7. Special Education Overidentification 2011: Native Americans

“Over-identification of Native children as needing special education, including speech-language treatment, was a key concern identified in a recently completed study of Native American students in Washington state public schools” (Inglebret et al., Infusing Tribal Culture in Washington Schools, The ASHA Leader, 15, 24-25, 2010).

In Washington state, there is an “achievement gap” between Native and non-Native children.

Overidentification of Native children was traced to a “lack of visibility of Native culture in the regular curriculum..,” resource distribution, personnel preparation, and misuse of standardized testing procedures.

Standard testing procedures rely on formats involving pictures and written words having limited Native content.

“As a consequence, standardized testing procedures may be unfamiliar to a child and disconnected from daily life and may not, therefore, accurately reflect a child’s full potential.” Thus misevaluation leads to overidentification to say nothing about the problems of exiting Native children from speech and language services.

SLPs often do not have enough information to interpret cultural and linguistic differences: “For example, a boy who speaks White Mountain Apache may seem to be lisping to the ear of the referring teacher. A science approach is to point out that his native language contains a lateral stop fricative that sounds exactly like a lisp. Therefore, there is no diagnosis of disability. The boy simply has an accent carried over from his first language” (cf. 5. SLP Caseloads).

Arizona’s Goldwater Institute summarized a 2000 civil rights report on disproportionality.  Arizona has a large Native American population:

The OCR’s data for Arizona public schools confirms the pattern established in previous research conducted with more limited data: minority students attending predominantly white public schools in Arizona are significantly more likely to be placed in special education programs than their peers. Overall, when comparing the combined rates of children with Emotionally Disturbed, Mentally Retarded, and Specific Learning Disability labels, both American Indian and Hispanic males are labeled at a rate 64 percent higher in schools that are 75 percent or more white than in schools that are 25 percent or less white. The same figure for white male students shows an almost 50 percent decline in disability rates. These results come about despite the fact that minority students attending predominantly white schools are less likely on average to grow up in poverty than minority students attending predominantly minority schools.

Race to the Bottom: Minority Children and Special Education in Arizona Public Schools

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