Factors influencing teachers' decisions to refer students to special education

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Janette K. Klingner - Committee Chair


This quantitative and qualitative study focused on the role of teacher decision-making in the special education referral process. The purposes were to: (a) determine the teacher factors that lead to decisions to refer students for a special education evaluation; (b) determine which combination of these factors best predict teachers' decisions to refer students to special education; and (c) learn how teacher characteristics contribute to the overidentification and overrepresentation of ethnic minority students in such programs.The participants were teachers from eight schools including three predominately African American, one predominantly Haitian, two predominately Hispanic (mixed nationalities), and two mixed populations. The teachers within these schools reflect a range in ethnicity, years of teaching experience, and special education preparation (n = 93).During Phase 1 (Aug.--Oct.) quantitative data were collected on teacher tolerance levels, efficacy levels, and attributions for causes of student behavior through the use of scales. Sociodemographic information was collected through the use of a questionnaire. Qualitative data were collected through interviews with representative high and low referring teachers ( n = 20). During Phase 2 (Oct.--Dec) the quantitative data were analyzed using multiple regression. Grounded theory was used to analyze the interviews to investigate teachers' beliefs about the efficacy of special education and their own referral decision making.Results indicate that none of the teacher factors previously found in the literature to be predictors of teacher referral were statistically significant in this study. Teacher responses from interviews yielded three categories: high referring, low referring, and contradictory paradoxes. Teachers' feelings about special education did not necessarily influence their likelihood to refer. The main differences teachers' perceive between special education and general education are class size and the individualization of learning. Teachers are mixed in their opinions about the placement of students with academic or behavioral difficulties, but feel strongly that students with combined difficulties would be better off in ESE programs.


Education, Special; Education, Teacher Training

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