Over-Identification of Minority Children in Special Education – What Can Be Done?
Are you concerned about the amount of minority children that are being diagnosed with disabilities in your school district? Are you worried about the large numbers of African American boys receiving special education services? Are you concerned about your child who is in a minority group and being found eligible for special education! Much has been written in the past several years about the increased numbers of poor African-American children receiving special education services. This article will discuss this issue, and also underlying causes of this.
In 1975 when the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed Congress found that poor African-American children were being placed in special education much more often than other children. These difficulties continue today. In the Findings section of IDEA 2004 Congress stated about the ongoing problems with the over-identification of minority children including mislabeling the children and high drop out rates.
About 9% of all school age children are diagnosed with a disability and receive special education services. But African-American children receive special education services at a rate about 40% higher than the national average across racial and ethnic groups at about 12.4%. Studies have shown that schools that have mostly white students and teachers, place a disproportionately high number of minority children in special education.
Also, rates of mental retardation and emotional/behavioral disturbance are extremely elevated within the African-American population, roughly twice the national average. Within the African-American population the incidence of mental retardation is approximately 220% higher than other ethnic groups. For emotional/behavioral disturbance the incidence is approximately 175% higher than other ethnic groups.
Factors that may contribute to disabilities include:
1. Health issues like prenatal care, access to medical care, child nutrition, and possible exposure to lead and other pollutants.
2. Lack of access to good quality medical care as well as services for any mental health disorders.
3. Cultural issues and values or stigma attached to disability
4. Discrimination along the lines of class and race!
5. Misdiagnosis of the child’s behavioral and academic difficulty.
A few ideas that could help decrease the over identification:
1. Better keeping of data to include increased information about race, gender, and race by gender categories. More detailed, systematic, and comprehensive data collections would provide a better sense of demographic representation in special education that could better help understand this issue.
2. More analytic research is needed to improve our understanding of the numerous factors that independently or in combination contribute to a disability diagnosis.
3. More people that are willing to help advocate for children in this situation. I believe that some of this issue, is related to the inability of some special education personnel to understand cultural differences.
4. Better and clearer guidelines for diagnosing disabilities that could reduce the potential for subjective judgments that are often cited for certain diagnosis.
5. More improvements are needed in general education to help children learn to read and keep up with their grade and age appropriate peers.
I hope over time this issue will get resolved so that all children receive an appropriate education.