7. Special Education Overidentification Causes: Teacher Referral

Apart from preschool referrals, teachers generate the referrals fueling needless special education placements.  There are two key reasons why they over-refer.

First is “difficult to teach” children (cf., 27. Special Education Overidentification: “Difficult-to-Teach”)

“Children who are ‘difficult to teach’ (DTT) are those who experience considerably greater difficulty learning new educational material and mastering academic concepts than do their typical peers of the same age. Difficult-to-teach students may also display significant behavior problems (e.g., chronic inattention, a tendency to act impulsively, verbal defiance, or physical aggression). This group can be thought of as falling along a continuum, ranging from less severe to more-severe learning problems. In some cases, DTT children are classified as having a special education disability and receive special services. Many of these students, however, have no identified disability and are enrolled in general-education classrooms without additional support” (Jim Wright).

Second is inadequate non-special education support for children who are difficult to manage. “When you have got your hair full of wild kids all day, it is really difficult to get anything done, ” teachers say.  Or, “OMG, I’m glad the Smith family moved!”

With the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Congress moved to help “poor children” succeed academically.   The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and Title I provided funding to schools to support instruction but has come up short.  Teachers have still not gotten up to speed on specialized teaching techniques for at-risk children.  Referrals to child study committees appear to have little or no impact on improvement.  Special education has taken over part of the responsibility of providing remedial instruction for non-disabled children.  The growth of the learning disability category in special education suggests it replaced Title I supports.  RTI has now been selected as the modern alternative to special education, supplanting the work that could have been done in Title I.

“The Berkeley (CA, USA) Daily Planet reported that the Berkeley local education agency received a report about special education services. According the article by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor, the “report concluded that the district’s special education classes have an ‘over-representation of minority students.’” The article indicates that a parent said, “she found the problem with overidentification ‘appalling’ and said that students ‘should not get dumped into the special education program’ just because the ‘general education program in the district is not working properly.’”  www.teacheffectively.com (2007)  Special educationoveridentification and dumping « Teach Effectively!

Teachers have been conditioned to refer to special education rather than general education remedial programs.  “Britton Loftin, writing for Politics365 (“African Americans Falsely Tagged Special Ed in Houston,” http://politic365.com/April 2011), reports on patterns of disproportionality in Houston, Texas.  Superintendent Terry Grier has directed attention to the problem: “An audit done by a Boston firm, along with research conducted by Grier’s administration, made statistical comparisons to other school districts.   The report done by Thomas Hehir and Associates of Boston studied HISD in the fall of 2010.”

 One finding was Hispanic students were categorized as special education students on the basis of language differences.  “He believes that too many Hispanic students are not being helped with the English language at the elementary level, such that when they reach the middle and high school levels the school is unable to work with them and, consequently, moves them to special education.”

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