What does it mean that our regs no longer say “Prior to referral”?

One of the more important state regulations pertaining to special education has been changed in a way that is subtle, but important.  It has to do with the intersection of special education with all of the general education interventions that can be provided, such as  RtI, tutoring, Title I programs, etc.

For as long as I can remember, the regulation (19 T.A.C. 89.1011) required district staff to make a referral for special education testing only after the regular education interventions had been tried without success.  The regulation said that “Prior to referral” students who were having a hard time should be considered for all manner of general education support services.  If the student continued to struggle “after” these interventions were provided, the district was then required to make a referral to the special education department.

That is no longer the law.  The regulation has been changed.  The words “prior to referral” and “after” have been deleted. Now it reads like this:

Referral of students for a full individual and initial evaluation for possible special education services must be a part of the district’s overall, general education referral or screening system.  Students experiencing difficulty in the general classroom should be considered for all support services available to all students, such as tutorial; remedial; compensatory; response to evidence-based intervention; and other academic or behavior support systems.  A student is not required to be provided with interventions for any specific length of time prior to a referral being made or a full individual and initial evaluation being conducted.  If the student continues to experience difficulty in the general classroom with the provision of interventions, district personnel must refer the student for a full individual and initial evaluation.  A referral for a full individual and initial evaluation may be initiated at any time by school personnel, the student’s parents or legal guardian, or another person involved in the education or care of the student.

That’s a lot of verbiage. Let me summarize what is different from the previous regulation and why it’s important.

Previous regulation: called for the application of general education interventions first, prior to a referral. If the student continued to struggle after these interventions have been given a chance to succeed, then and only then, would the district be required to make a referral.

New regulation: does not specifically require the use of general education interventions before making a referral. Emphasizes that referrals can be made whenever.  Tells us that the referral can be made contemporaneously with the use of general education interventions.

This is all part of Texas addressing concerns over Child Find.  This dates back to the debacle over the 8.5% data point in the monitoring system, and the accusations that Texas educators were too slow to make a referral. The language in the old regulation, particularly that phrase “prior to referral,” provided a rationale for that slowness.  The old regulation allowed for a referral at any time, but required one only after general education interventions have been tried and found to be inadequate.  This new regulation changes that and should be discussed by district staff.


Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!