is being implemented, that documentation is taking place and that the IEP is altered according to the student’s needs.

How: Teacher teaching strategies, use of ICT’s and other tools, follow ups and progress monitoring from the school team and other members involved.

Phase 8:  Re- Evaluation

Who: The IEP team, parents, and student.

What: At the end of the duration of the contract the case will be re-evaluated to see if the student needs further assistance or if they continue on in mainstream school area without any extra special education. There will be a report filed with recommendations, also stating the student is no longer eligible. The team will disband.


  1. Facebook Discussion https://www.facebook.com/groups/206680746042214/for_sale_search/?forsalesearchtype=all&query=clare&referral_surface=direct_link&availability=available
  2. SAIS: http://www.gov.za/sites/www.gov.za/files/SIAS%20Revised%20Final%20for%20Comment.pdf
  3. Special Education referral Process: http://www.projectidealonline.org/special-education-referral-process.php
  4. What is inclusive education: http://www.saou.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/What-is-Inclusive-Education-Ms-Berenice-Daniels-WCED.pdf
  5. Skype interview link: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B36Uq1_HhA6ATjEtMDE2YVEzZG8



One thought on “Special Education Referral Process.

  1. Most importantly everybody ( teacher, learner , parent & other education officials) needs to be committed in this process of compiling & completing all documentation as this isn’t a quick process- all the while the learner still struggles. All involved must realise it’s all about the learner’s need to succeed.

    Liked by 1 person

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