Mills, C. (2003). Reducing overrepresentation of african american males in special education: The role of school social workers. Race, Gender & Class, 10(2), 71-83.
To date, absent from the ongoing debate surrounding overrepresentation of African American children in special has been the role and responsibilities of school social workers who occupy strategic positions as leaders and coordinators of interdisciplinary teams responsible for the identification, placement and assessment of children in special education programs. This paper aims to contribute to the developing discourse on overrepresentation of African American students in special education by examining the role of current educational ideology and highlighting challenges and opportunities for the social work profession and school social work professionals relevant to establishing professional boundaries and navigating the educational system. The failure to effectively define and assert their role within school settings and to exercise professional expertise is identified as contributing to the disproportionate outcomes for African American children. Throughout the literature, the identification and assessment processes, IQ test, and practitioner bias are most frequently cited as contributing to overrepresentation. Critics of the identification process view use of the IQ test as a major source of bias (Reschly, 1980; Hillard, 1987) affecting overrepresentation and content that it lacks both face and predictive validity (Cumings, 1984, Tavers, in Harry & Anderson, 1994). Hillard (1987, 1992) has repeatedly asserted that standardized test to not reflect the cultural experiences of African American students and what they know. Similarly, [Kaufman, J.M.] (as cited in Cumings, 1984) concludes that IQ test are culturally biased in favor of White students who constitute the representative sample of American students that provide the normative or standard range of knowledge on which these test are based. Cumings (1984) argues further that by failing to test previous learning experiences of minority students, IQ test lack construct validity. The “medical model,” also central to the special education paradigm, presupposes the existence of behavioral pathology. The identification of deficits or problems in the functioning of individuals forms the basis of assessment, labeling, and placement into special categories of disability. Often, differences in social behavior and culture are mis-identified by teachers and examiners as deficiency in functioning or problematic behavior requiring placement in special education. Efforts to reduce overrepresentation of poor African American and non-white students must confront the prevailing view in special education that differences are equivalent to deficiencies. Sorting out whether a particular set of behavior require special attention or not is highly dependent on the level of cultural sensitivity inherent in both the chosen assessment instrument and the examining practitioner. “Ruling out” the impact of culture and other aspects of a student’s social environment are often overlooked yet critical to the ability of an examiner to identify and assess the need for special education services.
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