For the last seven years researchers in both The Netherlands and the United States have been studying the assessment and decision-making process that leads to the placement of students in special education programmes. Researchers at the Institute of Educational Research (RION) in Groningen, The Netherlands and at the University of Minnesota Institute for Research on Learning Disabilities (IRLD), Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, have been asking the same kinds of research questions and collecting similar kinds of data. In both countries, early research on the use of assessment data to make placement decisions about students led to a recognition of the importance of referral decisions, and thus to subsequent research on referral decisions and on factors influencing referral. In this paper, we bring together the results of the research conducted separately by two sets of investigators in two countries with different social/governmental structures and different special education delivery systems in order to reach some conclusions about the process of making referral decisions, about pre-referral intervention and about the purposes served by referral of children and placement in special education. It is not our purpose here to review the many specific studies conducted in the two research institutes, but to make some general observations based on what we have learned. The work at RION resulted in the development of many research reports. The original reports are available from C.J.W. Meijer. The work at the IRLD resulted in the development of more than 160 monographs and research reports. An annotated bibliography of these is available from James Ysseldyke. The reports are on the ERIC system* or they may be ordered from Ysseldyke.