Contact Us

Want to learn more about Riverside?      Contact Your Local Assessment Consultant

The Referral Rush – What to Do?

Amy Gabel, PhD
Written By Amy Gabel, PhD
On Feb 7, 2024
9 minute read

As we move away from the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects on student learning become more apparent and the number of referrals is increasing. How can educators and evaluators work together with parents and adapt to this adjustment?

Numerous studies have documented the negative impacts on student achievement and social and emotional adjustment following learning disruption during COVID-19. If you work Preschool – Grade 12, this is likely something you’re painfully aware of!  

Like me, maybe you’ve also noticed how parent perceptions of their children’s development and progress have been impacted. What transpires based on these perceptions likely varies depending on your location, community resources, and how parents manage their child’s education and development.   


Many educators work in environments where local norms and expectations emphasize overachievement. As a result, sometimes a misunderstanding or lack of appreciation for the time needed to “catch up” following educational disruption exists. At child study meetings for elementary school students, it seems rare to hear Mr. or Ms. Doe say that they “want to give their child more time to respond to regular instruction or interventions” following Covid. In meetings for younger children, the number who seem to present with social-emotional concerns is astoundingly high. 


Data from NWEA (2023), for example, shows that, in nearly all grades: 

  • achievement gains during 2022–23 fell short of pre-pandemic trends, stalling progress toward recovery.
  • significant achievement gaps persisted at the end of the 2022–2023 school year.
  • and, comparing across race/ethnicity groups, marginalized students remain the furthest from recovery. 


Based on work with numerous LEAs, I’m hearing that referrals are much higher at this point in the school year than in years past. While not all referrals are from parents, staff report up to 2-3 times the number of referrals in the first quarter as compared to prior years! Despite long waiting lists for many private supports, parents with the means to afford it often come to Child Study meetings with private evaluations that suggest the presence of a disability based on DSM/ICD criteria.  


So, how should we work together with our education colleagues and with parents during this process?


First, we obviously must understand the nature of any referral so that we act in good faith and apply the appropriate federal, state, and local mandates. As we accomplish this task, the following should be considered:  


1. In addition to Child Find requirements, our schoolwide and community intervention programs, play an enormous role.   

MTSS teams, for example, must continually evaluate data to identify if and where gaps exist. This analysis is critical for schools to identify patterns and determine what needs to be done at a macro or possibly, even a micro level.  

For example, schools and parents continue to report higher levels of concern pertaining to social-emotional development and mental health. Waiting lists are long with most private providers. Many parents, for a variety of reasons, are not aware, don’t know how, or are otherwise unable to help their children acquire the necessary social-emotional and behavioral skills to be successful in school or in the community. Perhaps a schoolwide initiative that has a formal parent or professional development component needs to be adopted.  

On the other hand, the data may show that a somewhat smaller group of students, sharing specific characteristics, are demonstrating a need for intervention. Rather than suspecting that most of the students in this group might have a disability requiring special education support, targeted interventions may be required. This may be particularly true in the case of marginalized youth, who, studies show, have been disproportionally impacted by learning disruption. 


2. Communication is always key!  It is imperative that the school maintain an open-door policy to support and encourage all parents to play a role in their child’s education.    

  • Providing positive experiences for all parents to get involved can take many forms – including extra-curricular activities and family days, for example.  
  • Work with the PTA to schedule open parent meetings to provide practical suggestions regarding homework and skill-building strategies. This might include parent “mentor” programs and workshops, much like “peer tutoring.” This may be particularly helpful for parents who speak another language or are from a different culture. 
  • Create and share tips for learning and homework to share with all parents in “bite-sized” pieces. 
  • Share lists of educational games that boost academic as well as social skills. Perhaps even creating a “game bin” where games can be donated by parents once their children have grown out of them and then given to others. 


3. Connect with other community organizations to build bridges and reach more parents in a variety of environments.   


4. Analyze your school’s program/intervention data so that you can concretely share what’s working with parents at a broader level. With post-pandemic incentives changing, this may help districts make the case for additional sources of funding to maintain programs or strategies that are working.  


5. Prior to and at Child Study meetings - ask questions, LISTEN, learn, and reflect on the true nature of a parent or teacher’s request.  

Some parents simply write that they want the team to discuss an IEP without fully comprehending the entire process. Those who come with testing, sometimes have a more defined solution that they’re pursuing, but this isn’t always the case.  


Both Parent and Teacher referrals present us with an opportunity to document, refine, and celebrate the interventions that may already be in place to support students. For a variety of reasons, parents sometimes have misunderstood what is already happening. Teachers, on the other hand, might require additional support from the MTSS Team or administration to implement interventions with fidelity. As such, this is an excellent opportunity to apply consultation skills to help teachers enhance their repertoire of interventions and for parents learn to use another “lens” to see their children and the educational process from a different perspective. 


To summarize, here are some practical tips when working with parents:  

Tips for Working with Parents


For additional tips to help parents create an effective “at-home” learning environment, check out strategies from one of our past blogs! While this resource was written when most students were engaged in remote instruction, many of the suggestions are perfect for helping parents engage in the learning process. For more information on child development and student achievement, take a look at Riverside Insights' numerous blogs on clinical and special education.


5 Ways to Engage Parents Article




Lewis, K. & Kuhfeld, M. (2023). Education’s long COVID: 2022–23 achievement data reveal stalled progress toward pandemic recovery. NWEA. 

Peetz, C. (2023).  Is this the year students finally catch up from the pandemic? Educators think so. Education Week, (September 25, 2023), Editorial Projects in Education, Inc. 

Shin CK, An Y, Oh SY. Reduced in-person learning in COVID-19 widens student achievement gaps in schools. Asia Pacific Educ. Rev. 2023 Jun 9:1–11. doi: 10.1007/s12564-023-09862-0. Epub ahead of print. PMCID: PMC10256316. 

Bailey, D. H., Duncan, G. J., Murnane, R. J., & Au Yeung, N. (2021). Achievement Gaps in the Wake of COVID-19. Educational Researcher, 50(5), 266-275. 

Goudeau, S., Sanrey, C., Stanczak, A. et al. Why lockdown and distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to increase the social class achievement gap. Nat Hum Behav5, 1273–1281 (2021). 

Billings Dopwell, M.C., Ipesa-Balogun, H., Rahaman, M. (2023). The Effects of COVID-19 on Student Achievement Gap: A Literature Review. In: Hokanson, B., Exter, M., Schmidt, M.M., Tawfik, A.A. (eds) Toward Inclusive Learning Design. Educational Communications and Technology: Issues and Innovations. Springer, Cham. 

Recommended Articles:

Submit a Comment

Subscribe to our newsletter

Click here to subscribe

Stay up to date