8 Key Signs That It May Be Time to Refer a Student for Testing


As educators, we go into this field because we want to make a difference. We want to teach students all the things they need to know to be successful academically so that the world is open to them. This is why it's beyond frustrating as educators when what we are teaching doesn't seem to be sinking in.

We question whether we aren't teaching the concepts correctly or if we are missing something. We question if the student isn't resonating with the material and if not, why. We question if the student just doesn't care or isn't engaged. We have all sorts of questions.

Sometimes we wonder when it makes sense to ask that a student is evaluated and when to talk with a family about concerns.

We have compiled our top 8 key signs to watch for when determining whether or not to refer a student for further testing.

So here they are:

1. You have a two-faced student.

We don't mean this in the way you might expect. Really what this means is that you have a student appears to be highly inquisitive or engaged during story time, hands on activities, lectures, and experiments but seems to be a different student entirely when he or she is asked to work on tasks requiring independence. This could mean that they are lacking underlying skills that would allow them to be successful independently and it shouldn't be ignored.

2. You have a student who is consistently inconsistent.

They rock the spelling test on Friday and by Tuesday they aren't spelling any of those words correctly. They've memorized all of the sight words but then aren't reading any of those words correctly in small group reading instruction. They did wonderfully on all of their assignments and homework and then bombed the math test. Students who display inconsistent results in the classroom may be struggling with memory and retention or may be relying on short-term visual strategies but aren't actually connecting on a deeper level with the material.

3. You have a student who is becoming a behavioral concern.

Behavioral concerns are a key indicator that a student is struggling. Students will do all sorts of things to divert attention off of their learning struggle and onto something else. Keep in mind that not all "behavior concerns" mean that a student is acting "naughty". You will want to play close attention to attention-seeking behaviors displayed by your class-clowns. Most students whether they are aware of what's causing their behaviors or not would rather everyone think they don't want to do the work or don't care about the work than the fact that they can't do the work. This often shows up as a diversion to completing work or having a completely silly answer versus risking an incorrect answer when called upon in class. They may have silly or irrelevant comments on their homework or simply "forget" to turn it in frequently. Now, keep in mind - sometimes these students can look "naughty" displaying outbursts or negative behaviors in the classroom - this is almost ALWAYS a sign that something else is going on and should be dealt with immediately through testing.

4. You have a student who is trying to "fly under the radar".

Not all students try to call attention to themselves as a class-clown or through outbursts. Some students will actually withdraw and try to remain "invisible" in the classroom. By being quiet and completely retracting they are hoping the teacher and other students won't notice their struggle. You will want to pay really close attention to these students and make sure they know that you see them and you care about them. Make sure to check in individually with your more "withdrawn" students and if you see any sign of difficulty it's worth diving in deeper with 1:1 assessment to determine if there might be reason to refer the student for further testing. Student may also "fly under the radar" by presenting with physical complaints. They may need to leave the classroom because of frequent headaches or stomachaches. It is important to begin tracking when these physical complaints are surfacing - which activities are you working on when these complaints are popping up?

5. You have a student who isn't giving you much written output.

There are a number of reasons you may be receiving a limited output from students. However, many of these reasons are indicators that a student may have a learning disability. For example, they may be a slower processor and so it takes them much longer to complete assignments and therefore they don't have as much to show at the end of a thirty minute independent work session. They may struggle to organize thoughts and therefore they don't have much to show. They may struggle with spelling and therefore are trying to figure out words they can use to "play it safe" in their written responses. There are a number of other possible reasons they may be displaying limited output but all of them are cause for concern.

6. Parents or teachers are questioning retention.

We don't advocate for retention after Kindergarten. Research hasn't shown any positive effects of retention and in fact, has consistently shown that the negative social implications far outweigh any minor potential benefit. Now, there are always exceptions here, but typically retention isn't suggested. Therefore, if parents or other teachers are suggesting retention for any reason, even in Kindergarten, you should ABSOLUTELY be referring the student for testing. Nothing makes me more crazy than hearing that a child was retained and we don't have any data on what to do differently for the next year in order to be more successful.

7. You have a student whose testing scores are declining.

If you have a student who isn't making growth, something is going on. If DRA, DIBELS, i-Ready, etc. scores aren't moving or are moving backward the student should be receiving small group intervention. Whether or not you are providing small group intervention (hopefully you are) seeing scores move backward almost certainly means something isn't right and should be evaluated. Supports can be put into place BEFORE THIRD GRADE so please, if you are a Kinder, 1st, or 2nd grade teacher do NOT take the wait and see approach. Scores should be going up and if they aren't this means something is wrong and it probably has absolutely NOTHING to do with your teaching.

8. You have a feeling that something is not quite right.

Now, we always want to have some data to support our intuition be that tests, classwork examples, or specific behavioral instances that you jot down but as an educator - you're spending a great deal of time with your students. If you feel like something isn't quite right TRUST YOURSELF!!! Again, don't take the wait and see approach. Be honest with your student's parents and see if they have concerns at home based on the student's ability to complete homework etc. They may not mention anything because they are waiting for YOU to say something and if you say nothing they believe that nothing is wrong. This cycle can cause the student to lose YEARS of instruction that could have been saved if you just listened to your gut and spoke up. Statistics estimate between 5-10% of students have a specific learning disability - make it your mission to determine who in your class may be struggling so that they can get the help they need to be truly successful.

If you want to refer a student, but aren’t sure if you should refer to the school or an outside professional, click here.

So there we have it, this is clearly not an exhaustive list but it's a list of some key signs that may otherwise have gone undetected. If you're interested in learning more about identifying dyslexia and how to support these students consider checking out our Structured Literacy Training: Delivering SMARTER Intervention. In the meantime, if you have questions - shoot us an email!