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Special Education: The Pre-Referral & SST Process

Special Education: The Pre-Referral & SST Process

A referral for Special Education assessment can legally be made by anyone involved with the child’s education and development,.

Kit Richert, Ph.D.

So You Suspect Your Student Has Special Needs…

Special Education services are only designated for children who’s needs cannot be met in a regular education setting, and who have not responded to available accommodations and modifications. Therefore, all efforts to serve a child within your classroom must be considered, documented, and utilized, before you refer a student for a special education. If you are concerned that your student may not be learning or developing normally, here are the steps to take:

Intervention and Documentation

Special education shall not act upon a referral without documented program modifications.
(Section 56303, Education Code)

• Grab a folder or notebook that you will use to collect documentation about your interventions, accommodations, and modifications for the student. Include dates and details. It is also advisable to keep a record of the phone and email correspondences you have with parents and relevant school personnel.

• If you have not yet tried any accommodations or modifications to support the child’s needs in your classroom, consult with others (teachers, the resource specialist, or the school psychologist) about ways to help your student.

• Inform the student’s parent about your concerns. Find out what their perspective is on the issue. Let them know what interventions you are considering. Find out if they have effective interventions they use at home.

• Once you have selected an intervention to try, select a metric you will use to measure improvement. The metric should be observable or recordable (e.g., measured increase in reading fluency; measured decrease in the number of outbursts in a week). Make sure to include the dates of intervention, record progress notes, and to decide in advance how long is a reasonable time frame to expect progress.

• If you have already tried some interventions, document what you have done retroactively, including the dates and metrics you are using to measure progress. Do a self-assessment: Were the interventions tried for a reasonable time period? Were the interventions implemented systematically and appropriately considering the child’s needs such that I would expect progress with a typically developing child? If you need more evidence about the efficacy of an intervention, adjust your approach accordingly.

• If you have exhausted your own resources and your student is not making measurable progress (on the metric you selected) with the interventions you have tried, then you have some evidence that your student may require special education.

Related Links

Referral to the Student Study Team (SST)

The SST meeting is a team meeting that usually consists of one of the student’s general education teachers (quite possibly you), an administrator, the child’s parents, and (depending on the concerns) specialists such as the Special Education teacher , Speech and Language Pathologist , school psychologist, or Occupational Therapist. On occasion it may be appropriate to invite the student to the meeting.

SST meetings are for intervention planning for general education students that are not making satisfactory progress. All parties contribute and decisions are made at a group level. Usually a meeting consists of:

• Identification of the student’s strengths.

• Discussion the concerns about the student at school.

• A review of the child’s school and/or developmental history.

• A review of the interventions already tried (this is where your file comes in handy).

• If the evidence suggests that the child’s delays may be due to a learning, language, or developmental disorder, a referral for Special Education assessment should result as an outcome of the meeting.

• If the SST identifies other interventions to try, either inside or outside the classroom (e.g., interventions within the home, after school programs, community agencies, etc.). An action plan is developed and it is decided who is accountable for implementing the intervention. A follow up meeting is scheduled to evaluate the intervention results.


A referral for Special Education assessment can legally be made by anyone involved with the child’s education and development, including the parents, teacher, principal, pediatrician, or SST. Teachers are often in the best position to identify children with special needs, since they are usually conscious of the typical rates of development, learning, and information processing of children in the age group they are teaching.

The SST process is encouraged as a first step, since it is required that all possible efforts be made to accommodate children in the general education classroom, since this is considered to be the least restrictive environment.

Learn more in our new teacher’s guide to Special Education

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