Themes of Interest II

Over-identification of Minority Children

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association needs to take a strong public stand against the over-identification of non-disabled minority children, particularly black children and bilingual children.  There should be a clear policy statement rather than random news items.  Global summaries about “multiculturalism” are empty.  School SLPs continue to over-place non-disabled children because of linguistic and cultural differences they confuse with disability. Current advisory statements lack focus and proper applications to reduce placement errors according to IDEA 2004.  University clinics should incorporate proper procedures into clinical experiences, and special education status should be a clinical consideration.  Courses should contain specific decision-making criteria for accurate assessment to protect FAPE.  The profession needs to take action!  The treatment of black children is a national disgrace.

“While African Americans make up approximately 17 percent of public school enrollment, they account for 31 percent of students identified as having mental retardation or intellectual disabilities, 28 percent of students labeled as having an emotional disturbance, and 21 percent of students who have learning disabilities. Some of these categories aren’t pure medical diagnoses, calling judgment, and perhaps bias, into play.”

Edward Fergus, writing for Essential Educator (http://essential, ”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….”

We support congressional efforts to continue to address over-identification issues as recently  highlighted in proposed senate legislation:

“S.541 — Achievement Through Prevention Act (Introduced in Senate – IS)

S 541 IS

112th CONGRESS, 1st SessionS. 541

To amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to allow State educational agencies, local educational agencies, and schools to increase implementation of schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports and early intervening services in order to improve student academic achievement, reduce overidentification of individuals with disabilities, and reduce disciplinary problems in schools, and to improve coordination with similar activities and services provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”

Professional organizations must show more than modest awareness of the plights of minority children placed in special education because they are different.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals with a coalition of professional organizations have added support  for the Act:

Alliance for Children and Families
American Association of People with Disabilities
American Counseling Association
American Dance Therapy Association
American Group Psychotherapy Association
American Mental Health Counselors Association
American Music Therapy Association
American Psychological Association
American Psychiatric Association
American School Counselor Association
Anxiety Disorders Association of America
Association for Ambulatory Behavioral Healthcare
Association of University Centers on Disability
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders Division of the Council for Exceptional Children
Council for Exceptional Children
Easter Seals
Healthy Teen Network
Higher Education Consortium for Special Education
Learning Disabilities Association of America
Knowledge Alliance
Mental Health America
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Association for Children’s Behavioral Health
National Association of Pupil Service Administrators
National Association of School Psychologists
National Association of Secondary School Principals
National Association of State Directors of Special Education
National Center for Learning Disabilities
National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare
National Disability Rights Network
National Down Syndrome Congress
National Down Syndrome Society
National Education Association
National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health
National Network for Youth
National PTA
Respect ABILITY Law Center
School Social Work Association of America
Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children
The National Center for Learning Disabilities
Therapeutic Communities of America
United Neighborhood Centers of America
U.S. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association

Such organizations must address directly  the problems of over-identification of non-disabled minority children.  A grave problem is to feign outrage when old and well documented problems arise again.  They need to have archives of knowledge to stand on, and not react to the perils of the news cycle.

Window looking out.

Amy Zirkelbach writing in 2002 laid out the problem nicely:

“Concerns about the overidentification of ethnic and culturally diverse students in special education first gained national attention in the 1960s as civil rights advocates, educators, administrators, and policy makers began raising questions about the overrepresentation of minority students in classes for the mentally retarded. To a great extent, disproportionate placement still remains today. Although the problems varies from state to state and region to region, it is seen as an ongoing national problem which may result in students who are unserved, misclassified or inappropriately labeled, or receive services that do not meet their needs. Disproportionate placement of these students into special education classes may be seen as a form of discrimination.”


The more one looks at ASHA organizational structure the more it seems to lack focus and realistic goals. Whether elected members,especially the presidents, can come to grips with what is important before they leave is an open question. There should be a pause in new programs until past business gets fixed. For school personnel years pass without results. Expanding into specialty certificates, continuing education, clinical doctorates, and standards for assistants, for example, should be delayed so that graduate work can be brought up to date to cover collaboration, RTI, literacy, preschool, educational assessment and service delivery models. We argue for a separate division of ASHA for school SLPs. Though the majority of members are school SLPs, I believe content analysis of the Board of Governor’s agenda topics would reveal they hardly cover school practice. We have folks pushing all the time for swallowing while literacy drifts along. Board accountability is not a subject of concern and it should be.

October 2013

Our current series looks at why ASHA does not keep the curriculum up to date so school people can better manage caseloads. What is the curriculum process ASHA maintains to make sure graduate education is current for the needs of school personnel?

Curriculum Process

In the winter of 2014 we continue to study ASHA’s “curriculum process” for school practice. The analysis is difficult because of arbitrary changes in ASHA policies and procedures without documentation and public comment. Public documents are changed by simply changing them on the website. It is like shopping lists: “Oh, I forgot to put milk on the list.” It is impossible to understand who is responsible for monitoring critical electronic documents. Perhaps the best example is concern of evidence-based practice, a trend sweeping government and agency systems. It appears the words are simply dropped into documents for public relations purposes, making it appear ASHA is “with it.” Do the directors know and understand what it entails?

June, 2015

We now do declare the national curriculum for speech-language pathology is a mess. We do so with a better understanding of how this situation evolved. The details need to be worked out. Right now two points are evident:

1. The Board of Directors is responsible, fully.

2. The prevailing curriculum model is wrong.


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