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Monday, September 26, 2011

Over Classification and Misdiagnosis of Students

"There's an excessive tendency to apply biological and psychological labels rather than view them as challenges kids face growing up – challenges like self-discipline, self-control, or a variance in learning style, information processing, or how individual children learn best…"
-Brock Eide

New Jersey has the 4th highest percentage of students with disabilities in the nation. The number of students receiving special education services is increasing yearly and school district budgets are decreasing. Despite suffering huge budget cuts, districts have to allocate more money every year to accommodate students with special needs.

Are these funds being inappropriately managed by being spent on students who may not necessarily qualify for Special Education Services?
How many of these students are truly in need of services?

Today the classroom is more diverse. Students come from different backgrounds, which impact academic, emotional, and social needs. Teachers need to be mindful of students’ unique learning styles and multicultural backgrounds. Recent research supports hands- on learning as a beneficial learning technique for all students. For example, activities that encourage active involvement among students are preferred instead of sitting and listening in a lecture-based style. Before teachers refer students to school psychologists for diagnosis, it is essential for teachers to try interventions on their own. If these interventions are successful, it can prevent students from being misdiagnosed and inappropriately labeled. Students who are misdiagnosed may be prone to stigmatization by teachers, parents, and peers. As a result, the stigma affects students’ growth, as they may become defined by their label.

Is the child truly in need of services or are teachers not fully equipped to meet students’ individual needs in the classroom?
Why are teachers allowed to dump students on school psychologists before initially trying problem-solving techniques on their own?

One of the culprits of overclassification stems from teachers’ responses to student behaviors. For example, a teacher may view an active child who misbehaves in the classroom as having a behavioral disorder and refer him/her to the school psychologist, when in fact it may be an environmental factor, such as the lack of structure reinforced in the home. Parenting greatly impacts a student’s behavior and readiness to learn. Children who do not experience structure and limits at home may have difficulty complying with rules and expectations in school. These students are less prepared for the structured setting within a classroom. It is essential for professionals to not assume there is a biological or psychological issue before an environment problem is ruled out.

Are professionals too quick to diagnose children before trouble shooting other interventions?
What is the impact of parenting on student progress?

Not only are teachers overwhelmed and frustrated but parents are as well. Some parents look to receive services when they see their child struggle in school. Parent’s frustration and their expectations for their child to succeed results in school districts feeling impinged to comply with parental requests.
In some cases, school districts comply with parental requests in order to avoid legal ramifications. When these students do not meet the criteria for a specific learning deficit, they are grouped in the classification of Other Health Impaired (OHI). This allows school districts to appease parents by allowing their children to receive accommodations and modifications.

Is it ethical for school districts to use funds to appease parents when their child is not eligible for Special Education Services?
Should parent satisfaction take precedent over a child’s legitimate need?
How does this affect the students whose parents do not push for additional accommodations?

This Blog was created by:
Dana Koplik, Gene Zannetti, Jennifer Fandino, Lauren Riker, Nicholas Vitaro, & Sergio Oliva