Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Defining Mild Disabilities with Language-Minority Students

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Defining Mild Disabilities with Language-Minority Students

Article excerpt

Defining Mild Disabilities with Language-Minority Students

ABSTRACT: This article considers the special education placement of language-minority

students with mild disabilities as addressed by current eligibility criteria, as well as relevant

research in special education. Problems with assessment, diagnosis, and placement of these

students are a manifestation of problems related to larger issues within the special education

field. The most basic of these is a continuing reliance on the psychometric paradigm. Attempts

to institute reform in the education of language-minority students are categorized into one of

three models, or system approaches: maintenance, improvement, and restructure. * Recognition of the impact of cultural and linguistic differences on learning problems is a relatively recent phenomenon in special education. The development of this specialized focus continues to be heavily linked to the civil rights movement. During the course of the emergence of this specialization, calls for reform have led to subsequent legal, legislative, and educational changes intended to address the major issues of concern. Within this developing field of bilingual special education, some of these issues have included the following: inappropriate assessment procedures and tools, inaccurate differential diagnosis (inability to separate language and culture from learning problems), lack of effective instructional interventions, and inappropriate placements (Baca & Cervantes, 1984; Cummins, 1984; Figueroa, 1982; Omark & Erikson, 1983; Ortiz & Yates, 1983, 1984).

These issues cannot be considered outside the larger institutional context of special education as a whole. More specifically, the problems that have tended to be conceptualized as unique to language-minority and other minority students are systematic problems, which characterize the entire field even when language and culture are not factors to be considered. Finally, these problems are directly engendered by the continued reliance on the medical model as a basis for practice and policy, especially as illustrated in the use of eligibility criteria for students with mild disabilities. In this framework, treatment of the educational needs of language-minority students is not in principle separable from discussions in the wider field such as the regular education initiative (REI), the merger of special and regular education, and the consideration of new paradigms as a guiding framework for research and practice.


There is currently a great deal of discussion about the future role of special education as an educational specialty (Stainback & Stainback, 1984; Wang & Birch, 1984a; Will, 1986). Much of this scrutiny has focused on the effectiveness of special education. The following appear to be problematic areas.

Cost of Assessment

The provision of special education services almost universally is contingent on the establishment of eligibility through the use of various assessment procedures and instruments. A major criticism of this process is the cost involved in determining whether a given child qualifies for service. For example, Ysseldyke et al. (1983) and Shepard and Smith (1981) have presented evidence that a significant portion of special education reimbursement is spent on assessment. For example, Shepard and Smith (1981), in a careful analysis, calculated the typical cost of determining eligibility for Colorado children with learning disabilities. The amount was found to be almost equal to the personnel costs for direct special education instructional and support services for the average pupil. The 21 hours (hr) needed to assess a typical child with learning disabilities for first-time placement could be equivalent to missing 2 weeks of school.

Technical Adequacy of Assessment Instruments

Although the use of tests has constituted a significant portion of the special education enterprise, many researchers have been concerned about the adequacy of many of the most commonly used assessment tools. …

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