Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Assessing African American Students for Specific Learning Disabilities: The Promises and Perils of Response to Intervention

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Assessing African American Students for Specific Learning Disabilities: The Promises and Perils of Response to Intervention

Article excerpt

Response to Intervention (RtI) consists of multi-tiered instructional delivery systems in which educators provide research-based interventions to students that increase in intensity depending on students' instructional response. RtI is currently being implemented in schools across the United States. RtI's shift away from standardized testing offers new opportunities to consider the ways in which African American students are serviced within the general education setting, the assessment methods deemed appropriate when considering African American students for special education under the Specific Learning Disability category, and how multi-tiered intervention can address the overrepresentation of African American students in special education. This article provides an overview of a three-tiered RtI model, explores the promises and challenges of using RtI with African American students, and delineates a research and direct service delivery agenda to facilitate the development of RtI models that consider the educational needs of African American students.

Keywords: African American studies, early childhood/elementary, learning and academic achievement, special education and disability

Methods used to assess African American students, particularly in relation to special education, have generated controversy among educators, parents, and policymakers for decades (Graves & Mitchell, 201 1; Valencia & Suzuki, 2001). Such controversy stems, in part, from perceptions that standardized measures of intelligence, which are often used to help determine students' eligibility for special education services, are biased toward African Americans, and the use of these measures contributes to the disproportionate representation (i.e., over or underrepresentation of specific groups in disability categories) of African Americans in special education (Keams, Ford, & Linney, 2005; Larry P. v. Riles, 1979; Pitre, 2009; Powers, Hagans-Murillo, & Restori, 2004). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEIA, 2004) along with No Child Left Behind's (NCLB, 2001) emphasis on accountability through mandated monitoring of academic outcomes for the most vulnerable student populations, including students with disabilities, has brought Response to Intervention (Rtl) to the forefront of policy and practice (Meyers, Meyers, Graybill, Proctor, & Huddleston, 2012). Rtl models consist of multi-tiered instructional delivery systems in which educators provide, and assess frequently the impact of, research-based interventions to students that increase in intensity depending on students' instructional response. IDEIA 2004 encourages states and local educational agencies to use processes, similar to Rtl, that provide instructionally relevant assessment data to identify a specific learning disability (SLD). Therefore, Rtl can serve as an alternative to the traditional assessment method (i.e., administration of standardized intelligence and achievement tests) used to identify students for special education under the category of SLD (Hartlep & Ellis, 2012; IDEIA, 2004). Although Rtl is now one option for assessing African American students for SLD, in order to implement Rtl in a culturally responsive manner, educators, parents, policymakers, and researchers must carefully and seriously consider both the benefits and challenges of Rtl for African American students.

In this article, the authors explore the promises and perils of using a three-tiered Rtl model with African American students. The discussion is framed around SLD assessment and classification decision-making because IDEIA 2004 endorses Rtl for SLD identification only, and almost half of African American students identified for special education are serviced under the SLD category (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Office of Special Education Programs, 2011). To provide context as well as a rationale for Rtl, a brief discussion is presented regarding intelligence testing in relation to African American students and the special education identification and placement process. …

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