The following is offered based on audience interest shown in my invited attendance at the Diagnostic Center of California (DCC) on June 20-21, 2012, for their training entitled, Best Practice Guidelines for the Assessment of African American Students. Although the “audience” comprised of my colleagues, former students, relatives with children with disabilities, and practicing schools psychologists was not able to attend, I told them I would provide them with a "handout" as it is I am a representative of several constituencies in the state. Consider this the "handout". This note seeks to answer questions from that audience with my answers, provide an essay on my thoughts about the Larry P court case with references for the essay, as well references which serve as the basis for the following answers.
WORKING SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGISTS & former STUDENTS: I've heard different psych discuss how they do SLD assessments on AA students, but I've never heard yours... If you had every assessment instrument available, what would be your standard battery for assessment of AA students? What tests are best"? Also, I want to know what works best"?
BG: As it is I work in a profession where people make their livelihoods off tests I am reluctant to answer such questions, however the time has come for me to share my experience and orientation. Not that I am suggesting others follow my path, but as I walk in the world as a school psychologist, I have had success keeping many children out of special education and exiting them from special education with this particular orientation. It is a counter-intuitive way of thinking in my experience, compared to how the majority of school psychologists practice. The first time I heard this idea was with my first graduate instructor in assessment, Dr. Samuel Ortiz. He said, “I have no standard battery… The best tool I have is my mind”.
With these types of statements as my introduction to school psychology, your questions throw me but I hope to land on my feet or better yet solid ideology. I have the sense that most people assume it is proper to have a “standard battery” due to the frequency at which I am asked this question. The idea of a “standard battery" is limiting and is not logical given the science we know about standardized testing as it is assessment tools which have been in common usage by school psychologists change often. Therefore, even in my humble 15 years as a practicing school psychologist, tests have been updated at least two times and we have to learn new tools at least every decade. In that sense, if each is updated, then none deserve my loyalty nor are they normed for each population per our rapidly changing generations from X to Y. In 1993 there was a new word added to the lexicon, the “internet”. Now, as we near 2013 we have students who have the internet at their fingertips in their smart phones while they sit in classrooms across America. Show me the test kit that measures this new type of intelligence or knowledge? It is not there yet, but it is coming. In the meantime I use my best tool… my brain! My brain filled with the latest scientific knowledge helps me to not only describe what the tests say but also better interpret what they are supposed to measure. If not, then high school students can give IQ tests and score them and all the graduate level training we have is for nothing.
What I look for are tools that will help me best answer the questions about assessment for my students, African American or otherwise. In order to ask the right questions and know the right answers when I see them, I must be guided by the latest in psychological theory, health as applies to behavior, and my experience as a person who has worked with children for over 25 years. There is art and science-- within the parameters of educational code. I have seen many psychological reports where ed code references were lacking and if evident were poorly explained. I read technical manuals to tell me about what a tool is supposed to be doing before I give the tool. I look for articles that explain side effects of medications, impact of traumas, issues with family life etc. You know what my standard battery is-- thoroughness! I am not going to give a clinic on the Larry P court case so I suggest you go back and review the case where you will find that a lack of thoroughness on behalf of the school psychologists was the culprit--not bad tests. The tests are better than they have ever been yet we still have over-representation of Black students in special education. I will talk more about the tests and discriminatory practices in another answer. (Notice I do not say "non-biased" because that is an impossibility given the nature of human beings).
Judge Peckham in his wisdom in 1972 and subsequent rulings by the court found that school psychologists we so tied to their professional vanity of IQ testing for the assessment Black students, that in order for them to think differently about how to assess Black students, they needed to have those test kits removed from their “standard battery”. He wanted to encourage the school psychologists to do basic things like interviews, observations, and developmental-health histories, as well as compare adaptive behavior, which led to more thorough assessments for all children. However, what has been noted is that the school psychologist professional organizations in CA and even task forces within the state focused on getting the tests back rather than actually hearing what the parents were we saying. For example Black parents often made statements of this type, “Get to know my child in a full manner before you make life altering decisions that have my child looking retarded for the 6 hours they are at school”. Again, thoroughness was sacrificed for the reverence of the test kit. Test companies have made great in-roads since the 1990’s developing so-called “cognitive assessments”, which have the same construct reliability and content as the originally banned IQ tests (e.g. WISC is a the DAS with different scoring). So why are people still using those tests for any child if they are not good enough for Black children? Thus, the range of assessment tools is wide open for me. If they are good enough for Black students, then they are good enough for all the students. However, I prefer mediated learning assessment tools by the Mindladder Corp. Inc. but when I used those, I kept too many students out of special education and did not need to keep buying assessment protocols. The Mindladder Learning Potential Assessment Devices were recommended by the late Dr. Asa Hillard and my current mentor Dr. Harold Dent as suggestions from experienced psychologists who testified in the Larry P court case, however most school districts ignore their ideas.
I say, if school psychologists want to use all the assessment tools in their arsenal of IQ tests, they should show those tools which have helped reduce the over-representation of Black students in special education. If they do that, then I say they have a great chance of getting back all the IQ testing. However, until then whatever is the best and most thorough tool available I suggest be used. At any rate, I am patiently waiting for a district to show that a test or tests actually reduce over-representation. I know of no school district that has shown that IQ tests reduce the placements of Black students in special education. If you know of one, please let me know.
DOCTORAL STUDENT: So I've become more interested in assessing meta-cognition/self regulated learning in all students. Is this one possible direction we can head in when working with African American students? Any challenges you forsee?
BG: Very important work—meta-cognition! I also used it as a part of every assessment I did in schools. I asked my students to tell me about their thinking. Do they think about their thinking to solve problems? Which type of thinking works best for them? Would they like to learn a new strategy to help them with recurring challenges? Excellent! I am so glad you are doing that work!
The first challenge right away is that you cannot sell meta-cognition, so it is likely not “legally defensible”, and another expert can come to court and say, “that does not work”. That is, unless you are steeped in the literature and have current data with your students to show that meta-cognition, mindfulness, and/or other so-called “soft-science” works to help students I would not try it. Again, be thorough! Do your homework on what is best for kids in general, best for African American students, and best for your specific population at your school, and best for each student you see.
DOCTORAL STUDENT: What academic, social, behavioral interventions and/or strategies are best used with AA students thereby decreasing the number of assessments and eligibilities (sic) for sped?
This question needs to be broken apart into two halves. The first is the behavioral interventions, which is a science and practice question that is easy to answer. The second is about decreasing the number of assessments for eligibilities (sic) for special education, which is politics.
BG: As far as behavioral interventions, ensure that you as school psychologists have a tiered system with high quality interventions. In California we have the Diagnostic Centers information at www.pent.ca.gov. Too often, African American students, in particular males as well as a smaller but growing number of African American females, are the recipients of none of these high quality state approved resources. They are suspended or worse yet expelled without being able to take advantage of tiered monitoring systems for behavior or supports for special education. Be available to your administrators to provide the best in behavioral intervention before they are out of options and only consider suspension/expulsion.
The number of assessments and politics has to do with zero tolerance policies, keeping track of who actually makes it to the pool of students who are referred, and then the quality of placements in general, alternative, or special education once a student is placed. This is not something that a new school psychologist can or should take on in a year but it should be do-able in 3-5 years. I suggest you develop a coalition of at least 3 to a half dozen other educators who can help you monitor these issues as well as lobby school board members for policies grounded in science not kicking kids out or “0 tolerance”. That is my short version but that should get you going.
GRAD SCHOOL PROFESSOR: Did the Larry P case help or hurt the assessment practice of African children? Do you believe that it is actually harmful and/ or discriminatory? Do you believe that Larry P targeted the wrong culprit instead of attacking the real systemic issue?
Back to the issue of testing....
BG: As far as hurting or helping the assessment practice of African American children… I cannot say for certain, but I will give it a shot. The real people to ask that question to are those who tried to get their test kits back in task force meetings and state organizations for school psychologists but did little to nothing about the actual issue of over-representation.
This question can lead to an ontological debate that is old and worn, with no results that are better for students. I take a different path towards the end of the over-representation of Black students. I see this as a discussion or better yet dialogue, because in a discussion people are only trying to make points. Court cases have debates, which only end with “winners” and “losers”. To me the court cases made us all losers. It has been school psychologists who have been unable to have real dialogue with parents, students, and their colleagues in education who are African American about what it means to be fully developed Black person in California and how each child as well as the collective group of Afro Californians can live a better life.
I do not believe anything that was done with Judge Peckham’s decision or the following court decisions were harmful or discriminatory but were efforts to promote the dialogue. However, on many fronts, not just simple one side or the other, many organizations wanted to make points or debate and win rather than get to a point of synthesis that dialogue allows to help us develop not just better assessments but better instruction. I know this sounds controversial but the more I delve into this it is true, “test don’t discriminate, people do”. However, there are good and bad types of “discrimination”.
An IEP can be a good type of discrimination and promotes the idea that we need to protect the needs of a minority such as in the cases of 504 civil rights laws. Also, in the examples of African American students, a positive type of discrimination is that per No Child Left Behind from the U.S. Department of Education, and other directives from the state, we are required to keep track of the achievement gap and our efforts to reduce that gap. The ire I believe comes when my school psychology colleagues are unsure about what to do or choose not follow the rules or the spirit of law with resultant directives from the state. For example, from 2005-2006 Drs. Dawson and Simmons from the California Diagnostic Center’s northern office conducted a study and found that just over 60% of school psychologist still use IQ or cognitive tests to assess African American students, there was over 50% dissatisfaction with the current procedures, and worse yet school psychologists are not given clear guidelines in many districts. What this tells me is that there is a benign neglect for the issues rather than a direct effort to negatively discriminate against African American students. This neglect is occurring despite all the legal and academic effort. Perhaps, there is a resistance due to incompetence, lack of efficacy, or just plain being overwhelmed that school psychologists. Also to consider are school psychologists may have supervisors who demonstrate a great deal of inflexibility. As I trainer I also have to consider that training programs are not doing enough to inform school psychologists about how to address high quality assessment and intervention issues.
Sadly, I am not optimistic enough to think that a school district is even attempting to address over-representation unless they are sued or given a Modified Consent Decree (MCD) as was done with LA Unified School District. However, LAUSD has done an amazing job of recovering by becoming more thorough in their assessment process and all schools that serve African American students can learn a great deal from how LAUSD has responded to the MCD. My mentor Dr. Alnita Dunn has done amazing things in LAUSD to turn that situation around but there is still much work to do there.
Finally, the “wrong culprit”, IQ tests or school psychology? The culprit is so slippery as to avoid even giving an apology to ancestors of those enslaved in the American chattel system of forced servitude, rape, and even experimentation via psychological methods. I am referring to racist and White supremacist and their war against Black people due to their fear of our skin, culture, intellect, and/or all of the above. Any people who has exposed to the toxicity of the racism, ire, and pain in in Larry P court case and similar cases (e.g. Lau v. Nichols, Diana v. Board of Education, PASE v. Hannon etc) are living with the toxic effects of discrimination that was condoned by the state until some parents decided to stand up for the humanity of their children. However, as in all civil cases where there are injured parties, there is still plenty of pain and suffering to go around. Collateral damage has occurred on all fronts. I think the Judge did the best he could do given the circumstances. To me it is a very creative decision that I believe gave birth to Response to Intervention (RtI). For example, many districts acted in the way that Long Beach Unified School District did. They started treating all students as if they were Black (i.e. did not give any students the tests not supposed to be used with African Americans). LBUSD won a 9th circuit court of appeals case backing up their practice. This case was cited in revisions for federal changes to RtI in 2000 and 2004. The American people got a chance to put in the history books a serious debate about IQ. There are not winners or losers in this case only progress for people committed to freedom via dialogue and the price for that freedom is eternal vigilance.
GEORGIA SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST (PART 1): How can we get states like Georgia to ban administering standardized IQ test on AA students like California did using the Larry P. Riles case? There are way more AA students here than in California, and I can't believe they continue to use the WISC and stuff.
BG: This is a political issue. I suggest you review the court case in CA. Contact your local chapter of the Association of Black Psychologists (AB Psi), where Dr. Hilliard was a member in the Atlanta area. Consider the local chapter of the NAACP as well as ACLU. I am sure they are very aware of the issues in your state. Now, I mention Dr. Hilliard because he wrote a book about the assessment of African American children. In this book he outlines courts cases in CA, Chicago, and provides suggestions on exactly what to do. I would also refer you to the Mindladder Corporation by Dr. Mogens Jensen that is based in Atlanta. Dr. Hilliard recommended Mogens Jensen's mediated learning experiences as espoused by the Israeli Nobel Prize Nominee, Dr. Reuven Freurstein. You cannot do it alone so again, join AB Psi! www.abpsi.org
GEORGIA SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST (PART 2): Also, how can we get Georgia to recognize LEP? Here, you have to have your Phd for any psych license. Thanks!
BG: Again, join your local Georgia state association for school psychology. Contact NASP and see what they are doing and/or how they can provide you assistance. I know Texas and Georgia are similar in that you must have a Ph.D. to be a practicing “psychologist”. Take a look at our exemption from our Board of Behavioral Sciences in CA. This will also take a serious political effort but would begin with your state association and/or a large contingent of the members desiring this idea. To me, it may be easier to earn your Psy.D. or Ph.D. but if you are up for the battle this is how to begin, in my humble opinion.
ELDER with AB Psi & PSYCHOLOGIST WHO TESTIFIED ON LARRY P: My persistent question is, When will the school (and clinical) psychologists insist that the American Psychological Association (ABPsi, NLPA & SIP) and the national school board member organizations take the position that they will instruct their membership to obey federal laws pertaining to the assessment of students with disabilities and those who are treated as disabled, to stop employing tests that are discriminatory and are not validated for the specific purpose for which they are used, i.e., the assessment of African American, Hispanic American or American Indian students?
BG: In your question you are also making a powerful statement! Thank you. There is some promise in the latest handbook that came out from the State of California's Diagnostic Center for Children. It is an old practice but it is called “reviewing the technical manual”. My sense is local chapters of AB Psi can begin to take a look at the norms of tests which are used on African American students as well as construct and content validity. Often, even the new tests cite content and construct reliability with the old tests such as the WISC, KABC, WJ-Cog, or SB. Ironically, theses tests sometimes have as little as 9 Asian American in a test sample of 200. That tells me they are not trying to actually assess Asian Americans for what they are doing well with in the educational system but find pathology in other groups, but I may be wrong about that. At any rate, call them out in the media as well as their state organizations. Go to the media to get the information to parents. There is a parent in Antelope Valley, CA who has stopped the local schools from doing discriminatory suspensions and placements in special day classes due to an Emotional Disability by taking her plight to the media. Her story needs to be told and has been by a local magazine reporter Brittany Walker, who wrote about the mother in Our Weekly magazine, which ran several stories between October to November of 2011. The parent's name is Cynthia Beverly.
CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: For those of us who routinely provide psychotherapy and assessment services to African American families, Do you have preferred and most effective alternative cognitive assessment measures for African American students? These assessments would be response to parental requests rather than school personnel.
BG: As indicated in a previous answer, Dr. Asa Hilliard’s book about the assessment of African American children comes in many editions is the premiere resource. As a lasting legacy in this book he outlines courts cases in CA, Chicago, and provides suggestions on exactly what to do. I would also refer you to the Mindladder Corporation by Dr. Mogens Jensen that is based in Atlanta, which the late Dr. Hilliard and my mentor Dr. Harold Dent recommended for mediated learning experiences as espoused by Nobel Prize Nominee Dr. Reuven Freurstein. The information you get from the Mindladder Corporation helps you to really know nuances of how the child thinks and behaves in a way that the parents can readily identify. When I gave these assessments I schools, parents said quite often is, and I paraphrase, “I had thought that about my kid but did not know how to put it into words, thank you for seeing my child, you really know them”. It is beyond assessment to a way towards interventions that help the child grow in their area of need. Here is the website for the International Center for Cognition and Learning (aka Mindladder): http://www.mindladder.com/index.html
PARENT: Assessments are set up according to the time that it is convenient for those doing the testing, regardless of how inconvenient it is for children being tested or parents of children. I think "legitimate" assessments should include weeks-months of video in the environment where a child functions at their best while also recording possible triggers that preceded their "worst". Although I respect those who do assessments, the "one size fits all" testing has left me a soured on the entire system.
BG: I totally agree. I even think children are better at recording video than us adults, so that may contribute to the hold up. School psychologists are trained to rely on their training. I will let that sink in. Until someone breaks the mold, many will stay with the technology they know. In fact one of my thesis students completed a very challenging thesis on video-modeling for children with varied abilities and disabilities. The challenge is that not all parents are receptive to having their child video recorded but evidence is growing at universities in the mid-west and now UC Santa Barbara, thanks to my former thesis student who is a Ph.D. candidate at UCSB. He will be presenting at the upcoming conference for the California Association of School Psychologists October 24-26, 2012 in Costa Mesa, CA.
“Larry P Moved Down the Hall”: From EMR to ED
The overrepresentation of African American students in special education courses has been a documented challenge to public education for just over the last half century (Algozzine Enwefa, Enwefa, McInsotsh, Obiakor & Thurlow, 2002; National Alliance of Black School Educators, 2002). The background for this specific challenge is in regards to African American students overcoming barriers to achievement (Singham, 1998) even after integration-based legal decisions (Stephens McIntosh & Duren Green, 2005). Another challenge is the disproportionate sentencing of minority youth to school based discipline, which is a precursor to the issues African American youth face in juvenile corrections systems (Noguera, 2003). In California, during the 1970’s, many Black students were evaluated based on test scores only and the psychological testing done in the school setting did not take into account the unique challenges that Black students had overcome in their community (Dent et al, 2008; Hilliard, 1992) due to mainstream psychologists’ limited view of how assessment could be conducted, as noted psychologist Dr. Harold Dent, who testified in the Larry P court case, has pointed out (Elliott, 1987, p. 13; Dent et al, 2008). The special education evaluation teams too often made the decision to place the African American students in classes for the “Educable Mentally Retarded (EMR).” Since the first court rulings, EMR classes no longer exist in California. However, the name of the placement has changed but the practice of subjective assessments has not (Powers, Hagans-Murillo, & Restori, 2004; Hernandez &Ramanathan, 2006). Within the past 10 years, at a large Southern California school district, poor assessment practices in regards to Emotional Disabilities (ED) have been monitored by an independent auditor to insure that the rights of students and families are not violated in assessment and placement (Hernandez & Ramanathan, 2006). According to studies done for the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Alliance of Black School Educators, these findings are not unique to Southern California, thus these are national trends (NASBE, 2002; Reschly, 2003).
What has rarely been highlighted in the literature regarding African American and the term “emotional disturbance”, with the exception of Hernandez’s and Ramanathan’s research in a legal consent decree and the “Larry P Court case” (i.e. banned IQ tests in the placement of Black students in special education) has been the specific detail in the neglect regarding poor quality of the assessment (Dent et al, 2008), and lack of psychological services provided for African American students in the school setting and in the community, even when it was agreed that there were emotional and behavioral challenges (Hernandez & Ramanathan, 2006). It would seem the issues with “Larry P” have moved down the hall from the EMR classes to the classes where students are labeled “ED”. The need for authentic and accurate assessment is still evident. Other challenges such as a lack of medical insurance, access to honest healing medical professionals, and/or wherewithal to get to mental health settings has been an ongoing challenge (Gamble, 2012; Satcher, 2006; Washington, 2006). My ongoing work has been to address these challenges with a focus on eliminating disparities in access to high quality mental health and promoting the well-being of African people in good and bad times to ensure that young people and their families have access to the best services possible, which promote wellness for all people.
More recently, Cynthia Beverly, a parent in the Antelope Valley School District has rallied a group of parents to fight back against over-representation of Black males in special education and the juvenile justice system (Walker, 2011). I hope as psychologists, particularly school psychologists we can support any parent’s efforts to promote a better educational experience for Black students but all students. There are several CA state amendments being discussed (AB 1729 is one of them) coming up to support changes in how schools respond to intervention due to the disproportionate rate of Black students who are suspended, expelled, and jailed. This is as new data from the United States Office of Civil Rights with the U.S. Department of education shows San Francisco Black students are suspended six times more than White students (Mecke, 2012; USDE, 2012). This is not isolated to the Bay area, as it is in the central part of Cain Kern County parents are upset about the disproportionate rate of suspensions of Black youth and lack of psycho-educational alternatives to harsh punishment (Ferriss, 2012). Perhaps school psychologists can be a part of those changes.
On a more positive note, Cordington and Fairchild (2012) have submitted a position paper from the Association of Black Psychologists regarding issues in special education, which can provide guidance as to how we can begin to remedy these issues. Also, the State of California’s Diagnostic Center (DCC) for children is in the process of finalizing a handbook of Best Practices in the Assessment of African American Children (DCC, 2012). This is continued work from the Dawson and Simmons (2006) study which showed from the DCC’s perspective, school psychologists want and need more guidance in how to best assess African American youth. Although this handbook is in it’s initial stages, it shows promise for refining assessment for all children. That said many people often miss this central issue. African Americans are a minority and if the assessment practices of school psychologists are sensitive to bring out the best in their achievement, ability, and wellness then all people benefit. To put it finally this way, as Mano Singham has written (1998), “Black students are a canary in the mine for all of our educational challenges”.
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Cordinigton, J., & Fairchild, H. (2012). Special education and the mis-education of African American children: A call to action. A Position Paper of the Association of Black Psychologists. Washington, D.C. AB Psi. Retreived 03/01/2012 from www.abpsi.org
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Dent, H., Hamlett, G., Harp, O., Savage, J., Washington, S., Willians, D., & Williams, R. (2008). Psychological Testing: What are the Issues Then and Now. Paper Presentation at the annual conference of the Association of Black Psychologists, Oakland, CA.
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Elliott, R. (1987). Litigating intelligence: IQ tests, special education, and social science in the courtroom. Dover, MA: Auburn House.
Ferriss, S. (March 19, 2012). Kern tops state in suspensions. The Bakersfied Californian. Retrieved 06/01/2012 from http://www.bakersfieldcalifornian.com/local/x244430812/Kern-tops-state-in-expulsions
Gamble, B. (2012). Minorities' access to mental health services in schools. Contemporary School Psychologist, 16. Accepted and pending publication this fall.
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Walker, B. (October, 14 2011). AVUSD neglects special needs Black males. Our Weekly. Retrieved November 1, 2011 from http://ourweekly.com/antelope-valley/avusd-neglects-special-needs-black-males.
Washington, H. (2006). Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experiment on Black Americans from Colonial Times to Present. New York, NY: Harlem Moon-Broadway.