Redefining "Prereferral" Intervention as Intervention Assistance: Collaboration Between General and Special Education
ABSTRACT: The article by Pugach and Johnson raises some important points relative to
assumptions of prereferral intervention approaches, including the importance of full
participation and ownership by classroom teachers. At the same time, their arguments are flawed
by a misunderstanding of some of the conceptual underpinnings of prereferral intervention.
These concepts, such as intervention assistance and "alternative" intervention, actually are
founded in collaborative consultation. Intervention assistance approaches will be most effective
when special and general educators work together, not to the exclusion of either group. * When a topic in education is perceived as "new," as prereferral intervention is in the article by Pugach and Johnson and elsewhere in the special education literature (e.g., Lloyd, Crowley, Kohler, & Strain, 1988), it often is the subject of attention, critique, and debate. This attention is productive in that it helps to advance our understanding of the particular area and to define needed areas for future research and implications for practical implementation. Pugach and Johnson have made an important contribution to the literature in this area by highlighting some important assumptions underlying prereferral approaches, particularly the role of the classroom teacher. However, many of Pugach and Johnson's assertions are predicated on the assumptions that (a) prereferral intervention is a new area in special education and that (b) their propositions are not incorporated in existing prereferral approaches. Neither of these assumptions is entirely accurate.
To my knowledge, the term prereferral intervention was first used in the special education literature in an article by Graden, Casey, and Christenson (1985). Although the term was new, the process described in the approach was not new. Graden et al. described the process of prereferral intervention as "collaborative consultation." The foundation for these practices was established relative to the consultation literature (e.g., Bergan, 1977; Meyers, Parsons, & Martin, 1979), and the overall approach was similar to what Ritter (1978) described as a "school consultation program." Thus, prereferral intervention did not represent a new approach, but a new name for an existing service-delivery model--consultation.
In retrospect, I wish that this term had not been used, because of the many misconceptions that have resulted from its use, some of which are apparent in the Pugach and Johnson article. Most notable among these misconceptions is the view that the prereferral process is a first step in the special education decision-making process and is owned by special education. Although the popularity of the concept came in part from a recognition of the need for alternatives to standard referral practices, the underlying concept was the development of a support system intended to provide needed assistance to students within regular classrooms. Since the publication of that original article, my colleagues and I have come to prefer the term intervention assistance to more accurately portray the process consistent with its foundations in collaborative consultation and the emphasis on using problem solving for intervention development (e.g., Zins, Curtis, Graden, & Ponti, 1988).
Understanding the foundation of prereferral intervention in the consultation literature is important to this critique for two reasons: (a) understanding that it is not a "new" service, as described by Pugach and Johnson, and (b) addressing several of the criticisms they raise of the existing prereferral approaches. Indeed, many of their criticisms may be addressed by examining the conceptual foundations of consultation and the empirical support for its central features. …