Misidentification Psychology

In 2009, the National Association of School Psychologists published an article by Sullivan et al. on school education disproportionality. The problem of minority over-identification is long standing. “National data on Black students are especially disconcerting because they reveal that Black students are not only at greater risk for identification, but also for restrictive placements and disciplinary consequences” (School Psychologist).

A literature survey suggested some possible causes. School readiness might be a factor, along with unequal curriculum opportunities. Other factors are inadequate teacher background for cultural differences, lack of varied instructional techniques, biased referrals to special education, low expectations, and misinterpretation of behavioral patterns as abnormal. Structural inequities and racism are factors, together with schools closed to family and community involvement.

When disadvantaged children are placed in special education, the results are often unfavorable: “…over-represented groups are disproportionately affected by negative consequences associated with special education labeling and placement, including stigmatization, lowered expectations, substandard instruction, and less rigorous curriculum, as well as isolation from the educational and social curriculum of general education.”

While there is need for systems change, practitioners can work to foster inclusion. “ We have a legal and ethical duty to ensure that students are not misidentified for special education and to ensure that all students have equitable opportunities to succeed.”

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