From a national perspective, the number of children in special education is confounded by “misidentification,” improper categorization of learning problems. In 2001, the Congressional Research Service of the U. S. Congress issued a report on the “Identification and Misidentification of Children with Disabilities.” Congress for years had been concerned about misidentification, falling into three types:

“Under-identification — that is, failing to identify children who have disabilities and need special education to succeed in school;

Over-identification — that is, classifying students with disabilities they do not have; and

Late identification — that is, delaying identification of students with disabilities until later in their schooling when special education services may be less effective” (Apling, 2001).

An insufficient number and variety of testing procedures were used to sort out overlapping symptoms for complicated patterns of special education placement: “For these disabilities, identification depends on parent or teacher referral, professional judgment, criteria set by states or local educational agencies (LEAs), and often test performance. As a result, the determination of who is disabled (and thus eligible for special education) can differ from one time to another, from state to state, and possibly even from school to school.”

Learning disability is one of the problematic categories of assessment and placement. For example, gender bias presents itself in placement statistics. “Male students make up about 70% of learning disabled, about 60% of mentally retarded, and about 80% of emotionally disturbed.” Female teachers may be biased in favor of male placements.

Congress addressed the misidentification of minority children, chiefly, African Americans, Hispanic, American Indian, and Asian.
Minority children are at risk for misplacement, particularly, African American children. “African Americans account for about 15% of the total population ages 6-21 but about 20% of all students with disabilities.” They are more likely to be classified mentally retarded (Fig 5).

The report gave emphasis to teacher bias in the selection of children to refer to special education. The research of Ysseldyke and colleagues (2001) is cited. “They have found that it is likely a student will be deemed eligible once a classroom teacher or parent has referred a child for evaluation. They are disturbed by the direct link between referral and eligibility because referrals often are unrelated to students’ actual behavior and abilities. We have demonstrated repeatedly that teachers refer students who bother them. Different teachers are bothered by different kinds of behavior, so the process is very unpredictable.”

(Ysseldyke, Jim. Reflections on a Research Career: Generalizations from 25 Years of Research on Assessment and Instructional Decision Making. Exceptional Children, v. 67, no. 3, spring 2001. p. 303.)

Against this backdrop of special education operations, psychologists and speech-language pathologists are key to the misidentifications described in the Congressional report. The placement data (Fig 5) suggest school psychologists using psychometric procedures over-place African American children. “The explanation for some misidentification may be selection procedures. In the case of mental retardation, the use of IQ tests, which may exhibit subtle bias against some minority groups, as the predominant tools for identifying students as mentally retarded could be a contributing factor.” SLPs tend to over place African American children as well. Whereas teachers and parents are singled out, psychologists and SLPs are not.

Recommended is improving teacher training: “Additional requirements for teacher pre-service and in-service training of teachers, especially the training of regular classroom teachers in proper identification of children with disabilities for referral for evaluation and with respect to better strategies for accommodating children with disabilities in the regular classroom so that regular classroom teachers are more confident in serving children with disabilities and less prone to refer them for evaluation in the hopes of removing these children from regular classrooms.”

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