How to Refer a Child for Special Education Testing

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Making a referral for your child is the first important step to have him assessed to diagnose a learning disability. Learn what you need to know to make a referral for your child.

Who Can Make a Referral for Testing?

Referrals can be made by parents, guardians, custodial grandparents, teachers, counselors, or other school staff members who suspect a child is showing signs of learning disabilities.

When Can Students Be Referred?

School-aged children can be assessed at any grade level, but they are most often referred to and diagnosed with learning disabilities in the early elementary years.

Writing a Letter of Referral

Most school districts require referrals to be made in writing and submitted to a school administrator, such as a principal. Type or neatly write your request in a business style letter or on a district form. Contact your child's principal or counselor to find out if a form is needed and where you can get a copy. Ask for the name and mailing address of the school administrator responsible for receiving referrals for your child's school.

What to Include in the Referral

    1. Your mailing address, daytime and evening telephone numbers;
    2. Your child's name, birth date, school, and grade;
    3. A description of your child's learning problems.
    4. A statement that you are making a referral for evaluation and are requesting an Individual Education Program team meeting to discuss the referral; and
    5. Several dates and times you can be available to meet with school staff 

What to Avoid When Referring for Testing

    1. Lengthy letters — Keep your letter under two pages, double-spaced.
    2. Expressing anger or making accusations — Although parents may have struggled with school staff because of their child's learning problems, avoid thinking about those incidents when writing your letter. Keep your tone professional.
    3. Including personal details — Focus on your child and her learning needs. If there are other matters affecting your child, such as a recent divorce or death in the family, you will have the opportunity to share them with the IEP team, counselor, or school psychologist in person.

Delivery of the Referral

Generally, it is best to mail your referral. This increases the chance that the school administrator will read when she can focus on its content. Send the letter via certified mail if you are concerned it could be lost. Alternately, if you deliver the letter by hand to the school's office, ask the secretary to stamp it with the date and give you a copy. Be prepared to pay a reasonable fee for the copy of approximately five to ten cents per page.

What Next?

  1. Once you've mailed the letter, allow adequate time for delivery and for the school staff to process your request. If you have not been contacted within a week of mailing the letter, contact the administrator to ensure it was received. While you are waiting, learn what to expect at an IEP team meeting, learn about pre-referral screening, study your parent rights under IDEA, and the reasons parents are important in IEP team meetings.

What You Need

  • Materials for writing a letter by hand or computer
  • The name and mailing address of your child's school principal or counselor
  • Samples of your child's work, test results, or other progress data.
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