How To: Refer a Child for Special Education Testing
Referring a Child for Special Education Testing
Before Referring a Child For Special Education Testing
For parents and teachers, one of the most difficult things they must do is to decide if a child needs to be referred for testing for special education services. For teachers, it seems almost as if they must admit defeat. Did they not teach this child well enough? Did they use effective strategies to help this child overcome his or her learning deficits? What did they miss? Is this the last resort? Is this the best resort?
For parents, the struggle is very similar. Did I not do enough when my child was a baby to help him learn? Did I do something wrong when I was pregnant with this child? What could I have done differently to help my child learn?
Even though these struggles happen and these questions arise, many of the reasons a child must be referred to special education are beyond the control of either parents or teachers. As long as a mother does her best to stay healthy and avoid drugs and alcohol while she is pregnant, there is not much that she could do to avoid learning issues in her child. Teachers who do their best to differentiate how and what they teach and who care about their students and how they are learning, cannot take the blame for a child’s learning issues.
There are some exceptions to this, of course. A parent who uses drugs or alcohol will most certainly have a child with learning issues. A parent who moves their child from school to school to school will have a child that finds learning difficult. A teacher who insists on teaching only one way – for instance just lecturing students and expecting them to learn – will have students who won’t learn. A teacher who finds it unnecessary to build relationships with students will have difficulty teaching those students.
For the most part, however, parents and teachers should understand that a student can have learning difficulties despite the best care and teaching practices. When this happens, it is time to refer the child for special education services.
Most people have a negative connotation of special education. They feel that special education is only for the lowest of the low children. Images of children with severe disabilities may come to mind. Maybe students in wheelchairs and walkers come to mind. This is not always what special education is about. There are certainly programs for those lowest of the low. There are also programs for the mildest of learning disabilities and with moderate disabilities, and everywhere in between. (And many children who are in walkers and wheelchairs do great in the regular education setting!)
Parent Request and The GEST Process
To get the process started, a parent or teacher must first express a concern. The parent of a student with difficulties can write a note to the school’s child study team, or CST. This team consists of the principal, the social worker, the psychologist, counselor and possibly speech-language therapist and special education teacher. The CST then takes the note and decides whether or not this child needs to go through the process. They determine this by talking with the child’s teacher, the parent and others who may know this child and how he or she learns. If everyone agrees that this child does indeed have some issues, the process continues. If the CST decides that this child may benefit from different strategies in the classroom, or even a different teacher with a different teaching style, they may decide to implement these strategies and give them time to work before the decide to do any testing.
If a teacher sees the learning issues before the parents, then the teacher must meet with the parents. The teacher will refer the child to the General Education Support Team, or GEST. The GEST is a group of teachers and other school professionals who will help the referring teacher with strategies, hints, and information about how to better help the student. This could include having the child sit in a different spot in the classroom, different teaching styles, less work, or modified work. After the first meeting, the referring teacher implements the strategies, hints and suggestions for a defined time period. This could be as little as a week or as long as an entire school year. If the child does not improve during this time period, the referring teacher returns to the GEST. GEST may provide more strategies, hints and suggestions to be tried for another time period. Again, the teacher follows the suggestions. If the child still does not improve, a third visit to the GEST happens. At this time GEST can refer the child for special education testing.
Special Education Testing
Once a child has been referred for special education testing, the CST will contact the parents for consent for testing. Once that is obtained, testing begins. The school psychologist will do intelligence and ability testing. The speech-language pathologist will also do testing to determine any issues with the child’s speech and language. The school counselor will also have input, as well as anyone else that may have anything that could help. The classroom teacher and any other teacher who may have worked with the child may provide classroom work and assessments they have completed. With all of the information, the CST determines what needs the child may have. After all of this is done, a meeting is called with the parents. The information is shared and everyone in the meeting decides what is best for the child. If special education is deemed to best for the child, services can begin as early as the next day.
This process that I have shown here is the process used in my district. It could be different for other districts around the country – or even state. The steps I have listed must be taken- but different districts may do it in different ways.