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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education Part III From General to Specialized Education: Why and How Students Are Placed The research literature and the data from the National Early Intervention Longitudinal Study point to multiple reasons why minority children (other than Asian) would be expected to have higher incidence of disability and lower rates of high achievement. These children are more likely to experience multiple biological and environmental correlates of disability and low achievement. But while the committee considers the importance of early experiences to be incontrovertible, it is only one piece of a complex picture. The notion that early biological and environmental experience is a critical contributor to the disproportionate representation of minority children in special and gifted education is entirely compatible with the notion that schools exert an important, sizable, independent influence on achievement and on special and gifted education placement of minority students. Case studies of schools in which student achievement is well above average despite a high representation of disadvantaged minority students, or of successful reform programs that raise achievement and lower special education placement in these schools, suggest the schools’ effect can be substantial. The most significant step in special1 and gifted education placement is 1 We refer here to the high-incidence categories of learning disabilities, mild mental retardation, and emotional disturbance.
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education the first: a student must be referred. Referral is most often done by the general education teacher. Special needs or gifts are therefore exhibited (or not) in the general education classroom. For this reason, the committee considers general education, and referral and assessment for special and gifted education, as parts of a single picture. In Chapter 5 we look at general education and its potential role in the disproportionate placement of minority students in special and gifted education. In Chapter 6 we look at special education referral and the law that guides special education practices. In Chapter 7 we look at the assessment process for the disabilities of concern and for gifted and talented programs. In Chapter 8 the committee looks at major challenges to the existing system, and offers a set of recommendations for substantial reform. Our proposal rests on the conclusion that more effective referral and placement for all children require more closely integrated assessment, intervention, and monitoring in general education before students are placed in special and gifted programs. Therefore our recommendations for changes in general education, and for special and gifted education identification and placement, all appear in Chapter 8.
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education 5 The General Education Context This chapter focuses on various aspects of the context of general education and their contribution to minority children’s achievement. Our motivation for considering these issues is threefold. First, it is the committee’s contention that no coherent assessment of disproportion in special and gifted education can be conducted without a nuanced understanding of the factors leading to differences in measured achievement. This understanding is necessary because real achievement deficits are both the obvious competing explanation for any finding of racial disproportion, and because measured achievement differences are one means through which children are assigned to special and gifted education. Thus, in order to understand and potentially eliminate race-linked disproportion in special education and gifted and talented placements, one must understand the processes that can lead to measured achievement differences. Second, the committee argues in this report that a key factor in addressing disproportion in special and gifted education is support for minority student achievement in general education. In order for such efforts to be successful, policy makers and practitioners need a thorough understanding of the kinds of factors that may matter for minority student achievement. Although we cannot provide a complete analysis of these issues here, we would be remiss to take this position yet provide no evidence to sustain it. We therefore suggest in this chapter the state of the literature in sufficient detail to further support this position.
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education Third, a wide variety of studies, from many different methodological, theoretical, and disciplinary traditions, point to the complex ways in which context matters. The widespread recognition of the importance of the context of education to student achievement is evidenced by standard inclusion of theories of context in teacher preparation programs. Such theories as Vygotsky’s (1986) model of instruction within the zone of proximal development, Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) model of nested ecological systems, Sameroff and Chandler’s (1975) transactional model of child development, and others are commonly part of teacher training. CONTEXT MATTERS Perhaps the most persuasive evidence that context matters is the substantial difference in performance by the same student(s) in different contexts. In a 15-year line of research on the importance of context, Fischer et al. (1993) consistently demonstrated that children’s skill levels in a range of social and classification tasks varied according to the degree and type of social support provided by the experimenter directing the task. The experiments were carried out on children ranging from 3 to 18 years of age. The children were directed to carry out a variety of tasks, such as (for younger children) creating stories about “mean and nice” or sorting blocks into boxes. In low-support contexts, children performed the tasks spontaneously. In high-support contexts, there was direct modeling of high performance of the task. The children’s independent performances were then rated on a developmental scale. Substantial differences were found between the functional level in the low-support context and the optimal level in the high-support context. In one study, in which 7-year-old children were asked to produce stories about mean and nice, their spontaneous responses were scored at or below stage 3 on the developmental scale, reflecting a rather shallow characterization of people as being either “mean” or “nice.” After exposure to more complex stories in which mean and nice characterized particular actions with specific motivations, children’s own stories were rated 3 stages higher, suggesting a very powerful influence of contextual support on performance (Fischer et al., 1993). Competence is “an emergent characteristic of a person-in-context, not a person alone,” the authors concluded. The quality of instruction and behavior management in a classroom and school are important contributors to the context in which student achievement and behavior problems arise. In a three-year ethnographic study utilizing extensive observations of classrooms and child study team meetings, Klingner and Harry (2001) noted that, while the child study process seldom included classroom observations, referred children were
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education very often coming from classrooms in which teachers exhibited poor behavioral management and/or instructional skills. The importance of the teacher’s ability to manage the classroom is reinforced by findings in a longitudinal study of 1st grade students and teachers randomly assigned to classrooms in 19 schools. Boys who were aggressive in 1st grade were found to have a far higher probability of exhibiting behavior problems in later years if they were in poorly managed classrooms than boys who were similarly aggressive at the outset but were in well-managed classrooms (Kellam et al., 1998a). A study done some time ago by Rutter (1979) assessed the behavior of an entire cohort of students before they were assigned to high schools. Student behavior ratings were used to predict delinquency rates at the schools to which they were assigned. As Figure 5-1 shows, the rates deviated substantially from those predicted. “Some schools that had rather high proportions of children who had shown behavioral deviance in primary school, nevertheless had rather low delinquency rates. Good schools can and do exert an important protective effect” (Rutter, 1979:58-60). Given the growing body of research that points to the importance of context, the committee regards an examination of classroom and school context as critical to any serious effort to address race-linked disproportion in special and gifted education. Although much of the research has focused on general education or special education placements, it suggests the importance of the general education context for eventual placement in both special education and gifted programs and may contribute to the possible racial-ethnic disproportion in both. Our concern is best understood in light of the observation that in the high-incidence disability categories, the majority of students who FIGURE 5-1 School delinquency rates in relation to expected level. SOURCE: Rutter (1979). Reprinted with permission.
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education become eligible for special education services do not begin school with the label. Thus, schools are key actors in defining unmet instructional need; hence, they must be enabled to define it correctly and respond to it successfully. Common sense understandings of the concept of context may make its meaning appear to be self-evident. However, there is a significant body of literature addressing the complex ways that concept may be defined and operationalized. Box 5-1 presents a range of formulations that influence our use of the concept. Although the theories cited are subtly different, we draw three insights that are consistently demonstrated in the work. First, the contextual factors surrounding all students, from the most proximal to the most distal, interact in a dynamic process that contributes to students’ performance in school. Second, the notion of contextual factors includes the range of activities and interactions within which the student is expected to learn. Third, individuals, including students, parents, teachers, and other school personnel, make meaning as they interact with their environments, and this interaction, in turn, creates new contexts for learning and development. We illustrate the importance of context by focusing on three broad areas: educational resources, intended and unintended bias in the design and delivery of schooling, and tested instructional and classroom management interventions. EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES The kind and quality of resources, and the way those resources are used, affect the context in which learning occurs. Although a comprehensive treatment of this topic is beyond the scope of this report, we discuss three issues that can affect the placement rates of minorities in special and gifted education: education personnel, class size, and school funding. Education Personnel Teacher Quality Data directly linking teacher characteristics to student achievement are limited. In part, this is due to the difficulty of identifying measurable proxies for teacher quality (see National Research Council [NRC], 2001d). Although scores on teacher tests are very rough surrogates for teacher quality, some studies have used such scores to assess student access to effective instruction. For example, Ferguson (1991) studied 900 Texas school districts and found that teacher expertise (measured by scores on a licensing exam), master’s degrees, and experience accounted for approxi-
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education BOX 5-1 Theories and Definitions of Context Vygotsky’s (1978) model of instruction within the zone of proximal development argues for the role of adults in supporting cognitive growth. Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) nested ecological systems suggest that the many contexts in which children live, including family, neighborhood, school, peer groups, etc., influence development. Sameroff and Chandler (1975) argue the need for transactional models of child development, to take into account multidirectional influences of environment. Many analysts have argued that ecological systems include both risk and protective factors (e.g., Barocas et al., 1985; Gabarino, 1982; Rutter, 1985). Cazden (1986) and Phillips (1972, 1983) propose participation structures that implicitly or explicitly designate “the rights and obligations of participants with respect to who can say what, when and to whom.” Doyle (1986) describes “natural segments” that include (1) patterns for arranging participants, (2) roles and responsibilities for carrying out actions, (3) rules of appropriateness, and (4) props and resources used. Tharp and Gallimore (1988) and Gallimore et al. (1993) focus on activities as the unit of analysis in describing context. “Activity settings” are comprised of five variables: (1) personnel present during an activity, (2) salient cultural values, (3) task demands of the activity, (4) cultural scripts for conduct that govern participants’ actions, and (5) purposes or motives of the activity. Engeström (1987, 1990) and Engeström et al. (1999) propose that these activity systems comprise subjects (including people, their viewpoints, and subjective perspectives); tools (a variety of cultural artifacts including skills, equipment, and ideas); the object (motives or objectives); desired outcomes (objects transformed toward some end); rules (formal and informal ways of working with the object); a community (which shares the object with the subject); and a division of labor—how actions are divied up in an activity. Van Oers (1998) transcends “context” as merely situational influence, advocating a focus on information processing and meaning-making activities that translate situational influence into interpretation and action. Spencer’s (1995) Phenomenological Variant of Ecological Systems Theory analyzes the experiences of minority youth in the United States by combining ecological and phenomenological approaches. These perspectives suggest the key role of individual agency in responding to contextual influences.
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education mately 40 percent of the variance in students’ reading and mathematics achievement, once socioeconomic status was controlled. Ferguson and Ladd (1996) found similar evidence in a smaller study in Alabama, and Strauss and Sawyer (1986) found a strong influence on student performance of teachers’ scores on the National Teacher Examinations. Evidence also suggests that poor and minority students are more likely to have teachers with less experience and expertise. The research of Ferguson (1991), Kain and Singleton (1996), and Ferguson and Ladd (1996) indicates that schools with concentrations of disadvantaged students are typically less successful than other schools in attracting teachers with strong cognitive skills (NRC, 1999a). Darling-Hammond and Post (2000) reviewed the influence of principals on school effectiveness, concluding that minority and low-income students are most likely to be in schools with inadequately prepared and inexperienced teachers and administrators. These authors note that impediments to hiring qualified teachers include differences in resources and salaries, teaching conditions (class size, autonomy), influence over school policy, mentoring, and district management. Sanders and Rivers (1996) report that black students are nearly twice as likely to be assigned to ineffective teachers. A recent National Assessment of Title I documented that high-poverty schools have a greater percentage of inexperienced and uncertified teachers: 15 percent of elementary and 21 percent of secondary teachers in high-poverty schools had less than three years experience, compared with only 8 percent of elementary and 9 percent of secondary school teachers in low-poverty schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2001a). In high-poverty schools, temporary or emergency certification accounted for 12 percent and out-of-field teachers for 18 percent of teachers, compared with low-poverty schools in which less than 1 percent of secondary school teachers had temporary or emergency certification or were teaching out of field. The report also states that teachers in high-poverty schools are less likely to have opportunities for professional growth compared with low-poverty schools. Another concern of the report was the widespread use of Title I funds for paraprofessionals as part of schools’ instructional programs. These personnel account for half the instructional staff hired through Title I funds. Indeed, 84 percent of high-poverty schools reported using paraprofessionals, while only 54 percent of low-poverty schools reported using paraprofessionals. The report states, “although few Title I teacher aides have the educational background necessary to teach students, almost all (98 percent) reported that they were teaching or helping to teach students. Overall, providing instruction accounted for 60 percent of Title I aides’ time, and 41 percent of aides reported that half or more of this time was spent working with students on their own, without a teacher present” (p. 35). The report
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education points out that research shows no benefits of paraprofessionals, a finding consistent with the analyses of Project STAR data. The report recommends that the best uses of paraprofessional personnel are as translators/interpreters for limited English-speaking students and for liaison work with parents. However, only 3 percent of Title I paraprofessionals are employed as parent liaisons. Similarly, Rothstein (2000) stated that one of the greatest inequities in education is the uneven distribution of teachers within urban districts. In most urban districts, union contracts allow greater choice according to seniority, so the inner-city schools are left with the most inexperienced teachers. Rothstein recommended financial incentives to attract senior teachers to inner-city schools. Capacity Increasing the supply of qualified teachers to urban schools is likely to be particularly challenging in the current labor market. There are 3.22 million teachers currently working in the nation’s schools (Gerald and Hussar, 2000), but it is estimated that more than 2 million new teachers will be needed in the first decade of the 21st century (National Center for Education Statistics, 2001). The reasons for this increase are varied: enrollment growth due to increased births and migration, especially in the South and the West; the graying of America’s teachers; and the persistent problems in attracting and retaining teachers in low-income urban and rural areas (Rodriguez, 1998; Melnick and Pullin, 1999). The student population in the United States has become increasingly diverse. Future estimates suggest that the student population will become nearly one-half students of color—native, migrant, and immigrant—with an increasing number of white immigrant children from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997b; National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 1996). At the same time that the proportion of minority students has been increasing, the proportion of minority teachers has been decreasing. For example, in 1993-1994, black non-Hispanics made up 16 percent of the public school population, but only 9 percent of the teaching force (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future 1996; National Center for Education Statistics, 1997a); while in 1998 black non-Hispanics made up 17 percent of the public school population and only 7.3 percent of the teaching force (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000; Digest of Education Statistics, 1999). In urban districts in which students of color make up 69 percent of the total enrollment, only 36 percent of the teaching force are minorities (Recruiting New Teachers, 2000). Almost 75 percent of these urban districts report an immediate need for minority teachers (Re-
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education cruiting New Teachers, 2000). Furthermore, it is estimated that large urban districts alone will need to hire nearly 700,000 new teachers in the next decade (Recruiting New Teachers, 2000). Recognizing this problem, 36 states have special programs for minority teacher recruitment (Rodriguez, 1998). However, even with such minority recruiting efforts under way, nearly 75 percent of urban districts face immediate shortages in minority teacher placement and retention (Recruiting New Teachers, 2000). These data suggest insufficient numbers of prospective minority teachers to radically alter current patterns of school staffing practices (Melnick and Pullin, 1999). In the coming years, students in public schools will be increasingly different in background from their teachers, who will be largely white, middle class, female, and monolingual speakers of English (Melnick and Pullin, 2000; Melnick and Zeichner, 1998). The potential consequence is highlighted in a recent study that found that students perform better (by 3 to 4 percentile points on average) in reading and math when taught by a teacher of the same race (Dee, 2001). As Gay (1990) noted, the changing demographic trends have the potential to create a significant social distance between students and teachers that will “make achieving educational equality even more unlikely in the existing structure of schooling” (1990:61). Urban schools that enroll large numbers of poor minority students have difficulty in attracting new teachers because resources are typically more scarce than in suburban settings and teachers perceive social concerns, such as crime and high poverty, as making teaching and learning more difficult (Rodriguez, 1998). Class Size Current research provides evidence that reducing class size, especially in the elementary grades, improves student achievement and that these gains may be particularly pronounced for black and other minority students (Finn and Achilles, 1999; Molnar et al., 1999). Studies indicate that classes that have 20 or fewer students reduce the amount of time teachers devote to disruptive behavior and administrative or clerical tasks and lead to less teacher use of passive learning activities, such as teacher-led whole-group instruction (Achilles, 1996; Finn and Achilles, 1999; Glass and Smith, 1978). Thus, small class size allows students to devote more time to academic tasks, spend less time waiting for the teacher to begin instruction, receive more individualized instruction, and increase their time in active learning activities (Evertson and Randolph, 1989; Molnar et al.,1999; Robinson and Wittebols, 1986; Slavin, 1989). In 1985, the Tennessee legislature and a consortium of Tennessee universities conducted a controlled statewide experiment to investigate the effects of small class size for students in kindergarten through 3rd grade
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education (Finn and Achilles, 1999). Project Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) randomly assigned approximately 7,500 students in grades K-3 to (a) large classes (26 or more students), (b) regular size classes (22-26 students), and (c) regular size classes with an instructional assistant in 79 elementary schools across 42 school districts from 1985 to 1989. This four-year investigation found statistically significant academic gains in reading and math for students placed in small classes. Moreover, the magnitude of achievement gains for black and other minority students was, in many instances, twice as large as that of the academic gains made by nonminority students. Equally compelling was the similarity of students, regardless of ethnicity, across motivation measures and the lack of statistically significant interaction effects between class size, gender, age, and geographic region of the school. Clearly, Project STAR provides important information regarding the impact of class size on student achievement during the early primary grades. Nye et al. (1999) conducted the Lasting Benefits Study, a five-year follow-along study that examined the long-term effects of the Project STAR small class intervention. The results of this study found that the academic benefits of small class size during K-3 persisted until at least 8th grade. Students who had been in small classes were also perceived as more motivated, as participating more, and as engaged in disruptive behavior less often than students who had been placed in regular-size classes. Krueger and Whitmore (2001a,b) found that black students in the experimental group had higher rates of taking ACT or SAT college entrance exams and lower rates of teen fatherhood for black males. These authors conclude that reduced class size should contribute to a significant reduction in the black-white test score gap and that “class size reductions will have the biggest bang for the buck if they are targeted to schools with relatively many minority students” (p. 32). Wisconsin’s Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program was a five-year pilot project that compared different models to reduce the number of pupils assigned to a regular classroom (Molnar et al., 1999). A total of 30 treatment schools and 14-17 comparison schools participated in the study. The treatment schools were required to reduce the pupil/ teacher ratio to 12-15 students for each teacher. However, schools were allowed flexibility in implementation of this ratio, and classroom configurations ranged from one teacher for 12 students in a single classroom to 30 students taught by two certified teachers in a single classroom. The results of this study found the magnitude of academic gains for students, especially black students, who were placed in small classes was larger than that of their comparable peers placed in comparison schools. The Project SAGE evaluation also investigated classroom and teacher characteristics related to student academic performance. Classroom changes
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education BOX 5-3 Behavioral Interventions in General Education A report on youth violence released by the U.S. Surgeon General in January, 2001 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001a) contained an overview of model and promising programs that deter antisocial behaviors. These programs cover a wide range of intervention strategies, including family therapy, drug and alcohol awareness, parent training, and early childhood programs. Two of these programs are described below as examples of universal, school-based prevention with some form of parent involvement. Bullying Prevention Program This program is a school-wide prevention effort that originated in Norway and proved to be effective enough to reduce bully-victim problems by 50 percent. It also reduced vandalism, theft, and truancy, and students reported that it contributed to a better school climate. This program has been replicated in England, Germany, and the United States. It is an all-inclusive measure designed to heighten awareness and knowledge about bullying behavior by increasing the involvement of all responsible adults—teachers, parents, school bus drivers, administrators, counselors, and students. The program establishes clear rules against bullying and provides support and protection for the victims. The first step in the process is the administration of the Olweus (the founder) Bully/Victim Questionnaire to students. This survey assesses the extent of the school’s bullying problem and provides data against which improvement can be measured. A committee consisting of representatives of teachers and other responsible adults, as well as students, is then set up to oversee the school’s antiviolence efforts. In the classroom, students and teachers agree on a few simple rules—not bullying other students, helping those students who are bullied, including everyone in all activities. Teachers are given program materials and training to help students develop positive incentives to abide by the rules. All school staff receive training. Adults in the school are expected to intervene immediately if there is any indication of a bullying problem. tions is consistent with the claims that analysts have made concerning culture (e.g., Heath, 1982). Ineffective classroom management and instruction are certainly not the only reasons for classroom behavior problems. As Chapter 3 indicated, at kindergarten entry before academic demands are placed on students, some students are rated by parents and teachers as exhibiting more behavior problems. As with reading failure, some (but many fewer) students are likely to exhibit behavior problems even in the best-managed classrooms. Sprague et al. (1998) organize student populations into three groups according to the level of behavior intervention they require. They recommend universal, school-wide social skills interventions for all students, concluding that most students (about 80 percent of the total) should be able to
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education Implementation costs are modest: staff time for the training sessions, $130 per school for the questionnaire and computer program, $60 per teacher for classroom materials, plus the cost of a part-time or full-time coordinator. Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies The curriculum of Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) was designed to promote the development of essential skills in positive peer relations, problem solving, and emotional awareness. The curriculum (Kusché and Greenberg, 1994) is for use by elementary school teachers from kindergarten through grade five. PATHS provides preventive interventions as part of the regular year-long curriculum. It is focused on a classroom setting, but there is information and activities for use with parents as well. The goal of the program is to prevent or reduce behavioral and emotional problems by instructing students three times a week (20-30 minutes) with systematic, developmentally appropriate lessons that teach emotional awareness, self-control, social competence, positive peer relations, and problem-solving skills. Lessons include instruction in labeling and identifying feelings, managing feelings and their intensity, understanding the difference between feelings and behaviors, and controlling impulses. The children are taught to understand the perspective of others, use steps for problem solving and decision making, self-awareness, and communication skills. In order to accomplish this, teachers receive training in a two- to three-day workshop and in biweekly meetings with the curriculum consultant. The program includes 131 lessons to be taught over a period of 5 years. Each lesson, however, may require multiple sessions. An evaluation of one version of PATHS that includes a longitudinal study compared schools with the program to schools without. In the PATHS schools they found: lower peer aggression scores based on peer ratings (sociometrics), lower teacher ratings of disruptive behavior (teacher report), and improved classroom atmosphere (assessed by independent observers). Program costs range from $15 per student/per year to $45 per student/per year, depending on whether current staff was redeployed or a new on-site coordinator was hired. Costs are based on a three-year proposal. maintain acceptable school behavior with the support of the regular school discipline system and this program. The second group consists of 7 to 10 percent of the student population considered at risk for discipline problems. More targeted interventions, such as anger management, are recommended for this group to maintain acceptable behavior. The third group, representing about 3 to 5 percent of the student population, will then require more individualized programs; analysis of discipline referrals for 16 elementary and 15 middle school discipline referrals indicated that students in this group account for 40 to 59 percent of all school discipline referrals. Given the behavioral issues for this group of students, early identification and intervention may help prevent academic failure and increased problem behavior.
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education An expanding research base points to intervention strategies to work with such students in the classroom and school setting. For example, Hudley and Graham (1993) investigated the effectiveness of an attributional intervention program designed to reduce peer-directed aggression among 101 aggressive and nonaggressive black elementary school boys. This study found statistically significant reductions in students assigning hostile intent to others and their preference for aggressive behavior in laboratory simulations. Moreover, teachers rated the aggressive and nonaggressive boys as less aggressive than the control group at the level of statistical significance. These effects suggest that behavioral interventions may be potentially important for constructing an environment in which all students can learn. It is worth noting that the proportions of students who benefit directly from these interventions may be small. Yet because students are taught in group settings, a small set of students whose unmet needs result in their acting out may have deleterious effects on class-wide student achievement. A review of effective school-based prevention programs indicates that the most successful programs combined primary prevention skill building efforts in general education settings with secondary intermediate programs to manage the specialized needs of at-risk students (Kay, 1999; Miller et al., 1998; Tobin, 1992). Strategies used by successful prevention programs included social skills instruction, positive behavior management, quality classroom instruction, and school-wide discipline procedures. Evaluation research suggests that optimal benefits from a school-based prevention program for children with emotional disturbance may not be fully realized until after two or more years of the intervention; such a program requires quality implementation by trained teachers in the context of a well-organized classroom setting (Kamps et al., 2000; McConaughy et al., 2000; Van Acker and Talbott, 1999). School-Wide Interventions Instructional Interventions We turn now to school-wide instructional models that take into account other factors that can affect learning, such as scheduling, the grouping of students, within-school communication processes, and school-home communication processes. Such a school-wide approach is consistent with our view that the context, the culture, and the resources embedded within them matter for student success. Indeed, a school culture and an organizational structure that support and reinforce instructional reform in the classroom are critical features of reforms that bring sustained improvement in student achievment (Elmore and Burney, 1997; Newmann and Associates, 1996).
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1994 provided for Title I funds to be made more flexible. They can now be used for systemic, school-wide programs, rather than retained only for stand-alone programs for disadvantaged students. In 1998, the Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration Program (P.L. 105-78) was enacted to help low-performing schools adopt whole-school strategies to improve student achievement. Funds were made available through this program for the adoption of research-based comprehensive school strategies, using nine specified components. A total of 17 models that met these specifications were suggested, although others were not precluded. A report by the American Institutes for Research reviewed 24 whole-school reform programs and found 3 that provided strong evidence of positive effects on student achievement (Herman et al., 1999). These were Direct Instruction, High Schools that Work, and Success For All. Six others were evaluated as promising: Community for Learning, Core Knowledge, Different Ways of Knowing, Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound, and the (Comer) School Development Program. The ratings were compiled from reviews of available studies that were ranked by such criteria as sample size, duration of the study, appropriateness of the comparison groups, and relevance of measurement instruments. The highest rating required at least four rigorous studies showing positive achievement effects, and no more than 20 percent of studies showing no (or negative) effect. The “promising program” rating decreased the positive showings required by one, and increased allowable negative or null showings by 10 percentage points. The promising programs may not be less effective; they may simply have had fewer rigorous evaluations. In a separate investigation of the three-year effects of 10 “promising programs,” Stringfield et al. (1996) found strong evidence of the potential of school-wide models to affect significant academic improvement for students in high-poverty schools. The study concluded that while none of the programs provided a panacea for the difficulties of all children, the dramatic success of school-wide programs in some schools indicates the tremendous potential of these programs. However, they point out numerous challenges to the success of such efforts. In particular, they cite district, administrator, and faculty commitment in the context of careful consideration to the fit between the program and the school, the adequacy of materials and financial resources, the integrity of implementation of the program, and a concentration of effort in the early years of children’s schooling. Comprehensive school reform efforts targeted to low-income, low-performing schools have provided some indication, however, that these interventions can increase the number of minority students performing at high levels. Slavin et al. (1992) reported that in several Success For All schools in
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education Baltimore, 4.9 percent of 3rd graders performed at least two years above grade level on the Durrell Oral Reading Test compared with just 1.9 percent of the control students. Borman et al. (2000), in a review of the effectiveness of Special Strategies—several school-wide intervention programs in K-6—compared outcome data for students in those programs with data on other Title I students in the Prospects database. They found that black students in these programs learned at a faster rate than their counterparts in the control group. Of equal importance, they found that high-achieving black math students not only excelled at a faster rate, but also surpassed the achievement levels of the initially high-achieving math students in the control group. This suggests benefits at the upper end of the distribution of school-wide reform efforts. But whether these higher-achieving students are nurtured in programs for the gifted and talented, or whether these school-wide interventions are capable of stimulating very high achievement, is not known (Gandara, 2000). Community-Wide Interventions Schools are embedded within a wider context that may influence the challenges they face in educating the nation’s youth. Some community-wide interventions exist that suggest the potential of harnessing community support where poverty imposes community challenges. Because such interventions are not tightly controlled, it is difficult to assign cause to a specific aspect, yet the overall impact remains of policy interest. One example of a community intervention is the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project, founded in 1964 as a collaboration between community residents and faculty at the University of Kansas. It has received continuous federal funding since that time. Serving a population of historically low-income, black housing project dwellers, the project has worked with parents and teachers on effective early intervention for students with and without special needs, on techniques for managing child behavior, developing communication skills (first and second language acquisition), strategies for overcoming discrimination, and the training of teachers and parents in effective practices. In addition to focusing on effective instruction, behavior management, and assessment, the project promotes increased use of pediatric services for low-income families. The Juniper Gardens research is particularly useful because of its exclusive focus on ethnic minority children in a low-SES community and its attention to both preventing, and intervening effectively with, special education needs. One innovation studied in the Juniper Gardens research is the use of classwide peer tutoring, which, across a series of experimental studies, demonstrated superiority over conventional methods in its ability to increase students’ levels of literacy and social competence by increasing their
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education academic responding (Greenwood et al., 1990). It was also credited with successfully providing a range of learning styles and activities that matched the learning of ethnically diverse students (Garcia, 1992). Note, however, that this intervention occurred in the context of a wider community intervention, so the assignment of cause to peer tutoring must be questioned. Still, a follow-along study of 90 students through the 6th grade showed that significantly fewer students who had participated in the peer tutoring intervention received special services than in the control group, and that the tutored students who did receive special services were placed in less restrictive environments (Greenwood et al., 1993). Overall, results indicated higher achievement, reduced special education services, less restrictive services, and lower dropout rates. Another community program, the Start Making a Reader Today program (SMART), has been widely implemented throughout communities in Oregon. Currently in about 16 percent of the elementary schools in the state, most in low-income neighborhoods, the program pairs volunteer adults from the community with students who have been identified by their teachers as having difficulty learning to read. These students receive tutoring by an adult in two 30-minute sessions per week. From its inception, SMART attempted to reconnect communities and schools by promoting the advantages to both the adults and the students of time spent in tutoring. In order to implement it on a wide scale, training is kept brief and the program places minimal demands on the teachers whose students are being tutored. A two-year longitudinal evaluation of the program suggested that the performance of SMART students was statistically higher than those in a matched comparison sample on measures of word reading, reading fluency, and word comprehension. Although the difference was not statistically significant, fewer SMART (26 percent) than comparison-group (44 percent) students had been placed in special education by the fall of 3rd grade (Baker et al., 2000). The Challenge of Change: A Cautionary Tale Research on the effects of the wider context of schooling and of particular interventions to raise achievement indicate that context matters. But challenges attend any effort to change the school context. It is important to recognize the magnitude of the challenge, for at least two policy-relevant reasons. First, when a specific intervention fails, it is easy to conclude that the intervention itself is unwise. But such a conclusion may be inappropriate, especially if the intervention was not faithfully administered, if insufficient resources were available, or if the intervention was not conducted in a way sensitive to the wider context within which the instruction of students occurs. Second, if we downplay the magnitude of the challenge, the kinds
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education and levels of resources needed for the intervention to succeed may be under-estimated by policy makers. The field of education is replete with examples of ostensibly failed interventions. One such contemporary example concerns the California class-size reduction initiative. In 1996, California legislators budgeted over $1 billion to reduce class size in K-3 schools. One impetus for this intervention was the evidence coming from analyses of Project STAR data, which showed that class size mattered. Despite the Tennessee experience, evidence suggests that California will not reap across-the-board gains in achievement. Indeed, there is some evidence that the intervention may ultimately increase some racial/ethnic gaps in achievement (e.g., Stecher et al., 2001). There are important differences between the California and Tennessee experiences in reducing class size. In Tennessee, classes were reduced to 13-17 students, and control group students were in classes of 22-25 students. The California plan was to lower class size from 30 to 20—that is, the smallest class sizes in California were only slightly smaller than the largest class sizes in Tennessee. In addition, when California implemented the policy, they provided incentives for all schools to reduce class sizes, and the faster the school implemented the policy, the greater the reward they would receive. Yet schools that had larger classes at the inception of the program, particularly large urban districts with diverse student populations, had further to go to reduce their class sizes to the “magic” 20 student count. As Stecher et al. (2001) note, such schools were already dealing with shortages of space, teachers, and financial resources, all of which contributed to delays in implementing the program. The class size reduction policy exacerbated these problems. Furthermore, the introduction of class size reduction seems to have led many teachers to flee urban districts, because it put every district into the job market for teachers. Again, the Stecher et al. analysis is instructive (2001:673): [Class size reduction] caused the K-3 teacher workforce to grow by at least 25,000 during its first three years, forcing school districts to compete for qualified teachers not only with one another but also with other sectors in the booming state economy. Consequently, a smaller proportion of California’s current K-3 teachers have full credentials, education beyond a bachelor’s degree, or three or more years’ teaching experience. More disturbing, the decline in teacher qualifications has been greater for elementary schools serving minority, low-income, or EL students. . . . elementary schools serving the fewest low-income students saw the proportion of fully credentialed K-3 teachers drop 2 [percentage points] from 1995-96 to 1998-99, while schools serving the most low-income students experienced a 16 [percentage point] drop.
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education The moral of this unfolding story is that scaling up is challenging, and the complexity of the environment requires policy makers to consider the full environment as they attempt to address the issues of educational quality and equity. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Children who are referred to the judgmental categories of special education2 rarely come to school with a disability determination. They are referred to special education only after they have failed to achieve in the general education classroom. Similarly, gifted and talented students are generally identified only after they have excelled in the school context. Special education or gifted and talented identification takes place in the context of a child’s performance in general education. While children come to schools with very different characteristics and levels of preparedness, how well any child meets the demands of schooling will be determined both by that child and by the school context itself. Several of the contributors to school context that have been shown to influence classroom achievement and behavior may be contributing to observed racial/ethnic differences in special education placement rates. Financial resources are on average lower in schools with greater numbers of children who live in poverty. While there has been a debate regarding the role of financial resources in achievement outcomes, the evidence the committee reviewed suggests that resources can, and often do, have an impact. The critical issue, of course, is what those resources buy. Greater resources are required for class size reductions, which have been shown in some cases to improve the academic achievement of students in early grades, with benefits lasting at least through middle school. The largest gains from class size reduction have been for disadvantaged minority students. Resources can also be used to attract qualified teachers, which in turn would be expected to raise the level of teacher quality. For these reasons, the committee concludes that efforts to reduce the number of minority students with academic and behavioral problems and increase the number who excel will require a more equitable distribution of human and financial resources among states, school districts within states, and individual schools. The committee endorses the recommendation of the NRC’s Committee on Education Finance that the distribution of resources take into account the higher cost of providing quality education in schools with disadvantaged student populations (NRC, 1999a). 2 They do not include the speech and language category in which many young children are identified in preschool years.
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education While school resources, class size, and indicators of teacher quality are associated with learning and behavior outcomes, their influence must be exerted through teacher-student interactions. In this sense, what is true of cognitive and behavioral development in the earliest years continues to be true in the school years. Social, economic and environmental factors are important because they affect the nature of the interactions between children and the influential adults in their lives—in the current context, the teacher. The weight of the burden in improving school outcomes for minority students, then, falls on the interactions in the classroom. Key to improving education outcomes for minority students is a sustained effort at capacity building, and sufficient time resources and coordination among stakeholders to build that capacity. Teacher Quality: Recommendations for States General education teachers need significantly improved teacher preparation and professional development to prepare them to address the needs of students with significant underachievement or giftedness, and to understand and work with the cultural differences among students that are relevant to school performance and behavior. Recommendation TQ.1: State certification or licensure requirements for teachers should systematically require: competency in understanding and implementing reasonable norms and expectations for students and core competencies in instructional delivery of academic content; coursework and practicum experience in understanding, creating, and modifying an educational environment to meet children’s individual needs; competency in behavior management in classroom and noninstructional school settings; instruction in functional analysis and routine behavioral assessment of students; instruction in effective intervention strategies for students who fail to meet minimal standards for successful educational performance, or who substantially exceed those minimal standards; and coursework and practicum experience to prepare teachers to deliver culturally responsive instruction. More specifically, teachers should be familiar with the beliefs, values, cultural practices, discourse styles, and other features of students’ lives that may have an impact on classroom
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education participation and success and be prepared to use this information in designing instruction. While a foundational knowledge base can be laid in preservice education, often classroom experience is needed before teachers can make the most of instructional experiences. States should require rigorous professional development for all practicing teachers, administrators, and educational support personnel to assist them in addressing the varied needs of students who differ substantially from the norm in achievement and/or behavior. The professional development of administrators and educational support personnel should include enhanced capabilities in the improvement and evaluation of teacher instruction with respect to meeting student’s individual needs. In preparing teachers to deliver culturally responsive instruction, it is not our intention that the teacher recreate children’s home lives at school, but rather that the teacher be prepared to incorporate this information into the classroom strategically to (a) improve instruction, as when a teacher is able to help children comprehend text by relating it to familiar cultural events, activities, practices, people, etc., and (b) ensure that all students feel comfortable and have a reasonable opportunity to participate in classroom activities. Recommendation TQ.2: State or professional association approval for teacher instructional programs should include requirements for faculty competence in the current literature and research on child and adolescent learning and development, and on successful assessment, instructional, and intervention strategies, particularly for atypical learners, including students with gifts and disabilities. Federal-Level Recommendations Effective teaching practice requires not only well-prepared teachers but also high-quality, research-based curricula, educational tools and protocols, and tested interventions to support the work of well-trained teachers. We emphasize the need for expanded investments in a program of research and development focused on the needs of educational practice. Recommendation RD.1: We recommend that education research and development, including that related to special and gifted education, be systematically expanded to carry promising findings and validated prac-
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Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education tices through to classroom applicability. This includes research on “scaling up” promising practices from research sites to widespread use. In particular, the committee recommends: Strengthening research on educational improvement, particularly in schools with large numbers of children from low-income families. There are some promising models, but efforts are needed to accumulate knowledge, testing the dimensions of effectiveness (for whom and under what circumstances), and to make the best of what is known systematically available to school districts and teachers. Research on early interventions in general education settings. Research on what works in special education offers some important principles, but too few well-tested interventions with a solid evaluation of the conditions under which they work and for whom. In particular, the research base with respect to English-language learners needs to be strengthened. While there has been substantial progress on educational interventions for students who are having difficulty learning to read, little is currently known that can guide educational interventions for the non-responders to reading interventions. Research needs to attend now to this group of students. For the education of gifted and talented students, we have given relatively little attention either in research or in program development of any sort. This research base needs to be strengthened substantially. Features of cultural sensitivity that have an impact on learning outcomes for minority students have not been rigorously researched and evaluated in classroom settings. While a significant amount has been written about culturally appropriate accommodations, many of the recommendations have no empirical basis (such as matching learning styles) and should be avoided. Shoring up the empirical foundation for culturally sensitive teaching practice should be a research priority. Development is needed of effective mechanisms for communication of research findings to practitioner, policy, and teacher educator communities.
Representative terms from entire chapter: