Many people assume that special education teachers refer children for special education testing. This is an incorrect assumption. For the most part, special education teachers work only with those students who have been assigned to them. In fact, in some school districts, special education teachers are prohibited from working with any student who has not specifically been assigned to the special education program or to them directly. In a world filled with lawsuits, it is understandable that school districts feel the need to protect themselves from litigation, but if those people who are trained to work with and identify special needs are not recommending testing, who is?
Typically, the first person to notice a possible learning problem is going to be the person that spends the most time with the student in a learning environment, the classroom teacher. While a classroom teacher is not specifically trained with how to best help all special education students, he or she has been trained in education and childhood norms. If a teacher notices a child who is struggling academically, or who is displaying behaviors indicative of a learning disability, he or she would notify the special education department and request and evaluation. Some school districts require all of the child’s teachers to come to a consensus on this need, and for parents to then be notified and consent before testing may commence.
Parents may also request testing. Although most parents do not know what is or is not normal in the learning process, they may feel something is not quite right and address it with the student’s teachers or the special education staff directly. If the child is in private therapy for speech, learning, or emotional problem, the therapist may also make the request on the parent’s behalf.
You may be wondering if a special education teacher ever has anything to do with diagnosing a learning disability, and the answer is, yes. Many schools now have a full inclusion policy. This means that all special education students are taught in mainstream classrooms instead of being pulled into a special classroom as they have been in past years. In an inclusion classroom, special education teachers will often co-teach on specific days. While they do focus on students that have been assigned to them, it is an opportunity for special education teachers to observe the general student population and look for students who may need to be tested. They can then consult with the classroom teacher and decide if testing is required. Another way special education teachers become involved is when the teachers or parents will consult them to gather information and to schedule testing. The special education teacher would also consult with the doctor or therapist who performed the testing to interpret the results and determine what, if any, services the child may be eligible for.
Have you ever recommended a child for special education testing and if so what was your role in the life of that child?