According to the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (2002), in the 2000–2001 school year, approximately 12.7% (n=6.1 million) of the country's 47.8 million pre-K to grade 12 public school children (ages three to seventeen) were enrolled in special education programs in the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.1 Students in special education (e.g., classified as having mild mental retardation or specific learning disability) perform below the norm on cognitive tests and other measures to such an extent that special intervention is necessary. Notwithstanding its importance in the nation's educational enterprise, the field of special education is not without its problems. One of the major, long-standing concerns has been that many Latino and African American students are inaccurately diagnosed as educable mentally retarded (also referred to as mildly mentally retarded). These racialized assignments to educable mentally retarded classes are the subject of this chapter.
With respect to special education students with alleged educable mental retardation, Mexican Americans have historically played a central role in allegations of faulty diagnoses and placements. The focus of this chapter is on three major lawsuits of several decades past in which Mexican American and other plaintiffs of color brought suit against school districts. In Diana v. State Board of Education (1970), Covarrubias v. San Diego Unified School District (1971), and Guadalupe Organization, Inc. v. Tempe School District No. 3 (1972), Mexican American and other plaintiffs of color asserted that intelligence tests, among other assessment issues, were being used discriminatorily, resulting in an overrepresentation of students of color in classes for the educable mentally retarded (EMR).
This chapter is organized around the following sections: (a) the roots of Mexican American students in special education; (b) the entrenchment of group-administered intelligence tests; (c) the emergence of discriminatory allegations against intelligence tests; (d) Mexican American et al.