Monthly Archives: August 2012

From Referral To Recommendation- Answering the BIGGER questions


I spent two days this last week attending a wonderful workshop at Region 15 called “From Referral to Recommendation”, presented by Dr. Donna Smith.  This is a three-day series.  The first day looked at the RTI(Response to Intervention) process and what role assessment professionals play.  The second day looked at selecting the best assessment battery, based on good RTI information.  And the third and last day will look at recommendations (whether the student qualifies for Special Ed or not) based on the assessments completed after quality RTI had failed.

As you can imagine there was a lot of wonderful information.  I’m going to split it into several post so you can easily pick only what you are interested in.  This first post has to do with RTI and how assessment professionals and teachers can work together to set up the best possible referral.    I know RTI looks different on every campus, so I’m sharing very important ideas that can be implemented into various RTI models.

Dr. Smith made a very good point about training teachers and staff.  You can’t expect people to provide the information needed if you don’t tell them what that information is.  I think one of the main things all assessment professionals in the state of Texas want when given a referral is information on the interventions used in Tiers one and two.  To start this discussion I think we need to look at a basic question; what is intervention?

Now some of you may immediately shout out this answer, but for others the answer is a little fuzzy.  Intervention is NOT accommodations and modifications.  Intervention IS instruction.  This is a very important statement.  So lets see what this looks like.  What is not an intervention?

  1. Decreasing the number of problems.
  2. Increasing the amount of time.
  3. Offering extra practice.
  4. Allowing assignments to be corrected.
  5. Peer modeling or support.
  6. Additional manipulative.
  7. Reading assistance.
  8. Simplified vocabulary
  9. Parent help at home with materials provided by the school.

These are all good accommodations/modifications/strategies, but none of them are interventions.   Again, intervention is instruction.   Now Dr. Smith stated that this does not mean don’t do these things.   I am simply pointing out that they are not interventions and therefore cannot be counted as RTI data.  But defiantly share if you did any of these prior to the referral.

Here is an example of an intervention that could be counted as RTI data.

Susie was moved to a lower reading group and was included in a group of four first graders who worked with their classroom teacher, Ms. Jones, 20 minutes per day, for six weeks, using core curriculum worksheets and activities with an emphasis on decoding words.   At the beginning of Tier 1 intervention, Susie was unable to read any of the decodable grade level words on the teacher prepared list.  At the end of 6 weeks, she could read 10 of the 100 words.  The average gain for other in the group was 25 words.

So what’s the difference?  In this example the teacher is providing specific direct instruction in an area of deficit and you can see Susie is making delayed progress compared to those in her group.  While the items in the first list would only explain what the teacher had done to help Susie pass, not remediate the suspected problem.

So now that we’ve briefly looked at what intervention is, we can look at what information assessment professionals need from the teacher to conduct quality evaluations.    I want to stress from the teacher, because there is a long list of other information that will need to be gathered from other areas by the RTI or SAT (student assistance team) before a referral can be made.  So I’m only looking at what is needed from the current classroom teacher.

  1. What is the problem? –Describe any areas of need you’ve been dealing with and how it has changed since the start of RTI.
  2. What did you do?- As explicitly as possible describe any accommodations, strategies and INSTRUCTION you implemented to help this student.   This can be information before and during RTI.
  3. What instructional model you followed? This can be a mix of more than one as most teachers don’t do only one type of teaching.
  4. How the student responded.
  5. How other students responded.

There may be more information your assessment professional wants based on the situation, but if you can have this prepared it would be a great start.  Two things Dr. Smith talked about that I would like to note are:

1. If you have a student who is experiencing behavior problems you need to be keeping a behavior log of some sort.  This can be anecdotal notes or a chart/graph, but you need some kind of document about the behavior.  Don’t wait for someone to tell you to do that, start as soon as you feel there might be a problem.

2. If you keep work samples (which can be a good thing) make sure you put them in context.  If you hand over work with a students name and the date it isn’t really any help.  You need to include what the instruction/lesson was, was it review or new material, did they have any type of help, how did other students do ect…. There should always be a reason why you want someone to see that piece of work, so if you want to share it, make sure to put it in context.  If you can’t explain why you want to share it, then it probably won’t help.

After all the data has been gathered, it can be reviewed by the RTI/SAT teams, with or without an assessment professional, to develop a good referral question.  Remember, the referral question is what drives the referral.  At the end of a Full Individual Evaluation (FIE) these are the questions that MUST be answered.   So what makes up a good referral question?

According to Dr. Smith, a referral question needs:

  1. To come from the referral source.
  2. To capture the concern that precipitated the referral.
  3. To be as objective and specific as possible.
  4. Should relate to expectations for the student.
  5. Should NOT pre-diagnose the student.
  6. Should provide enough information that the assessment planner can formulate hypotheses about the nature of the problem.

Here are examples of GOOD referral questions:

  1. Why is Joe responding slowly to the Tier 2 interventions?
  2. What should we be doing to help Sue be more successful in Math?
  3. Why is a Bob not following directions in class?

Here are some BAD referral questions:

  1. Does Joe qualify for Special Ed?
  2. Does Sue have a Learning Disability in Math calculations?
  3. Should Bob be taking medication for ADHD?

Based on the description of a good referral question, I’m sure you can tell why these are bad.

SO the big question, WHY DOES THIS MATTER?  If we as a school provide quality instruction and interventions, collect good classroom and RTI data and take the time to develop effective referral questions the Full Individual Evaluations completed on our students will be more meaningful.  This means we can go beyond answering the basic question, “Does Sue qualify for Special Ed?” Which honestly doesn’t matter all that much; and we can look at the bigger question, “Why is Sue being unsuccessful?”  Or the biggest question of all “WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP HER SUCCEED?”

This is where Special Ed evaluation is going.  We are no longer the gatekeepers saying yes a student qualifies, or no they don’t.  We now, as a team, have to take on the responsibility of going father and answering these bigger questions.  This may seem like an impossible task, and in some cases we may not succeed, but when we quit trying we truly fail our students.

Guest Bloggers


As summer comes to an end I’m slowly coming to the realization of how busy I will be this year.  I’m taking on a new position at a new school and will likely be consumed with learning my role for several months to come.  My goal is to maintain my blog and post at least once a week, but realistically this falls at the bottom of my list of priorities.  But there are many intelligent, opinionated people out there who have been waiting for the right forum to discuss their feelings and share information on educational issues.  So if you’re a teacher, parent, student or concerned individual who would like to give an opinion or open a discussion on a topic pertaining to education please type up your thoughts and email them to me.

I’m going to start a new category called “Guest Blogger”.  Your post will appear with your byline.

Whether it’s something you just learned, or something you’ve known for years, it may be new helpful information to someone else.  The more people discussing topics the more we can learn from each other.  It can be long or short, for parents or teachers; just share your thoughts.  So if you have something to say then be heard (or read) here first.