A Teacher's Basic Guide to Making a Referral

Female teacher helping junior high school girl students doing homework at desk in classroom
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A referral is a process or steps a teacher takes to get extra assistance for a student with whom they work directly on a regular basis. In most schools, there are three distinct types of referrals: referrals for disciplinary issues, referrals for special education evaluations, and referrals to receive counseling services.

A referral is completed when a teacher believes that a student needs some intervention to help them overcome obstacles that may be preventing them from being successful. All referral situations are dictated by the behavior and/or actions of the student.

Teachers need professional development and training to recognize specific signs that would indicate when a student may have an issue that requires a referral. Prevention training is more appropriate for discipline referrals, but recognition training would be beneficial for referrals associated with special education or counseling. 

Each type of referral has distinct steps that a teacher must follow according to school policy. With the exception of a counseling referral, a teacher must establish that they have attempted to improve the issue before making a referral, and thus they should document any steps they have taken to help a student improve.

Documentation helps establish a pattern which ultimately justifies the need for a referral. It may also help those involved with the referral process in designing the right plan to help the student grow. This process can take a lot of time and extra effort on the teacher's part. Ultimately, in most cases, the teacher must prove that they have exhausted all of their individual resources before making a referral.

Referral for Discipline Purposes

A discipline referral is a form a teacher or other school personnel writes up when they want the principal or school disciplinarian to deal with a student issue. A referral typically means that the issue is serious or that the teacher has tried to handle it without any success.

Key Questions to Ask Before Making a Disciplinary Referral

  1. Is this a serious issue (i.e. fight, drugs, alcohol) or a potential threat to other students that requires immediate attention by an administrator?
  2. If this is a minor issue, what steps have I taken to handle the issue myself?
  3. Have I contacted the student's parents and involved them in this process?
  4. Have I documented the steps I have taken in an attempt to correct this issue?

Referral for a Special Education Evaluation

A special education referral is a request for a student to be evaluated to determine whether the student is eligible to receive special education services. This may include areas such as speech-language services, learning assistance, and occupational therapy. The special education referral is typically written by either the student's parent or their teacher. If the teacher is completing the referral, they will also attach evidence and samples of work to show why they believe the student needs to be evaluated.

Key Questions to Ask Before Making a Special Education Referral

  1. What are the exact issues the student has that lead me to believe special education services are appropriate?
  2. What evidence or artifacts can I produce that support my belief?
  3. What documented steps of intervention have I taken to try to help the student improve before making a referral?
  4. Have I discussed my concerns with the child's parents and gained insight into the child's history?

Referral for Counseling Services

A counseling referral can be made for a student for any number of legitimate concerns and does not always necessitate the teacher to take intervening steps prior to filling out the referral. Some common reasons for counseling referrals include:

  • A student is going through a traumatic family issue (i.e. divorce, death in the family).
  • A student exhibits signs of depression and/or withdrawal.
  • A student's grades suddenly dropped or there is a drastic change in behavior.
  •  A student cries often, gets sick daily, or expresses anger/frustration regularly.
  • A student who has difficulty functioning in the classroom (i.e. behavior issues, will not do work, skips school often, extreme aggressiveness).