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Minority Children in Special and Gifted Education. Issues in Identification and Referral Impressions and Recommendations. Overview. Introduction. Disproportionate numbers of minority children in special education programs. Statistical trends in identification. Important litigation.

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minority children in special and gifted education

Minority Children in Special and Gifted Education

Issues in Identification and Referral

Impressions and Recommendations

  • Introduction.
  • Disproportionate numbers of minority children in special education programs.
    • Statistical trends in identification.
    • Important litigation.
    • Causes of disproportionate identification.
    • Recommendations for change.
  • Gifted and talented underrepresentation.
    • What is giftedness?
    • Causes of limited identification for gifted education.
    • Recommendations for improved identification.
  • Over-identification, misidentification, and under-identification of minority children for special education intervention or gifted education leads to minority children being both underserved and mis-served.
  • Percentages of minority students assessed as eligible for supports in both categories are disproportionate in comparison to total enrollment figures and non-minority student populations.
  • Identification issues for minority students can lead to inappropriate educational placement and educational failure.
special education by the numbers
Special Education by the Numbers:
  • Approximately 5.4 million school-aged (6-21) children identified with disabilities (under IDEA).
  • 2,030,685 (38%) are minority children.

(Source: IDEA/OSERS)

  • 1.5 million of these are minority children labeled MMR, ED or SLD.
  • 876,000 of those--either Native American or African American.

(Source: Executive Summary, 2002)

over identification of minority children for special education
OVER-identification of Minority Children for Special Education
  • Primarily “soft” disabilities:
    • MMR, ED, SLD.
  • English language learners:
    • Speech and language, LD.
  • Usually NOT in medically diagnosed categories:
    • deafness
    • blindness,
    • Down’s Syndrome, etc.
percentages of minority groups that make up special education totals
Percentages of Minority Groups that make up Special Education Totals
  • 20% (15%) African Americans
  • 14.5% (17.5%) Hispanic/Latino
  • 2% (4%) Asian/Pacific Islanders
  • 1.5% (1%) Native Americans

38% of special education population:

minority students.

37.5% of total school population:

minority students.

(Source: IDEA/OSERS, 2001)

enrollment comparisons
Enrollment Comparisons

(Source: Office for Civil Rights in Losen & Orfield, 2002)

trends in ethnic demographics
Trends in Ethnic Demographics

Asian Americans:

  • Generally underidentified for special education; overidentified for gifted ed.

African American students:

  • 3 times more likely--labeled mentally retarded.
  • 2 times more likely--emotionally disturbed.
  • Boys labeled MR 4 times more than non-minorities.
ethnic trends con t
Ethnic Trends, con’t

Native American students:

  • 2 times more likely to be labeled ED or learning disabled.
  • Initially, 4 times more likely--speech or language impaired.

Hispanic students:

  • More likely identified when attending schools with high numbers of ELL students.
  • Less likely eligible for services if attending schools with lower numbers of ELL students.

According to Losen &Orfield (2002), “each minority group is at greater risk of being labeled mentally retarded as their percentage of the population increases.”

examples of geographic trends
Examples of Geographic Trends
  • District of Columbia:

67% of African Americans make up school population; 91% identified eligible.

  • South Carolina, Mississippi:

African Americans 4 times more likely to be identified mentally retarded.

  • Alaska:

Native Americans: 21% of school population; over 40% of students with MR.

  • Hawaii:

Asian/Pacific Islanders identified with speech,language impairments 3 times more.

(Sources: Losen & Orfield, 2002; IDEA Data/OSERS, 2001)

in arizona
In Arizona:

(Source: IDEA Data/OSERS, 2001)

flagstaff unified schools
Flagstaff Unified Schools:
  • 1875 students identified for special education (17%** of total population).
  • 867 are minority students (46% of special ed students).
  • Total population of minority students in the district: 42%.

(**Based on data received from FUSD 2/10/03; total school population: 10,860. 100-day count cited in Arizona Daily Sun, 2/12/03: 11,487.)

what does the data tell us
What Does the Data Tell Us?
  • Identification varies by:
    • disability.
    • geographic location.
    • ethnicity.
    • gender.
  • Nationally:
    • extreme disparities between Hispanic and African American identification rates.
  • National trends:
    • do not always mirror local trends in identification.
    • to look at what’s happening in special education locally.
problems with statistical information
Problems with Statistical Information:
  • Data collection, reporting procedures inconsistent (state to state, district to district, no federal oversight).
  • Discrepancies exist, state by state, between enrollment data and disability identification.
  • About 400,000 children identified as disabled not identified with any ethnic group.
  • Numbers, percentage totals must be considered approximations.
  • Numerical discrepancies exist between data collection sources.
  • Difficult to collect concise information in rural areas.
  • IDEA ’97 mandated data collection but no standardization.
important litigation minority rights in special education
Important Litigation: Minority Rights in Special Education
  • Hobson vs. Hanson (1967)
    • Ability tracking denied equal education for minorities.
  • Diana vs. CA State Board Of Education (1970)
    • Non-discriminatory testing provision (i.e., testing done in native language).
  • Guadalupe vs. Tempe (1972)
    • Upheld non-discriminatory testing.
  • Larry P. vs. Riles (1972, 1979, 1984)
    • Barred use of IQ scores as sole determiner of student placement.
important litigation con t
Important Litigation, con’t.
  • Lau vs. Nichols (1974)
    • Non-discriminatory testing; San Francisco LEP students.
  • PASE vs. Hannon (1980)
    • Upheld the use of IQ test scores BUT
    • other assessment measures used, too.
  • Lee vs. Macon (1967, Alabama)
    • One of the longest active cases on record.
    • 2000 decision, mandated “mechanisms to correct:”
      • African American overrepresentation in MR, ED.
      • Underrepresentation in areas of LD, gifted.

(Source: Paolino, 2002)

litigation has led directly to
Litigation Has Led Directly To:
  • Protective legislation:
    • Public Law 93-112.
    • Public Law 94-142 (EHA) which became--
    • IDEA and its reauthorizations.
    • Generally occurs only after parent-initiated litigation.
  • Establishment of “Protection in Evaluation Procedures” requirements:
    • Comprehensive, individualized evaluations.
    • Use of nondiscriminatory practices.
    • Use of multiple assessments.
    • Establishment of team process for referral, evaluation, placement.

Purpose: Protection of students whose learning differences may be related to cultural and ethnic differences from being misidentified as disabled.

factors in identification disparities of minority students
Factors in Identification Disparities of Minority Students
  • 30+ years of research and documentation have found the following leading causes:
    • Test bias.
    • Teacher bias.
    • Poverty/environmental effects.
    • Cultural and linguistic differences.
current research focus
Current Research Focus:
  • Latest research:
    • Continued test bias, teacher bias, poverty/environmental effects, cultural/linguistic differences.
    • Teacher/classroom characteristics.
    • Parental involvement.
    • Issues of subjectivity.
    • Funding.
    • Emerging responses to “high-stakes” testing.
    • Continued “wait-to-fail” model prevalent in the United States (or, “wait-to-succeed”).


test bias high stakes testing
Test bias in general:

Echoes experiences of middle class children.

Based on author’s cultural, linguistic, experiential background.

Normative sample problems.

Usually given by non-minority professionals.

Often, still not written and/or administered in student’s native language.

Continued reliance on IQ scores.

High-stakes tests:

Contain many of the same built-in biases, problems.

Can validity be established?

Teacher pay, school performance tied to student achievement—may result in increased special ed referrals.

Increased pressure on minority student performance—result: increased failure.

Test Bias/High Stakes Testing
teacher bias and characteristics
Teacher Bias and Characteristics
  • Lowered behavioral, academic expectations.
  • Expectations of failure.
  • Teacher experience, training.
  • Instructional quality.
  • Classroom management (quiet vs. social??)
  • Unconscious racial bias, lowered or stereotypical expectations.
  • Quality of reciprocal relationships, interactions.
  • Teacher ethnicity.
poverty and the environment
Poverty and the Environment
  • Considered to be related to racial bias.
  • Insufficient nutrition, medical and/or prenatal care
  • Poor living conditions.
  • Toxins and pollutants.

(e.g., lead exposure, etc.)

  • Poor community supports.
  • Geographic location.
cultural and linguistic differences
Cultural and Linguistic Differences
  • Child’s life experiences, activities, etc., shaped by his/her culture.
  • Cultural experiences influence a child’s strengths, needs.
  • “A student’s cultural background may help determine which neurodevelopmental strengths get stronger and which ones don’t,” (Levine, 2001).
  • Cultural influences can affect learning


  • Historical cultural experiences,

views may differ.

  • Vocabulary differences may

hamper learning.

parental involvement
Parental Involvement
  • Lack of support, involvement in child’s educational experience.
  • Lack of knowledge of special ed rights, services, procedures, language, etc.
  • Uncomfortable advocating “against” professionals.
  • Acceptance, without question, of educators’ conclusions.
subjectivity funding concerns
Subjectivity, Funding Concerns
  • Funding.
    • Parrish (Losen & Orfield) believes some overidentification occurs so that poor schools can qualify for state, federal funding.
  • Subjectivity.
    • Permeates decision-making on every level--referral,
    • assessment, placement despite best intentions, team
    • process, increased awareness.

Recommendations for Better Identification

In the classroom:

  • High quality instruction for all students (i.e., much improved teacher training).
  • General education classes geared toward success for all students.
  • Improve early identification, intervention programs.
  • Target monitoring, improving reading skills.
  • Recruit educators from diverse background, provide culturally diverse instruction.
  • Use pre-referral process before special ed assessment referral.

More Recommendations

For support staff:

  • Provide consistent monitoring of all students through primary grades.
  • Ensure appropriate special education services provided.

For parents:

  • Educators—encourage parental involvement.
  • Be encouraged to seek legal help, mediation, assistance.
  • Be provided with information, supports to better advocate.
recommendations con t
Recommendations, con’t

For districts, state and federal governments, others:

  • Improve data collection, student population monitoring.
  • Require school districts to report disparities in special ed identification, placement (Losen, Orfield, 2002).
  • Improve federal and state oversight and enforcement.
  • Guarantee that schools receive adequate funding.
  • Increase referral, evaluation accuracy– use multiple assessments, teams w/cultural diversity, parental input.
“The concern with the overrepresentation of minorities {in special education placements} would be mitigated if the evidence suggested that minority children reaped the same benefit from more frequent identification and isolation. But as government officials acknowledge and as data demonstrate, this does not appear to be the case.” (Losen & Orfield, 2002)
gifted talented minority students

Gifted & Talented Minority Students:

Underrepresented and Underserved

the need for change
The Need For Change
  • By 2040, 40% of the nation’s students will be students of color.
  • By 2050, the numbers of Hispanic students will increase to more than 18 million--27% of all school-aged children.
what is giftedness
What is Giftedness?

The definition of giftedness has not been universally decided:

  • Districts, states, and some schools decide how to identify gifted students.
  • Gardner says there are multiple intelligences:
    • Knowledge
    • Language
    • Leadership
    • Memory
    • Reading
    • Art
    • Music
    • Creativity
more about giftedness
More about Giftedness
  • Giftedness is usually defined as success in academics.
  • U.S. Department of Education shows 3 groups consistently underrepresented:
    • Native Americans
    • Hispanics
    • African Americans
why are these groups so underrepresented
Teacher expectations/


Test bias.

Lack of universal definition of giftedness.

Just what is giftedness?

Parent awareness.

Administrative issues.

Why are these groups so underrepresented?

“Underrepresentation of minority groups in gifted programs is related to a breakdown in the referral process, the assessment process, or both.” (Masten & Plata, 2000)

teacher expectations perceptions
Teacher Expectations/Perceptions

Teachers’ perceptions are based on:

  • Gender
    • Hispanic females nominated fewer times than any other group.
  • Social class
    • Do not realize the limitations of a low socioeconomic environment to stimulate and support the development of higher intellectual capacities.

(Source: Plata & Masten, 1997)

  • Language proficiency.
teacher perceptions con t
Teacher Perceptions, con’t
  • Race
    • Perceive Hispanic students behavior as less favorable than Anglo students.
    • Perceive Hispanic students as having lower academic potential.
    • Interact less affirmatively with Hispanic students than with Anglo students.
    • Anglo students nominated more than any others.
teacher perceptions con t39
Teacher Perceptions, con’t
  • Teachers identify giftedness based on academic performance only.
  • Expectations of the mainstream culture have biased the process of identification of gifted children.
  • There exists a persistent attitude that giftedness simply cannot be found in some groups.
teacher perceptions
Teacher Perceptions

Teacher perceptions affect nominations of Hispanic and Anglo students for gifted programs:

(Source: Plata, Marsten & Trusty, 1999.)

test bias
Test Bias
  • Historically, gifted and talented programs are filled by White, middle and upper middle class students.
  • Test makers are of the same class, so they tend to favor students from same background.
  • Test are not given in the native tongue of ELL students.
test bias con t
Test Bias, con’t
  • Intelligence tests: strongly biased against culturally disadvantaged students because they emphasize:
    • Rapid response.
    • Verbal comprehension.
    • Answers that are acquired in the dominant middle class culture.
test bias con t43
Test Bias, con’t
  • Objective tests items:
    • Biased because they are based on:
      • Differences in values:

Urban ghetto

experience compared

to surburban and other life


      • Differences in racial and cultural experiences.
      • Differences in language usage common to the cultural group.
what is giftedness44
What is Giftedness?????
  • Academic performance
  • Creativity
  • Language
  • Leadership
  • Memory
  • Reading
  • Art
  • Music skills
what con t
What??? con’t
  • No universal definition of giftedness.
  • Most definitions are defined by academic achievement.
  • Different cultural perceptions of giftedness:
      • Anglo Culture
        • Focus on high standardized test scores.
        • Competitive.
        • Superior academic skills.
        • Standing out in a group.
        • Assertive.
what con t46
What???? con’t
  • Navajo Culture
    • Quietness.
    • Noncompetitive.
    • Non assertive.
    • Does not show leadership qualities in public.
  • Hispanic Culture
    • Follows orders.
    • Does not lead.
    • Obeys, cooperates, submissive.
    • Doesn’t meddle in adult affairs.
    • Doesn’t judge or criticize others.
    • Opposing cultural values will put student at odds with significant others (family, culture, etc...).
parent awareness
Parent Awareness
  • Study by Bracey
    • Hispanic parents are less aware of their children’s giftedness.
    • Parents are not involved in nomination process.
    • Parents not aware of nomination processes or existence of gifted programs.
awareness con t
Awareness, con’t
  • Hispanic parents are more reserved and less likely to nominate their children.
  • Parents are not aware of what definition of giftedness is.
  • Parents not included in assessment process.
administrative issues
Administrative Issues
  • Administrators do not train teachers to recognize characteristics of gifted ELL learners.
  • Psychologists not always aware of limitations of teacher rating scales.
  • Parents generally not included on evaluation committee.
  • Administrators do not usually inform community of gifted characteristics or assessment process.

“. . . {Y}outh are the most important natural resource of a great nation. Gifted programs can help prepare youth of all cultures and languages to become productive citizens and critical thinkers, ensuring that the future of the country is in good hands.”

  • Gifted & Special Education
    • Use of ethnographic assessment procedures:
        • Student is observed in multiple contexts over time.
    • Use of dynamic assessment:
        • Student is given opportunity to transfer newly acquired skills to novel situations.
    • Portfolio assessment.
    • Use of tests written in native language of ELL students.
recommendations con t52
Use of test scores from several instruments:

Progressive Matrices, Standard.

SOI Screening Form for Gifted.

System of Multicultural Pluralistic Assessment.

Culture Fair Intelligence Test, Scale 1.

Recommendations, con’t
  • Include people from diverse cultural backgrounds in the assessment process.
recommendations con t53
Recommendations, con’t
  • Education of teachers on gifted characteristics of different cultures.
    • Explicit information such as:
      • The experiences and abilities of Hispanic children.
      • How those experiences enhance skills, talents, traits and/or values attached to giftedness.
      • Knowledge of how acculturation influences teacher’s ratings.
recommendations con t54
Recommendations, con’t.
  • Training of assessment personel as to bias in behavior rating scales.
  • Encourage parents to be a part of the process of evaluation.
  • Recruitment of teachers of color.
  • Parent education about the process and characteristics of gifted children.
what educators must do
What Educators Must Do
  • Interact with ALL students as consistently, compassionately, and culturally informed as possible.
  • Make intelligent, individualized (not stereotypical) assessments of student strengths and needs.
  • Continue professional growth and development in cultural diversity, special education, and differing learning modalities.
  • Remember that a quality educator can be the single most positive influence on any child’s educational experience. Quality = success.
education is not a product it is a process a never ending one bel kaufman 1967
“Education is not a product….it is a process….a never-ending one.”Bel Kaufman, 1967