Intervening in Pre-K: When Concerns Remain

A few children will still struggle with learning, even though their teachers have provided help both individually and in small groups. When concerns still remain, then it may warrant a referral for an evaluation from agencies or professionals who provide services to young children at risk or with disabilities. Special education and related services are available for children 3 through 5 through the local school district’s early childhood special education programs. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law, makes these services as well as early intervention services for children birth through two years available free of charge to families and their children.

Here are some important things to consider as you prepare for a conversation about referral to another agency.


Gather the information that you have collected to date.


Collect progress monitoring notes, notes from previous problem solving meetings, assessment information, portfolio examples, and your ongoing observation notes. Look for trends that illustrate the concerns that you have. You do not have to have a diagnosis or a label. Descriptive information of what a child can or cannot do is the most useful information for families as well as agencies to which you will refer the child.


Gather information about “red flags” that signal early signs of concern.


Local school districts usually distribute informational brochures for families and the child care community. Web sites are another excellent source to gather this information. Bring pertinent information to the problem-solving meeting.


A few Web sites that have helpful information are:

Gather specific contact information for the referring agency.


For example, the local school district’s early childhood special education coordinator’s name and phone number.


Schedule the problem solving meeting


Schedule when there is time to have an unhurried discussion in a comfortable and private space.


Use the problem-solving steps described below.


Ask for parents’ current perceptions and share your observational information. Use concrete examples. Listen and take notes on what is discussed. Share the resource information that you gathered.


Steps in Collaborative Problem Solving:
To make decisions about when to move from one tier to the next or to select particular intervention strategies, teachers should rely on a collaborative problem-solving process.
The problem-solving process occurs in all three tiers of the intervention hierarchy and involves:
(a) establishing desired outcomes,
(b) identifying concerns relative to desired outcomes,
(c) validating concerns by describing a child’s current level of performance in areas of concern relative to desired outcomes,
(d) identifying strategies for achieving desired outcomes,
(e) implementing strategies and evaluating their effectiveness, and
(f) determining whether the interventions have been sufficient or if additional supports are needed.
Key to the problem-solving process is the linking of screening and progress monitoring with research-based interventions implemented within an intervention hierarchy, thereby creating a dynamic link between recognition (assessment) and response (intervention) that reflects the changing needs of young children.


Confidentiality counts.


Families need to give written permission before early childhood program staff can share any information with another agency. Make sure to get written permission if the family wants you to make the first call to an agency.


Allow family members to proceed at their own pace.


Even though you have been having regular communication with families, this conversation is often difficult. Each family has its own way of sorting through the information and deciding what to do next.


Ask for help when needed.


Administrators can provide needed support by attending the problem-solving sessions and sharing observations and resources during problem-solving meetings.


Many resources have been developed to help families and early childhood educators have access to step-by-step information for making referrals. Your local school district, family resource center, and disability organizations are a few places to look for this information. Also, a few Web resource suggestions are listed below:


IDEA Parent Guide by the National Center for Learning Disabilities
Finding Help for Young Children with Disabilities (Birth – 5)


Next Steps: What to Do If You Are Concerned About Your Child's Literacy Development This is a useful resource to give out when a you and/or a parent has concerns about a child.

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