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Survey on prereferral practices: responses from state Departments of Education.

ABSTRACT: A six-item survey was sent to state directors of special education (or their equivalent) in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. items were developed to assess the type and level of prereferral intervention usage reported by state level special education administrators. Despite a lack of empirical support and a relatively inconclusive success rate, many state level administrators reported that they require or recommend the use of prereferral intervention strategies.

Prior to the late 1970s, children and youth with handicaps were excluded functionally from free and appropriate educational experiences. With the enactment of the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act and its subsequent amendments, specific due process protections guaranteed the educational experiences of students with handicaps. By the early 1980s, P.L. 94-142 appeared to be one of special and regular education's greatest triumphs.

Recent studies of special education processes, however, have raised serious concerns regarding the referral, evaluation, and placement practices used in many states (Ysseldyke, Algozzine, Richey, & Graden, 1982). First, the referral is a formal request for multi-disciplinary assistance in identifying the special needs of students" Turnbull & Tumbull, 1986, p. 202). Research, however, indicates that 92% of all referrals result in formal testing of children and nearly three-quarters of those tested are ultimately placed in special education settings Algozzine, Christenson, & Ysseldyke, 1982; Sevick & Ysseldyke, 1986).

Second, Algozzine et al. 1982) found that 5% of the total school-age population were being referred annually. Given the high probability of special education assessment and placement following most referrals, the number of handicapped students may be increasing faster than available services can accommodate.

Third, the ease with which students move through the referral-to-placement sequence is reinforced further by financial incentives provided through federal and state funding sources. Will (1986) indicated that local school districts are more inclined to identify students as handicapped for budgetary reasons rather than meeting the educational needs of all students. She suggested that additional problems arise when students experience the stigma associated with the handicapped label and when they are segregated from their nonhandicapped peers. Finally, Will indicated that parents may be faced with the situation of having a child who may not be handicapped, but must be misclassified and placed in a special education classroom in order to receive needed assistance.

Fourth, Stainback and Stainback (1984) indicated that substantial amounts of time, money, and energy are expended to determine who is "regular" and who is "special." They suggested that the perpetuation of separate administrative structures for special education programs contributes to a lack of coordination and cooperation between regular and special education services. This dual system creates artificial barriers between professionals and divides resources (Stainback & Stainback, 1984).

Last, additional problems have been associated with the team decision-making process through which assessment information is reviewed and eligibility for special services determined. Algozzine and Ysseldyke 1981) asked 224 school personnel to examine 16 children and make eligibility and placement determinations. Half of these professionals recommended special services despite the fact that psychoeducational data for these students were within normal limits. Further, Ysseldyke et al. (1982) found little relationship between assessment data presented at placement meetings and the decision reached by the placement team members.

In view of these findings, the referral-to-placement process as it operates in many situations appears educationally indefensible. A more valid, pragmatic, and educationally based set of procedures is required. The prereferral intervention approach which emphasizes the provision of assistance to regular-education teachers prior to special education referral represents a promising solution (Algozzine et al., 1982).

The purpose of the prereferral intervention approach is to reduce the number of inappropriate special education placements while identifying interventions which will enable students to remain in the least restrictive setting, usually the regular classroom. At the point of the initial referral, intervention strategies are identified and implemented immediately (Graden. Casey, & Christenson, 1985). These interventions are developed collaboratively by the referring teacher and the school-based consultant team which is made up of various school personnel (e.g., teachers, counselors, principals, school psychologists).

Although relatively scarce, supporting research for the prereferral model has been conducted and reported. For example, Graden, Casey, and Bonstrom (1985) implemented a prereferral intervention model in six pilot-test schools. Their results indicated that in four of the six schools, testing and placement rates were decreased significantly. They further reported that school teachers and principals perceived the intervention as helpful to students and that classroom interventions were effective. Overall, the results of this research offer at least tentative empirical support for prereferral systems. PURPOSE The prereferral intervention model has found mounting support in the literature; however, little is known about how actual educational agencies conceptualize and use prereferral intervention procedures. The purpose of this study was to determine how many states apply prereferral intervention strategies and how these procedures are characterized. Information was collected from administrators in state departments of education. METHODOLOGY A six-item survey was developed to assess current policies and procedures regarding prereferral intervention at the state level. State education agency (SEA) administrators were identified as most likely to respond to questions regarding state-level policy statements. The survey addressed specific issues in prereferral intervention practices, for example, (a) who is involved in designing and implementing prereferral interventions? (b) for which suspected handicapping conditions are prereferral interventions required or recommended? (c) how successful are prereferral intervention strategies in maintaining students in regular education settings? Respondents were asked to circle the letter (or letters) of the most appropriate answer to each question. A blank line was provided at the end of each question so that respondents could write additional comments or information. items I and 6 required respondents to make one choice. Other items allowed respondents to indicate more than one category.

In January of 1987, surveys were mailed to 51 state directors of special education or equivalent (including the District of Columbia). A second mailing was conducted in March of 1987 to those states (18) that had not responded. After these two mailings, 49 scorable surveys were received. RESULTS Major findings from this study are summarized in Table 1 and Figure 1. Twenty-three SEAs indicated that they required prereferral interventions for students suspected of having a handicap. Twenty-one SEAs signified that they only recommend or had no preferral requirements. Thirty-four states required or recommended that prereferral systems be established by local education agencies.

Survey results also indicated that instructional modifications (33), counseling (24), and behavior management strategies 17) are the three most frequently included prereferral intervention choices. Fourteen respondents indicated that "any or all" interventions might be included in the prereferral process. According to these state department respondents, regular education teachers are the most likely to implement a prereferral intervention.

Although teams of professionals (i.e., multidisciplinary and IEP teams, building and child study committees) were clearly the most often identified, respondents named teachers almost twice as often as other individuals as responsible for designing prereferral interventions. When asked whether prereferral interventions were successful in maintaining students in regular education settings, three-quarters of the respondents indicated that prereferral was effective only sometimes or that they had no basis for such a judgment. DISCUSSION Given the increased popularity of the preferral intervention movement, this survey was conducted to determine how many state education agencies reported that they apply prereferral intervention strategies and how these procedures are characterized. Administrators in state departments of education were asked to respond to a simple six-item survey. A number of major findings surfaced from the data.

First, an examination of the results indicated that state educational systems commonly require or recommend some form of the prereferral intervention model. This finding is very interesting in light of the fact that there is little empirical evidence to indicate that prereferral interventions arc effective in maintaining students in least restrictive environments. Lack of research support in and of itself should not deter the application of a procedure; however, like other educational practices, prereferral intervention systems must be monitored and their effectiveness evaluated carefully. A number of variables could influence the effectiveness of prereferral intervention systems: (a) administrative support and allocation of adequate time and personnel at the building level, (b) state and federal incentives for testing and placement of large groups of students rather than providing individualized services, and (c) a general but erroneous belief held by educators that special programs are a panacea. The effect of these variables and others on prereferral intervention systems should be investigated at the state and local education agency levels, as well as at classroom and individual student levels.

Second, findings from this survey highlighted the crucial role played by the regular educator in prereferral interventions. Teacher training programs should provide future teachers with experiences that will assist them in providing personalized instruction for every student. This training should emphasize a working knowledge of learning and behavioral handicaps, the prereferral intervention process, and regular and special education interface.

Finally, an analysis of survey findings highlighted the need for increased cooperation and communication between teachers and specialists and an expanded understanding of the team approach to problem solving. Numerous studies have established that teachers can more efficiently diagnose and remediate unique learning problems when teachers work as teams (Chalfant, Pysh, & Moultrie, 1979; Harrington & Gibson, 1986; Graden, Casey, & Bonstrom, 1985; Gutkin, Singer, & Brown, 1980). The team approach is the cornerstone of effective prereferral systems and is a means of enhancing regular educators' ability to serve students with learning problems. The prereferral intervention team may represent a meaningful strategy through which educators can begin to construct educational environments that are likely to maximize every child's learning potential.

The overall results of this simple survey indicated that most state education agencies support and advocate for the prereferral intervention approach. However, findings from this survey prompt more questions than they answer. For example, future research should investigate the manner in which local education agencies implement their states' policies and recommendations. More importantly, research efforts should concentrate on evaluating the effectiveness of prereferral systems. Further, an analysis of the variables associated with prereferral effectiveness must be identified. Clearly, much more information needs to be gathered regarding prereferral intervention systems. This simple survey has established prereferral as a common component of SEA policy and procedure.
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Title Annotation:state special education directors favor prereferral intervention strategies
Author:Carter, Jane; Sugai, George
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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