Category Archives: Over-identification Causes

Under over-identification II, we further sort out factors contributing to faulty decision making.

Why Teacher Training Doesn’t Reduce Special Education Over-identification

Proposed is our theory of special education over-identification. It is based on the research idea that there is an underlying (abstract) factor common to several areas of school mis-evaluation. There is a population of school children dispreferred for general education instruction. This abstract factor (D-FACTOR) is not perceived by educators and policy-makers, and therefore training concepts and parameters are misguided.

Education is categorical and this is the way training is done, categorically. This thinking reflects factory concepts of the early 20th century and the categorical curriculum. Hence, the U. S. Department of Education together with the U. S. Justice Department propose teacher training as one means of fighting inappropriate school suspension. Training should start with how we categorize and evaluate struggling children in American schools.

http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201401-title-vi.html

Compulsory Education in America

The essence of problem solving is the recognition of the nature of the great American experiment to embrace compulsory education in a society which at the same time embraces elite education. We have documented this point extensively. Therefore, we have had a class of Americans fighting to sustain elite education within a system of public education. The system is designed to “discriminate” against those children who do not fit. Even the charter school movement can be studied in this light.

It took a strong movement of parents of disabled children to get IDEA legislation passed in 1975 and force states to put disabled children in schools.

Simply, teachers need to understand their histories as workers in the government schools, and how the civil rights movement has run up against those who do not want struggling children. Teachers must understand, as gate keepers, they are caught between two movements and knowledge of same is their best defense. Some need to own their own preference for elite education only serves to make their jobs more difficult.

D-Factor

Right now, we see the D-Factor includes:

GENDER: males are more likely to be placed.

TEACHABILITY: difficult-to-teach pupils are more likely to be placed.

DISABILITY: disabled pupils are more likely to be placed.

RACE: minority pupils are more likely to be placed.

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Difficult-to-Teach and Special Education Over-identification

We are reposting this important information on the role of teachers in the over-identification of children for special education. A theory of over-identification must examine the role of teachers. The Jim Wright summary is critically important.

Teacher Referrals

How regular classroom teachers understand at risk children and then decide what special help they need is a critical factor as to the number of children who end up in special education. For example, there are more boys than girls in special education. We learn: “e.g., evidence that female teachers are more likely than male teachers to refer boys for special education coupled with the predominance of female teachers in the teaching force, especially in the elementary grades” (Policy Archive).

Although some special education referrals come from child find activities and parents, most come from the teaching faculty. Indications are teachers refer too many children to special education.

One hypothesis is that teachers view special education as a remedial support service rather than a disability-only service. Modern classrooms are full of “difficult-to-teach” (DTT) children, whatever the problems the children have. They do not easily follow the standard lessons teachers are prepared to conduct. When 20% or more of the children in a teacher’s classroom are difficult-to-teach, it is hard to achieve instructional goals.

A clown on main street.

A clown on mainstreet.

“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”.

Comment

In our most recent posts it is clear over-identification of special needs children is correlated with the over-identification of detention and suspension cases. The U. S. Departments of Education and Justice have issued a paper on the topic. Hence teachability is a factor in discrimination against struggling students. See the post, “Suspensions Hit Minorities, Special-ed Students Hardest”

http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201401-title-vi.html

Theory of Special Education Over-identification

We have sketched a broad array of issues and factors determining inappropriate special education placement. Full description prior to theory construction is necessary but it is possible to identify preliminary issues.

Factors

Right now, we see FOUR chief factors which taken together predict the likelihood of inappropriate placement.

GENDER: males are more likely to be placed.

TEACHABILITY: difficult-to-teach pupils are more likely to be placed.

DISABILITY: disabled pupils are more likely to be placed.

RACE: minority pupils are more likely to be placed.

Mr. Chang, swan-goose and friend, Lakeside, Arizona

Mr. Chang, swan-goose and friend, Lakeside, Arizona

An easy-to-teach white female non-disabled pupil is less likely to be placed in special education. “Points” pile up against children who display school problems across the board.

Placement Category

Four school categories are involved in incorrect placement:

SPECIAl EDUCATION OVER-IDENTIFICATION
DISPROPORTIONAL OVER-IDENTIFICATION
SCHOOL DETENTION
SCHOOL SUSPENSION

Therefore, over-identification is not a single universe of school decision-making. There is an underlying universe defined empirically by perceived learning status.

Learning Status

A dispreferred pupil is more likely to be placed in segregating programs, including special education. Dispreferred pupils are more likely to drop out of school, have employment problems, develop criminal patterns, or go to prison.

Terminology

The popular label for dispreferred children is “struggling children.” (See our prior posts on the topic.)

Disproportionality is not predicted solely by race and therefore is not an exclusive area of professional knowledge and training. Factors affecting struggling children cross the line between general education and special education.

“Suspensions Hit Minorities, Special-ed Students Hardest”

href=”https://schoolspeechpathology.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/frontlewis3232_620x465.jpg”>Library of Congress, via CBS News: "Child labor photos from 1911 The child labor photos Lewis Hine took in the early 1900s were meant to shock Americans into reforming child labor laws. Decades later, many of these photos are getting a fresh look, thanks to one man's efforts to link the subjects to their living relatives. This photo taken in Winchendon, Mass., in Sept. 1911, shows Mamie Laberge at her workstation. She is under the legal work age. 

Caption information from "The Library of Congress." Library of Congress, via CBS News: “Child labor photos from 1911
The child labor photos Lewis Hine took in the early 1900s were meant to shock Americans into reforming child labor laws. Decades later, many of these photos are getting a fresh look, thanks to one man’s efforts to link the subjects to their living relatives. This photo taken in Winchendon, Mass., in Sept. 1911, shows Mamie Laberge at her workstation. She is under the legal work age. 

Caption information from “The Library of Congress.”[/caption]

“Suspensions hit minorities, special-ed students hardest” is the headline for an article authored by Linda Shaw, Seattle Times education reporter.

No surprise here:

“A new analysis of discipline data in nine Washington school districts shows that black and Native American students, as well as those in special education, are suspended and expelled at higher rates than the average student.”

The U. S. Department of Education is looking into this.

What is important is that the problem is beyond special education personnel and policies. School cultures seek to exclude struggling children from educational opportunity and minority children are more likely to struggle.

Past Findings

As featured on NPR, the Texas example is clear-cut: “Texas Schools Study: Most Kids Have Been Suspended, CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, July 19, 2011

http://www.npr.org/2011/07/19/138495061/report-details-texas-school-disciplinary-policies

http://seattletimes.com/html/education/2023423257_schooldisciplinexml.html

1. Does ASHA Have a Curriculum Process for School Issues?

After a great deal of survey work, we wonder whether the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has a curriculum development process for trending school topics.

Google Search

A google search for ASHA curriculum procedures turned up only 223,000 hits, and only two, it appears, are directly published by ASHA.  The one example was  Curriculum Resources – AmericanSpeechLanguage– Hearing (July 2013).

In the university and college programs, curriculum development is always key to keeping instruction modern and relevant to practice after graduation. But how ASHA launches curriculum proposes for pre-service modernization is vague at best. Many school issues have surfaced where SLPs must glean what they can from costly continuing education programs or hearsay.

Course ideas such as reading come up but nothing comes of them.

A clown on mainstreet.

A clown on mainstreet.

11. Special Education Overidentification Causes: Agencies

The more one becomes familiar with the history of special education over-identification (including disproportionality) the more one sees the anemic efforts made by private and public institutions.  The problem should not be regarded as a current “hot topic.”  It is a neglected topic, even ignored.

For example, Edward Fergus, writing for Essential Educator (http://essential educator.org/), ”Distinguishing Difference from Disability: The Common Causes of Racial/Ethnic Disproportionality in Special Education,” reports:

“Since Lloyd Dunn’s report (1968) on the overrepresentation of Black and Latino students in special education countless federal, state and district reports, as well as research studies exist that document the various facets of educational practice impacting these rates. Most recently the over-representation picture is troubling:  in 2008, the school enrollment of Blacks (15.5%) differed greatly from their representation in special education (20.4%) and among students with an Emotional Disturbance classification (29.1%); while enrollment of Whites (55.5%) was mirrored in special education (55.9%) and among students with an ED classification (56.3%).”

We pay decision makers good money to address these historic problems and make them right.  Let’s give some suggested grades based on what we are seeing in 2011.

Grades

College Instructors:  D-.  Classroom instruction comes up short.  After 40 years we should be seeing more leadership from education to sort out misidentification.

Principals:  B-.  Manage an enormous volume of work and will help improve special education when asked.  Often do not have enough authority to make changes. Poor managers of Title 1 programs.

Attorneys:  C+.  Despite public suspicion, attorneys bring rational thinking to special education policies.  They support parents and disseminate legal opinions. Important cases brought to the courts have changed education for the better.

Congress:  B+.  IDEA 97 turned the corner and put in place the equipment needed for equal opportunity in education.  Light on workable solutions, however. For example, recommendations to train teachers seldom work, and money has provided “perverse incentives.”

Related Services Personnel:  F.  Too busy getting to the next appointment.  Failure to take on roles in education.

General Education (SEA):   F.  Dropped the ball on title 1 programs, turning out to be ineffective for providing remedial support, while allowing over-referral to special education programs. 

Cabinet:  D.  Our presidents and secretaries of education have jaw boned too little on the subject of over-identification.  The “culture of compliance” has continued without innovation in total special education management.  

Parent Groups:  B-.  They keep special education issues in front of the public eye but favor special education as a substitute for general education remediation.  They do not worry enough about stigmas of placement and least restrictive environment nearly enough.

Special Education Directors:  D+.  Do a difficult job efficiently but typically lack adequate knowledge for the complexities at hand.  Fall into the compliance game to satisfy state auditors.  Are over-shadowed by other school administrators in general education.

State Governments (SEAs):  D-.  Wide variation in performance state-to-state but overall not much push for substantive change in special education beyond what is expected of them. Sometimes cause more problems than they are worth.

School Psychology:  D-.  Does try to quantify behaviors, but ends up with invalid instruments for classifying learning disabled children and lending support to the growth of  the emotional disturbance category where misplacement abounds.  Some positive signs for reducing over-identification now.  

Local Superintendents:  C-.  They do try to implement laws as they come down to them and this helps at-risk children but they get caught up in money issues and community pressures.  

Curriculum Directors:  F.  Failure to  show up.  Leave superintendents twisiting in the wind.

State Legislatures:  F.  Do not seem to know much about education and special education policies.    

Advocacy Organizations:  I.  Difficult to separate out their agendas, some of which are tied to political positions.  As non-profit organizations they have built in conflicts of interest, too many masters to serve.

Citizen Tax Payers.  D-.  But how can they know when schools lack transparency? When they care, they are great.  Parents of handicapped children must be admired.

Department of Education:  C.  Yes, they do form the regulations and do some spot reinforcement but put very little force behind curbing misidentification.  Too insular and passive.

Professional Organizations:  D-.  Are in the bind of having to protect jobs for their graduates.  They too suffer from conflicting goals brought on by their non-profit status.

Medical doctors:  B+.  Still a solid link in the system of judgment and placement. They often lack follow up skills to help handicapped children pull through and do not have a clue about education assessment.

Journalists:  D+.  Difficult to generalize because of major news investigations but very little cultural memory for this recurring problems.  The New York Times is an exception, with its excellent archives.   Local news organizations are too caught up in news cycles and fad issues.  Don’t say, “Didn’t this happen last year?”

Teachers:  C+. They have the spirit and the competence but are overly compliant because of heavy work demands.  Their problem is they are all too willing to ship mis-fit kids off to special education, a kind of “get them out of my hair” approach.

Clerical:  I.  Contribute to the compliance problem but are badly needed and often are very helpful.  Lack perspectives on their important jobs in education and can’t see beyond clerical deadlines.

School Boards.  D+.  Have a difficult job given their knowledge, time and community pressures. They rely on the professionals for good advice and often do not get it.

Websites Authors:  D-.  Preoccupied by procedural issues and the “how to.”  Difficult to assess.  Lack follow up and conclusive accomplishments.

Academic / Scholars:  B.  Scholars write helpful papers forming an archive overcoming historical shortsightedness.  Archival research is the only protection we have against political repetition and impulsivity.  

Comment

“Grading” only serves to pinpoint responsibilities in the chain of decision-makers who can do something about over-placement and over-retention of at-risk American school children but drop the ball.   We rely on the good sense of Linda Schrock Taylor to remind us of the stark facts:

“So, do not underestimate the strength of this black hole, and the power of federal monies – education and Medicaid – to create and sustain the energy force that entraps and holds these children. Do notice how few honest steps are taken to bring about real reform – ones that would actually, and effectively, educate American children in general, and special education students, in particular. The most shocking and inexcusable aspect of the pretense, the mouth-service, given to “accountability,” is the dearth of professionals who actively attempt to get students OUT of Special Education. Few see any value in specifically structuring special education programs towards ‘repairing’ and releasing children; few feel any urge to commend an exiting child; few see the importance of choosing curriculum and methods that would prevent the need for such programs in the first place.“

Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 40 years to pull up our grades to passing marks.

10. Special Education Overidentification Causes: Local Enforcement

Enforcement against special education overidentification begins with the federal government and the U. S. Department of Education supervised by the U. S. President and his or her cabinet. IDEA authority transfers to the states (SEAs) and downward to local school districts (LEAs).  States are suppose to prod districts to cut down on overidentification. States can lose federal money if they do not comply.

CALIFORNIA CASE EXAMPLE

Reporting in the Silicon Valley Mercury News, on April 20m 2011, Theresa Harrington (Contra Costa Times) gives us a small picture of enforcement issues in California at the local level,  “Mt. Diablo schools must address high rates of minority students in special education programs, or suspended or expelled.”

Last year the California Department of Education identified 85 school districts in California as having disproportional representations of minority students. Now 45 districts have taken action to improve ethnic imbalances in special education and suspensions.  Mt Diablo was identified as a district needing “to remove barriers that prevent each student from receiving an equitable education.” Mt. Diablo school leaders are seeking advice from other districts about how to formulate a prevention plan.  

“I believe this work is very important and if the board doesn’t move forward with a policy, then we will have failed more students than we have ever helped,” Trustee Linda Mayo said. “Our community is in denial about how we treat black and brown students across this district and our community is in denial about the changing demographics of our community. Our students belong to all of us, because we are a family, and they deserve the best opportunities possible.”

COMMENT

So we see national and state special education enforcement can break down at the local level.  There are many national causes of overidentification.  Local causes tend to be idiosyncratic and must be understood through qualitative research to include community and school norms and attitudes. 

One wonders why the U. S. Secretary of Education doesn’t communicate directly with U. S. schools.  The trickle down method is precariously inefficient. Using electronic mail, it is possible to employ a simple and inexpensive system to advise LEA’s of current federal policies.

http://www.mercurynews.com/top-stories/ci_17893627

9. Special Education Overidentification Causes: “Disproportionality”

A factor in the development of a Proper framework for understanding overidentification is confusion with the narrow topic of “disproportionality.”  Proper here means a system broadly organized enough to cover the critical factors contributing to the protracted problem of putting too many American school children in special education.  Research into disproportionality distorts the issues and invites the polemics of one hundred years of debate over racism.
 
In our prior posts we make clear overidentification and misevaluation are intertwined with failures in both general education and special education.  Reform requires a comprehensive understanding of how “struggling children” should be educated. 
 
One can see “disproportionality” is capturing the moment.   cf., 6. Special Education Overidentification Causes: More on Enforcement
 
 
“Special Education Overidentification Hits:”
 
2000:   15200
2004:   15600
2005:   14200
2006:   13000
2007:   12100
2008:   10500
2009:     8790
2010:     8754
 
“Special Education Disproportionality Hits:”
 
2000:  37000
2004:  41400 
2005:  49400
2006:  59500
2007:  73600
2008:  70700
2009:  64400
2010:  78900

8. Special Education Overidentification Causes: Teacher Training

Education reformers replay “teacher training” as a grand solution to many school teaching problems.  “If only we could just train them right!”

Signs that special education and related services personnel are receiving sufficient and relevant preservice and inservice staff training to prevent overidentification are nil.  Somehow Congress buys into this notion of staff training over and over, and will even give money for it over and over.

Take Response to Intervention, for example.  This is a perfectly reasonable model to sort out children for remedial support and special education but reports indicate great variation as to implementation.  cf.,  7. RTI Success  Here are some findings:

“REL West (Regional Education Laboratories, U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, 2009) conducted a survey of RTI policies and procedures employed in selected states.  A table 3 presents an overview of how nine states (Arizona, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington) conformed to eight programmatic concerns.

No state addressed all eight concerns. Three states addressed six, and one four.  Of the 73 cells in the table, 41 (64%) were filled. Progress in the nine states was uneven, suggesting considerable discretion as to how RTI was being organized. (There is no federal mandate for RTI.)

All nine states were “promoting general education ownership” of RTI.  The table format excluded special education as a concern. “…while state respondents highlighted as accomplishments progress in training and technical assistance, cross-discipline collaborative efforts, and framing RTI as a general education initiative (as opposed to one exclusively for identifying students with spe­cific learning disabilities), they also acknowledged some of these areas as ongoing concerns…

In four states—Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, and Washington—respondents described special and general education depart­ments as sharing responsibility.

Two states deliberately excluded the term RTI in naming their initiatives, according to respondents, to avoid its association with special education and to foster broader application.”

Only 4 states were “incorporating student diversity” into their RTI programs. “In implementing RTI policy, as with any other educa­tion reform or policy, states need to consider the di­verse needs of students.”

We’ve looked at  press reports on local RTI implementation, and only a small number of  administrators seem to be involved in leadership.  Special education and related services personnel are at the margins.  Some school boards get involved but it appears broad participation of school personnel is not an initial aim.  Diversity is not a significant concern either.

Staff training can’t work well unless overidentification is put on the table for frank discussion and technical specification.  Training entails specifics.  Diversity has to be defined programmatically.  For example, one must instruct teachers to recognize and COUNT the number of minorities in their classrooms and on their special education referral lists.  Counting is easily mastered and yet has powerful implications for awareness and judgment.  Administrators can count the counts and come up with profound reports to the faculty.

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.”