Prereferral Intervention Processes: A Survey of State Practices

Article excerpt

Since the mid-1980s, the prereferral intervention process has grown to a position of prominence in the field. Such stature is exemplified by its mandated use in many states (Carter & Sugai, 1989), the increasing amount of research being devoted to its scrutiny (e.g., Logan, Hansen, Nieminen, & Wright, 2001), and its inclusion in numerous recent, introductory special education college textbooks (e.g., Hallahan & Kauffman, 2003; Hardman, Drew, & Egan, 2002; Smith, Polloway, Patton, & Dowdy, 2001; Turnbull, Turnbull, Shank, Smith, & Leal, 2002).

The emphasis on prereferral intervention originated at a time when criticism was being leveled against school district practices. Generally, criticism most often related to practices that too frequently resulted in an overrepresentation in special education of students from culturally diverse backgrounds in part because referrals too easily led to special education evaluations and subsequent placements (see Ysseldyke et al., 1983). Prereferral interventions represented one response to these concerns and related educational issues (Graden, 1989; Pugach & Johnson, 1989). Since then, effective prereferral practices have been shown to respond to these types of problems by reducing the number of inappropriate referrals to special education (Chalfant & Pysh, 1989; Kovaleski, Gickling, Morrow, & Swank, 1999; McDougal, Clonan, & Martens, 2000). Such success could be attributable to factors inherent in its conceptual nature.

The basic conceptual framework defining the prereferral model has remained relatively stable since the 1980s. In fact, most sources (e.g., Chalfant, Pysh, & Moultrie, 1979; Logan et al., 2001; Pugach & Johnson, 1989) include similar defining features, such as:

1. A process that is preventive (i.e., interventions are developed and implemented before a formal, special education evaluation).

2. A problem-solving approach that is team-based (i.e., team members review data on a referred student, hypothesize causes to explain the student's difficulties, and develop strategies to remediate those difficulties).

3. An approach that is action-research oriented (i.e., a team develops specific interventions that the referring teacher[s] is expected to implement in his/her classroom [either with or without outside assistance] and then evaluate in terms of its effectiveness).

4. An intervention process that is centered upon the enhanced success of students and teachers within the general education setting and in the general education curriculum.

Despite its conceptual stability over time, the manner in which the prereferral process is currently applied across states and districts is quite another matter. In fact, it could be argued that prereferral is one of the most inconsistently applied processes in education. As early as 1989, Carter and Sugai reported such variance in the first national survey of prereferral practices. Since then, such variance has been informally noted across several dimensions, including

* Status within a state or district (e.g., whether or not the process is mandated, encouraged, or left to the discretion of each school district).

* Terminology (i.e., differing titles for the various aspects of the process, such as teacher assistance teams, teacher support teams, or student support-teams, child study committees).

* Ownership (i.e., leadership of the prereferral process including special educators, general educators, counselors, or school social workers).

* Size of the team assigned to carry out prereferral activities.

* Types of problems addressed by prereferral teams.

* Level of involvement team members play in the implementation of the prereferral strategies.

Such variability is most likely due to the fact that the prereferral process is an unmandated entity in federal legislation including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act '97(IDEA '97). …