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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


Lindsay Matassa said...

I do believe that there is an over classification and misdiagnosis of students today. Although I agree with that statement, I feel like diagnosing a child is also important. I babysit five days a week for a child with ADHD. Having ADHD and being in school is a challenge for him. Although his grades are up and he is part of the gifted program, he is very misunderstood by his peers as well as his teachers and principal. Throughout the years, I have watched him struggle with his desire to fit in, while his parents have him going to different psychologists and doctors to help him. I do not, however, believe that schools should use diagnosis of a classification as an excuse. Meaning, I do not believe someone should look at a child with ADHD, for an example, and say things like "he has ADHD so of course he is going to act out." An education professor I currently have told my class that when a child is having a problem in the classroom, it is up to the teacher to change. The teacher must find a way to work with the child and help him/her. You never know what a child's life is like outside the classroom therefore by looking at different ways to get through to a child can help them learn and grow as individuals and even save them from being over classified and misdiagnosed. Children today are different, but that does not mean that each of them deserves a title of a disability they may or may not have.

Denise Moreno said...

I do believe many children are misdiagnosed in our schools. Teachers see children that have difficulty learning and they automaticlly think the child has a learning disability. I believe teachers should self-reflect when they notice students having difficulty understanding the material in class. It may be the teaching style of the teacher that does not suite that child. Teachers have to try and use a method that can be most productive for all. At times it is true, the child may need extra help, however, extra help does not equal a disability.
Another topic that was touched upon was that of children that act out in class. This I can say from a personal point of view is very hard and I understand. I have a four year old boy in my classroom that is very hyper. He runs around, hits children, can't sit still, etc. And the person I work with said the child should be medicated and given special attention when he goes to kindergarten. However, I believe that her statement is a bit harsh. As Lindsay said in her post, we do not know what kind of life style this child has at home. We only have these children for a certain amount of time. At home, maybe the parents are working all the time, so he can be acting out just to get the attention he does not get at home.
As a teacher you should not be able to just dump a child out of your class because you can not handle him/her. Before sending them off, why not try to help them as much as you can?

catheirne mattia said...

Being as though I had an IEP growing up I know what it feels to need accomdates and still get them to this day . I do not believe it is ethical for funds to be used just to keep parents satisfied because it takes away from those who actually need the help and attention. My best friends brother has down syndrome and my school district does would not give him the correct about support he deserved until his mother faught taking the directors and everyone in charge through very long court case. On the down side some parents do not fight for their kids education may be for lack of education on their own part about the services available or because they think all the money is being spent already therefore they will not get the help they deserve .

Matt Kane said...

I enjoyed reading this article because i so believe that people are being miss diagnosed. What some people do not understand is that adults are not what they use to be. In today society children are not brought up with the same discipline as they once were. Independence is much seeked by the children and living with your parents is not good. I coach a team of kids in the summer from the age of 5 to 18 and I do notice when kids are raised by non strict parents. Of course I try to get the kid to participate but its hard to get them to conform to society if their parents dont enforce it. Its like the same way in schools. What i think they should do is educate new parents in how to raise a child and offer free seminars.

Julie Torres said...

I found this blog very interesting. I have a six year old nephew who has just entered first grade. Last year, while he was in kindergarten, he seemed to have serious problems keeping up with the other students and staying focused. The teacher brought it to my sister's attention, but never truly provided her with options on what to be done, only more discipline at home was suggested. He is a very disciplined child and we could not manage to understand why his teacher was facing so many difficulties with him. Instead of providing options for him to be evaluated of any A.D.H.D, the school's only option was to hold him back another year. The pressured my sister for several months to constantly consider it, but they never ever provided her with any other options.In this case the teacher was not fully equipped to meet the specific child's standards, but just to hold him back a year and HOPE for progression.

striveforbones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
paola said...

I agree with the post that there is over diagnosis in some aspects of special needs. For example, I've heard that the diagnosis of ADHD and ADD has gone up rapidly, not because there are more kids who have this but because the characteristics being used to identify children with ADD are becoming more generalized. I think instead of focusing on learning disabilities and alienating children with special needs, schools and teachers should have the ability to give each student personalized attention in some way, whether it be giving them extra time to take tests or tutoring them after school on assignments they they are struggling in. The whole term "learning disabilities" or "special needs" is also extremely broad and throws too many kids under one category, which causes each of their different learning styles to be ignored. I do not think there is an easy answer on whether or not the school should be paying extra for students who are diagnosed with learning disabilities, but it would help if the people who were diagnosing children with these disabilities were more cautious and thoughtful before they labeled children as having a specific learning disability that could affect how they are treated at school.

Elizabeth Opawumi said...

I really enjoyed reading this post because I could relate with it in so many ways. When my youngest brother was in elementary school, the administration informed my parents that he was not yet ready to continue onto the first grade, and needed to complete a year's course in a grade level that was in between kindergarten and first grade, desinged to teach children with learning difficulties. Because my mother worked individually with my brother, she was aware of his intellectual capabilities, and she refused to believe that her child had any learning disability. She was able to push for her son to start first grade with the rest of her peers.

I strongly believe that professionals are yoo hasty to diagnose children with learning diabilities just to satisfy a certain amount of slots for a special needs program. I believe that parents should spend more time teaching their children at home to avoid issues with misdiagnosis.

Emily Medeiros said...

Over classification and misdiagnosis are definately an ongoing problem in school districts, everywhere. Getting proper diagnosis for children is important for everyone involved. I dont think that it is necessary, better yet- ethical, that students are being diagnosed just for parental satisfaction. I know, hands on, about IEP's and 504's because my mom was fighting battles for my brother throughout all his years of schooling. He has ADHD (which is evident in the first 30 seconds of initially meeting him). Everyone always thought he was just an over ambitious, anxious little boy. However, with my mom as an educator- these schools werent going to win without a fight. This tedious fight, some 20 years ago, wasnt easily setteled, but was eventually won. Now, I have friends who are seeing doctors to be prescribed adderrol- in order for them to study better. HELLO- its called hit the library or the books. What is there such a vast difference? Why was it harder to be classified 20 years ago than it is now? Hmmm... Just because they are trying to win over parents, townships/schools need to realize students with real issues need help in order to make an environment condusive to learning.

I think it might be easier to have the parents, teachers, psychologists, and schools work hand in hand with one another to help find the best solution for their student(s) in order to have a positive outcome. The pressure shouldnt only be on one party. Granted, this help needs to stem from somewhere- so perhaps a plan should be advised as to who will make the first step-- just a thought!

Sean McGoonan said...

2. The fact that we do over diagnose so heavily is especially frightening because it actually hurts every single person involved with the educational system; tax payers lose because funds are being inappropriately managed at a very crucial time, school administrators are under tremendous pressure to make the right fiscal decisions, students, teachers, and parents are affected by department, program, and extracurricular activity cut backs, parents and teachers are given no sense of accountability (which in turn indirectly denies them the chance to develop a sense of intrinsic motivation because they lack the feeling of responsibility), teachers don't get the chance to become trained to deal with these situations because these situations are pushed on to other people (psychiatrists, etc) who may have more serious issues to deal with (the child with anorexia who is 5'3'' and weighs 75 lbs vs the child who has "ADHD" because they tap their pencil too often and disrupt class), and children become ill prepared for real life due to the fact that they are being spoon-fed material now that they have a "disorder." When they actually graduate and obtain a career, they won't know how to handle stress, pressure, responsibility, and independence, due to the fact that any time there was a challenge in their life before, someone treated them a special way and they never had the opportunity to overcome their dilemmas themselves.

The whole thing is just absolutely asinine to me, and the entire system needs a serious evaluation. There needs to be a much heavier emphasis on responsibility, or everyone will face serious repercussions. School administrators need to be more responsible with their use of funds, doctors and counselors need to be more thorough in the way they evaluate and label children, children need to become motivated, parents need to take responsibility and discipline their children and work with them at home, and teachers need to find a way to maintain control of their classrooms, understand the situation they are in and the diversity of the children they are teaching, and formulate a way to effectively convey information to as many students as possible.

Sean McGoonan said...

1. The quote in the beginning of the article does an outstanding job of summarizing the feelings I have towards this issue. The rate in which children are classified as "special needs students" is increasing at an excessively alarming rate, but not due to the fact that more children actually have a problem, it is because there is a biological and psychological disorder label for anything and everything.

I feel as if a large portion of this problem is due to the self esteem movement. As Frank Pajares and Dale Schunk point out, "An obsession with one's sense of self is responsible for an alarming increase in depression and other mental difficulties." Of course, encouragement is necessary; however, everyone has developed such an absurd level of self-esteem that any time a difficult situation emerges, it is excused by an emotional or psychological disorder. There is a lack of responsibility on all levels of this issue. Children have no initiative, parents aren't as involved as they should be, and teachers are only moderately qualified. The fact that children come from different backgrounds isn't new, nor is it a secret. Teachers need to be able to vary their methods in order to be most effective in the classroom. It doesn't matter if you think power points are interesting: if 25% of your class isn't paying attention to or learning from them, you have to try something else, not just send them to the nurse or school counselor and diagnose them with a learning disorder. I don't want to sound anti-teacher, but teaching is a difficult job, and unfortunately, not everyone who graduates with a degree is necessarily capable of being a good teacher. It's a nice thought, but far from reality. There is much more to teaching than simply knowing material, and I think that before entering the workforce even more emphasis needs to be put on how to deal with actual teaching situations. We need to train our teachers to have more complete and well-rounded abilities so that they can deal with the scenarios they will regularly encounter in the classroom setting. We need to hold teachers to a higher standard, but we also need to give them the training and tools they need to achieve it.

*This comment was supposed to precede my last one.

Dennis Chae said...

After reading this blog and some of the responses, I’ve noticed that there is one main factor responsible for over-classification and misdiagnosis of students: money. I feel that the financial strain that is felt throughout the entire educational system has caused those in administrative positions to reduce the number of services available to the teachers, LDT-C’s, school psychologists, and even parents. I do agree that some teachers are not trained adequately enough to deal with some “problem children”, and because of this, it would be beneficial for teachers to either go through a re-certification process or mandated to attend seminars that would address new research findings in their respective fields. However, this costs money. Decreasing classroom sizes would also allow the teachers to provide more individualized assistance to all the children, whether they have a learning disability or if they are academically gifted. However, this costs money. Another great addition would be having seminars for the parents of the children, so that they can learn more efficient strategies for managing their children at home. However, this costs money.

I feel that in schools, as in most other service industries, that there is a significant problem of under-staffing. I believe that having less children per teacher, school psychologist, LDT-C, etc. would have an ameliorating effect on the number of over- and misdiagnosed children and would allow the students to actually understand the concepts they are being taught, as opposed to mindlessly memorizing the facts they need to know to pass standardized tests.

It is easy to pass the blame down to the next person in the hierarchy, but in the end I feel that it is everybody’s job to work together to address the problems in the educational system today. Instead of school psychologists blaming teachers, teachers blaming the administrators, and the administrators blaming the school psychologists, there should be a greater effort to collaborate with one another in order to face these problems head on. However, for these things to occur, the state needs to really reconsider the way that they allocate more money to schools and districts that are doing “well” and re-direct more resources to the areas that are in need of assistance.

krimso said...

While I agree with much of what was written in this blog post, I don't necessarily agree with some of the reactions posted. In regards to teacher responsibility it is not an easy task to manage children with learning difficulties or problematic behaviors while also attend to the other students in their classes. In addition, it is often difficult to look upon a situation with an objective eye, particularly when a situation leads to frustration.

As a school psychologist one should likely take a look at the classroom environment prior to going down the route of diagnosis and classification. Teachers often need support and critical advice in order to adapt their program to children who are struggling. So, while I agree that teachers need to provide alternative solutions within the class they should be able to count on the professionals in their school system for support.

In regards to mis-diagnosis and over-classification I don't feel that this is a new issue or one that is limited to school psychology. Perhaps this is part of the shift in focus for school psychologists that we have been hearing about. Perhaps we should be using our child study teams and RTI's to provide support to teachers in the classroom prior to jumping to classification and special needs funding.

There may be other factors involved in the high rates of special needs spending in New Jersey. I have heard in recent years that many families move to New Jersey to gain access to the excellent Autism related resources available in the state which is one contributing factor to the extremely high Autistic population in New Jersey. Perhaps there are other related factors that need to be researched.


Jennifer Fandino said...

@ Linday and Denise
Your stories about hyperactive children are all too common, thank you for sharing them. In the schools I always hear teachers commenting on how a child "should be on medication". Parents who chose not to medicate their child aren't parents who don't care. Many of these parents have spoken to experts (doctors) and done tons of research in order to decide what is best for their child. We should respect those decisions and put forth our best efforts to teach to individual learning styles. Even children who are correctly diagnosed suffer from labeling. They become defined by there label, like in Linsday's example "he has ADHD of course he is going to act like that". These labels become crutches for children. We need to change our approach and help children overcome these obstacles not be defined by them.

Jennifer Fandino said...

Julie, your story makes me so MAD!!!! Please tell your sister to ask for, no, demand an evaluation. So many parents who need services aren't aware of how the system works and what their options are. Then we have parents' whose child doesn't need special education services but they know how to work the system, and as a result get whatever they want. I think as school psychologists it's our job to make sure the students who need an evaluation don't fall through the cracks and those who would benefit from a little extra tutoring (after all who wouldn't), get that extra help through avenues that don't require special education funds (e.g. peer tutoring).

Jennifer Fandino said...

As an aside,
This blog was not meant to be an attack on teachers. It should however remind us of the importance of a school psychologist's role. We are suppose to be the experts, consulting and collaborating with teachers to decide what is best for a child. Yet there are so many stories posted here where there is a negative outcome for a child. It will be our job to suggest alternative interventions for teachers to try before a child gets thrown into special education. I've seen students who don't even have an I&RS plan get sent the child study team (aka sent to be the school psychologist's "problem") by guidance counselors who know they are suppose to complete an I&RS plan first. As the "expert", we have to be part of the solution by making it our job to educate the faculty and staff. One consultation at a time you can make a big impact in your school/district.

Lauren said...

Thank you for sharing. Regarding what you said about professionals being too hasty and classifying too many students too fill slots in special education. I wanted to clarify this statement. School districts set aside appropriate funding for special education based on the number of students receiving services. They do not have a quota to fill. The point we were trying to make is the importance of professionals conducting thorough assessments and observations in order to provide the appropriate placement.

Dana Koplik said...

I think it is interesting what you had said about kids' self-esteem and not being able to hand the "real world" once they graduate college. I do think that the misdiagnoses of many kids had led them to become ill-equiped to handle responsiblities and stressfull situations on their own later in life. Your post reminded me of this article one of my professors in undergrad had us read right before graduation:
I talks about our parent's tendency to be overconerned about bruising our self-esteem when we were kids and how this affects us now in the workforce.
Not to say that children who truly need extra help shouldn't have access to it, but it is not necessary for everyone. If we expect kids to grow up to be independent and successful adults we need to start treated them that was as children too.

Wendy said...

I think this blog and all the comments are extremely interesting. I agree with Steve that teachers should not always be under fire. I feel that it is very difficult to just point fingers in one direction. Every child's case is different and should be looked at differently. You never know if acting out in class is due to a teacher not adequately meeting the students need, due to issues at home, or due to an actual disability.

While children today may be misdiagnosed and over classified, I believe if a child is referred to a school psychologist, that case should be thoroughly reviewed. It is important as a school psychologist to be able to talk to teachers and get their a experiences they have with the child. It is also important to be able to observe the child to fully understand why the child is being referred in the first place. I think it is most important to have school psychologists, teachers, parents, and the school system working together to help determine the best solution for each individual child. Without team work, a solution would be very difficult to come across.

Finally, I also believe it is important that parents know their rights. Listening to some of the stories about how a child was asked to stay back but was not given any other options is just absurd. Parents need to be aware that they can have their child tested to further figure out what the actual issue is.

Michelle_Cerv said...

For the most part I do agree with this article. There seems to be an over diagnosis of children now and days. Whether it is a copout for lack of conformity on the teacher’s end, or to provide reasoning for a child’s lack of ability. Even so, I feel that if a teacher refers a student to the school psychologist, it is because they feel their may be an issue at hand. That is part of the teacher’s responsibility. When a problem is recognized it is important that it is reported. Then it is the school psychologist’s job to recognize the issue and review the child and their behaviorisms thoroughly. However, I do believe that most teachers are not trained to work with different student’s needs. People forget that every student is distinctive and all their learning abilities are different. It is important that we learn to steer away from generalizing a class as a whole.
I do agree that some children may be misdiagnosed. However, emphasis should not be put on an over diagnosis. It is necessary that teachers and faculty are still aware of a child’s abilities or lack of in the classroom. If there were an importance of over diagnosis on children, then most people would learn to look the other way when small signs of a problem may appear. I feel it to be more detrimental to ignore a child’s needs than to have an over abundance of children taking advantage of the learning accommodations.
A parent’s satisfaction should not take precedent over a child’s legitimate need. It is not the parent that the issue is focused on. The importance of the accommodations provided is to benefit the child. It is important that the parent is supportive and aware of what is occurring in their child’s learning settings. However, their satisfaction should not rein any importance over the child’s needs. Many parents may be in denial of their student having a learning disability. On the other hand I have dealt with parents who were misinformed about their child being “on the right track.” The parent needs to be able to accept the fact that every child is different and just because certain modifications are made to their daily learning ability does not make them less of a person. Parents should want nothing more than success for their child in every aspect of their life. Education is an important place to start.

Kimberly Schielke said...

Special education is a great resource! It would greatly benefit every student. However, school districts do not have that type of funds to support every child in a special education setting. Therefore, the testing for special education must be done efficiently to ensure that the students who are diagnosed by a test as being learning disabled are receiving the resources that they qualify for by the state law. With this said it seems a little ridiculous that parents with a child that does not have a disability according to state legislations to be demanding special educational services for their child. This takes away from the students that do meet state requirements. Yes, it would benefit their child but that does not mean that a little extra help at home would not help at all. In most cases, if the parents spent the time they spent fighting for the services via the school helping their child with school work it could make all the difference in the world. I know realize that in some cases this extra help from parents is not possible but that does not mean there are not other means of getting extra help. It is just unfair for parents to ask for services and want services to be taken away from students that actually need it because of a specific learning disability. The children that do not have parents who seek accommodations may or may not be harmed. If these students are tested and have a diagnosed learning disability they will receive the services that best fit their needs. However, if these child do not have a learning disability and do not have parents that are involved, hopefully teachers will be able to help these individual students to be successful. I believe that teachers and parents should be more involved because not every student can be classified and it is not fair for students to be classified simple because they struggle a little and require extra help. Being classified is not the only solution and should not be taken advantage of. there are plenty of students that need to be classified based on tests result. That does not mean that all the other students should be left to fail. There are other modifications that can be put in place to ensure success.

Natalie Wiggins said...

I agree that teachers should try some classroom intervention/modifications for students they may feel are in need of special education services. Some of these interventions can include but are limited to: 1) desk placement in a quiet, distraction free-area, 2) use visual cues to prompt appropriate behavior, 3) having a highly structured and organized schedule so that the student(s) know what is expected of them and 4) peer tutoring, which has been proven to provide better learning than from the teacher alone.
All of these efforts can and should be used before referring a child for special education. Also, teachers MUST remember to become familiar with their student's ethnicity, cultural and language background. Perhaps instead of special education, the student should really be receiving ESL/ELL.

Lauren Riker said...

I agree with the suggestions you stated for teachers. In my teaching experience, many general education teachers say they have tried everything under the sun and nothing worked. Sometimes this is true and referral is necessary. However, other times, I feel they do not give it time to test out. This is a huge problem. Patience in the process is critical!

Nick Vitaro said...

This is a response to Matt Kane.

I agree that parenting styles have changed throughout the decades. We also need to consider what else has changed. Children today experience stimulation unlike any other generation. This is in fact the only time in history where the children are becoming more knowledge on certain technologies before their parents. The world today is fast moving and I believe it is affecting children psychologically.

Ifat Sade said...

I do believe that there is over classification and misdiagnosis of students today. However, I strongly feel that every child has the right to succeed in life and therefore if there is any slight chance that special education would facilitate with the child learning, especially after the teachers’ intervention and accommodation did not improve the child learning and there is a slow or no progress at all, then why won’t we give the child the help he/she needs. I can personally relate to this issue. My daughter who is in 3rd grade receives special education. I had to literally fight for her so she would be diagnosed and be eligible for IEP. If I hadn’t fight for her, she would have continued to fall behind her peers in class. The child study team expressed their thoughts with me and told me that her learning disability is on the border level and if she was going to school in any other districts she wouldn’t have been eligible for IEP. But because I requested it they allowed her this service. They also assert that they knew that if she will not get the service she will not succeed in school and therefore were glad that I was on top of it. One can suggest that they allowed her the IEP to appease me. Unfortunately, there are too many students who aren’t eligible for special education but who continue to fall behind their peers even though they receive accommodation and intervention from the teachers. So, was I right as a parent to make sure that my child will succeed in school and demand diagnosis and IEP even though it might be seen as over classification? In general, I believe that Special education is flawed in concept and structure. First, the child who gets special education seen as special or different, it unavoidably results with the stigmatization of the child. For example, my daughter who is in 3rd grade comes home every day complaining that she doesn’t want to be pulled out from her regular classroom to get extra help; rather she wants to stay with her peers in her regular classroom and learn with them. Thus, she begins to develop negative feeling such as inferiority in regards to the other kids. Second, it seems that special education is a separate system that delivers education to children who inferior to their peers in special location which is referred to as the resource room. This is predominant in schools that practice main streaming. To solve this issue I think that we have to reconceptualized special education as service, not a place, that is integral part of general education that does not require singling children out to resource room. We need more educated and knowledgeable teachers in main streaming schools.

Lauren Riker said...


Seeing your daughter struggle made you advocate for her, which is great! Unfortuately some parents are unaware of their rights and do not understand the system, which results in many students getting pushed through. As a special education teacher, I do agree that a stigma still remains causing kids to feel inferior. However, it is up to everyone on the multidisciplinary team to build students' self-esteem up. There has been a change in recent years with the push for inclusion. Although inclusion is not the preferred placement for all students with special needs. For example, in my resource room, I don't refer to it as pull-out, since it has a negative connotion. In stead I refer to it as "Bigger and Better." The kids love to go and don't necessarily feel stimatized.

Sergio Oliva said...

Overclassification can lead to some (very) unwanted self-fulfilling prophecies that can adversely impact the child. For example, a teacher may incorrectly conclude that her teenage student is exhibiting Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) if he misbehaves in class. In fact, this student may just have many stressors at home; this stress may have manifested itself as rebellious behavior that day. Also, most teenagers are rebellious in nature due to their transition from childhood to adulthood. If the teacher consistently labels the student as having Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and she convinces his parents that he has ODD, they will come to expect delinquent behavior from the child and may even inadvertently catalyze it. Over time, the student will come to believe that he, in fact, does have a behavioral problem when he truly does not. This may lead to future delinquent and hostile behavior and lack of success in school. By believing that he is prone to delinquent behavior, his fears of exhibiting such behavior will actually cause him to behave delinquently and violently.

We must be very careful when we diagnose young people. Misdiagnosis may lead to a whole new host of issues and behavioral problems.

Ifat Sade said...

Thank you for your input. I think that I might suggest "Bigger and Better" to my daughter's teacher as a positive feedback. As a teacher myself, I know that teaching can be sometimes a complex task especially when you have to deal with children with ADHD, emotional or other learning problems, so as a society we need to give teachers the credit they deserve.

As a resource room teacher, do you think it is feasible to have a resource center in the regular classroom? Would it benefit children with moderate learning disabilities?

Lauren Riker said...


I am glad the saying I borrowed from a colleague intrigues you. I feel it helps build the students' self-esteem, reducing the scutiny of feeling different. Let's face it, we are all different in many ways. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. General education teachers have a responsibility to establish a learning environment that is accepting of all students so students feel adequate and not less of a student.
As for your question about having a resource room within the general education classroom. I feel it would be very distracting for two different lessons/learning to take place. However, inclusion classroom in which a general education teacher and special education teacher co-teach is an option, and the goal in most school districts.
In the resource room, the special education teacher teaches to the goals and objective of each student, not necessarily the curriculum.

Michelle_Cerv said...

@ Nick
I agree with you. All the outside stimulants have made it difficult for us to compare the way children are learning. In the past it was books and flashcards. Now and days children have access to electronic books and mini laptops. Everything is different. Technology provides such a fast response to everything. It makes it hard for the children to have the attention span for class work like they do for the computer games. The lack of instant gratification in real life is what frustrates them the most.

Wendy said...


I like your input on a resource room. I feel it would be very distracting to have two lessons going on at the same time. I feel inclusion is a great idea for students. It provides the help for students with special services but also allows general education to continue. I feel as though inclusion is not just wonderful in an education aspect, but also benefits the students socially. Inclusion helps general education students be exposed to the special education world and it also engages special education students in everyday interactions. I also love the idea of a teacher teaching towards the goals and objective of each student and not directly towards the curriculum. Each student learns differently and may not be ready to move onto the next math lesson. Students should be able to understand a concept thoroughly before moving onto the next lesson just to meet a curriculum deadline.

Alexandra Moreta said...

I agree to a certain extent that there is an overclassification and misdiagnosi of children in schools today. Many times we are overlooking that children come from a variety of households and what might have made up your household back when I was growing up most likely does not make up households now. If you had asked a child when I was growing up what made up their household their most logical response would have been; mom, dad, and brother/sister. Instead now we are dealing with children that are coming from divorce/seperated and even single parenting homes. It would be a positive step if the parents that are raising their children would be required to take course in helping and meeting their kids needs.
While I agree on this matter; I also believe that we sometimes overlook children that do have a learning disability. I believe it should be mandatory for children to be placed in school as of the age of 3 years. This will help teachers in assessing the child better when learning difficulties appear. In regards to teachers; they have a checklist that must be attempted before reaching out to school psychologists. I would hope they would follow it and do their job to help better the child learning wise. I don't agree that budgets for schools should be allowed to be cut. Schools are trying to better the success rate in the future generation and we the people should fight for their fundings.

PeninaA said...

Sean, I enjoyed your post; you introduce many interesting points.
I agree that our modes of evaluation are grossly flawed and need urgent repair. Additionally, the point that the original post made about misdiagnosis and over diagnosis is certainly a reality in today's educational system. Sean suggests that the cause of this gross over diagnosis is 'a lack of responsibility on all levels of the issue' - including teachers, parents, and even the students themselves. I disagree with this perspective. In my opinion, this gross over diagnosis is the result of the opposite cause completely; it is not because parents and professionals are not involved enough, or because they do not assume responsibility for their childrens'/ students' needs. Rather, it is because of an over-zealousness to diagnose. As so many students mentioned in the above posts, almost every and any behavior has some sort of diagnosis. It has almost gotten to the point that there is no such thing as 'normal' three-year-old behavior anymore; if a three-year-old is very active (as three-year-olds tend to be) he is almost automatically diagnosed with some disorder or disability.
On a positive note, I'd like t add that our general approach to disability and its diagnosis has indeed improved over the last generation (we do deserve at least a little pat on the back). To properly illustrate the progress that our educational system has made in the area of diagnosis, we will need a little background in the history of disability diagnosis:
My mother's closest friend lived next door to her for all her childhood years. As far as she knew, this best friend was one of two children - she had one brother. What my mother did not know was that there was a third child in her friend's family - another brother who always remained hidden in their house, away from any questioning neighbors. This third child- as you may have guessed- had a mental handicap. This small story is a great indication of the way children with disabilities and special needs were dealt with a generation back - they were all too often completely ignored.
Flash forward a generation and consider how our perspective has evolved. Wow! From this small history we can understand that when the general perspective of diagnosis and the approach to children with disabilities changed, it changed rapidly. We soon became obsessed with diagnosis in an effort to move as far away from our previous mishandling of disabilities as possible.
We succeeded all right - maybe, just maybe we succeeded too much.

Daniel Rutz said...

I do not think that school districts should use funds to appease parents. Perhaps they should talk to the parents and find out more before they sweep the issue under the rug. If they don't have the money and the child doesn't qualify there should be no question of what should be done. Parents have to be more responsible and help there children so that the school is wasting funds on a cause that might be lost. If the child needs it then give it to them, their needs should be the most important factor, not the parents' satisfaction. It might also hurt the students who don't get into a special program, because even if they don't need it other kids are in because of pushy parents and have even more perks. What is best for the child must be done, but within the school's limits.

Nick Vitaro said...

@ Daniel

I absolutely agree that the child's needs should come first, however the issue of parent involvement is not that simple. Some parents will go as far as taking the school to court which might cost more than the accommodations they request. In that instance the school might side with the parents requests in order to avoid the more costly court fees. In addition since parents are tax payers in the town, I think some feel they deserve inclusion in the decision making of their children.

Dana Koplik said...

I definately agree with what you were saying that it is important for parents, teachers, and school psychologists to all be involved when there appears to be a problem. Different people can speak about different challenges that they see child is faced with and all of these opinions should definately be taken into consideration. I think that sometimes parents and teachers may take a step back to let the experts in the area decide what is best, but their involvement and opinions are just as important.

Elaine Harang said...

I agree with the over classification and misdiagnosis of students today, however I believe it is because there is a lack of student- teacher relationships in the classroom. If a student is acting up in class it is not fair for him to just simply be thrown to a school psychologist. Having one on one time with the teacher to see what his real problem is can show that that is is nothing more than a cry for attention or something of that nature. Now if the child does have obvious symptoms claiming to be of a special need then absolutely it should be closer examined, but to just simply toss him to someone else because the teacher is too busy to handle it is unfair to the student and his learning abilities.

Dennis Chae said...

@ Nick

I hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way, but are you saying that in the instance of the parents taking legal action, that the ethically and morally correct decision for the school is the side with the parents? I am not a parent, so it’s difficult for me to image what it would be like to be standing in that situation. However, I think that in that situation the most effective way to solve the issue would be to meet with the professions involved with my child and to get a better understanding of the situation. I don’t understand why everyone is so quick to get a lawyer as soon as they don’t get their way.

I agree with Daniel that the child’s education and well-being should be the number one priority. I don’t think that school districts should give in to the parents because they are afraid of the possible legal repercussions. I also agree that parents need to be more responsible for their children. The parents should be the first ones at their child’s side when a problem is suspected.

However, I do understand that there are many parents out there who are struggling financially to support their family. Coming from a poor immigrant family, I did not get to see my parents a lot when I was in grade school. I spent most of my time within eye sight, but without any real contact for the majority of the day after school. However, whatever time my parents could spare from their working schedule they would spend it talking with me and going over my school work. When I was younger, I was sort of resentful, because they didn’t spend enough time with me. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I really understood and appreciated the couple hours of quality time that they spent with me.

nick pomponio said...

Going back to something that PeninaA said, "Rather, it is because of an over-zealousness to diagnose." I couldn't agree with this statement more. In my experience, throwing around diagnoses of ADHD, ADD, bi-polar, or any learning disability has become the "easy" thing to do.

As an example, I was observing a 3rd grade classroom with a teacher I had not met during the second week of school this year. There was one kid who was being a little disruptive by calling out during the lesson and so forth. So during the kids snack time I was talking to the teacher and she casually mentioned how this one "disruptive child" had ADHD. So I started asking a serious of questions just to find out a little more information. I was like so you've had a chance to look at his IEP then? She responded he doesn't have an IEP. Oh, ok so how do you know he has ADHD? She said, I just know these things. Oh, so you know this child for a couple years then? She said, I just met him last week on first day of school. This just goes to show how quick people can be to label students based on a few behaviors they don't like from a student they don't even know yet. For all she knows this student could have been bored with her lesson. Maybe he needs attention because he doesn't get any at home? Maybe he is just excited to be back in school? I mean there could be hundreds of explanations for behaviors that often lead to a diagnosis. Attaching a diagnosis to a child should be the last resort not the first thing that comes to mind the minute that child exhibits a behavior that "we" do not like.

Two of my cousins (14yrs old and 12 yrs old), were diagnosed with ADHD when they were both under the age of 8. They were put on medication which turned them into zombies in class, but according to their teachers they were no longer disrupting their respective classes so they were happy. Over the next couple years, it turned out that neither of them had ADHD, but that both of them were just bored because the material was too easy so they began acting out. They have since been taken off medication and the diagnoses have been removed. They are being challenged more in school and the "ADHD" behaviors have disappeared. I just find it very frustrating when everyone's first thought when a kid acts out is oh he must have ADHD. Or this kid just doesnt pay attention, must be ADD.

I just wanted to comment on something that someone said about teachers being qualified. I completely and one hundred percent support all teachers because I know what a tough job it is, but i think it was Sean who mentioned it, so many teachers are just not qualified to be teachers. Sure they know their materials, but they don't know how to teach it to kids. Kids don't want to sit and listen to a lecture and then do a worksheet. They want to actively be involved. Some teachers just don't get that or refuse to change their style to accommodate the students therefore causing the students who can't sit there and listen to be labeled as a problem child or be referred for evaluation which usually leads to a diagnosis and often times a misdiagnosis. Maybe if that teacher just took a little extra time to think of a fun hands on activity to do for that lesson, the students would have behaved and still learned the lesson as she would have liked.

It's sad to see kids as they get older use their diagnosis as a crutch because they've been told for so long that they can't learn the "normal" way or that they ahve "problems".

nick pomponio said...

Wow! Didn't mean to write so much in one post, but just kept going.

Lauren Riker said...

let me clarify inclusion vs resource. Inclusion classrooms have two teachers team teaching. The general education teacher teaches to the curriculum, and the special education teacher modifies lessons/materials to enable the students with special needs to learn with the general education setting. Although the push has been to include most students with disabilities, this setting is not appropriate for everyone. As for the resource room, the special education teacher teaches solely to the students deficits (goals & objectives).

I agree with you in terms of inclusion benefiting students academically as well as socially. General education students build an awareness and understanding for students of all abilities. In my teaching experience, both general and special students benefit from both teachers. In addition, students with disabilities observe appropriate social skills and apply them in class.

Charlotte O'Hara said...

I do agree that there is over classification and misdiagnosis in schools today. It will be our job as school psychologists to look beyond the classroom into the home life and cultural values before we classify a child. We also need to stay resistant to the pressures put on by parents who have children that should not be receiving special services. Every child would certaintly benefit from these services but when a parent has a child without any sort of disbility and just simply wants them to receive more attention that is something they may do on their own time and cost through tutoring and other services. These funds are very limited in public schools, so by having misdiagnosed students receiveing services takes money away that could have been used on students who truly need it or perhaps for training more teachers.

It would be great to have teachers implement these intervention plans before sending them to the school psychologist. However we have to understand that most teachers may not be trained in this area, they won't have the knowledge or resources to create these individual plans. It is our responsibility as the school psyhologist to teach them the problem-solving techniques they need in the classroom, so I don't believe we should see it as them dumping kids onto the school psychologist.

Although many students are receiving services they don't need, there are still many more students who need services they are yet to receive. When my brother was in Kindergarten my parents were also told that they wanted him to be held back another year. There was really no other option given and my parents trusted their decision, they would rather have kept him back early on then wait till he was older when being left back would have a great effect on his social life. He at times struggled in school later in life even though he would come home and study for hours. It was only until 2 years ago (when he was in 7th grade) that he was finally tested and provided special services.

It seems there is overclassification and yet still underclassification of some students. It is our jobs as a school psychologist to really pay attention to every child in the school and to stay updated with every teacher to be sure that the students who really need services are the ones recieving them.

PeninaA said...

@ Charlotte
In response to your comment regarding over-classification vs under-classification, I most definitely agree; as so many of us mentioned in the above posts - over diagnosing, and the tendency to 'assign' children a disability label so readily are definitely issues in our educational system today. However, on the flip side, there are still so many children who have issues or disabilities which are not diagnosed and are not properly addressed. It is a kind of strange phenomenon - two polar opposites, one system. In my opinion, this contrast of over and under classification is the result of an educational perspective and a psychological approach that are not individualized. Diagnoses are generalized and are applied to children liberally, without assessing them on an individual level. And it is for the same reason that under-diagnosis exists in our education system as well; children are not receiving specific evaluations to ensure accurate diagnosis.

karenaf25 said...

I have to agree with both Penina A. & Nick P. in regards to "the over-zealousness to diagnose a child". In my experiences I have seen it happen so often. Childern as young as 4 & 5 are carring aound diagnosises of ADHD,Impulse Control Disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Etc, and it is just rediculous. Can it be that thier are very young, there first time in a setting where thier parents are not, and in an enviroment where they are being told to listen and focus instead of palying? Come on I think that sometimes "as professionals" we forget what it was to be a kid. These behaviors can be outgrown. Why must it be diagnosed so young? and then why must a child be medicated to be allowed to attend school? I work in a psychiatric ER and so many times little kids are being sent for psychiatric evaluations becasue they can not deal with his behaviors at school. Schools will then want a child to be admitted to to the hospital for thier"out of control" behavior so that theey can be started on medication. Some kids are not allowed back until their parent puts them on meds and if they refuse to are threatened with "DYFS" for medical neglect. Really? Do you remember all of this when you were young cause I sure dont. Misbehavior was dealt with detention, a call to a parent, not being allowed on a trip, or spending your lunch and recess with your teacher to go over difficulties you are having with you school work.
I do understand that there are some childern that truely are ADHD, ect. and need the help and the meds to help control them so that they can learn but I can not believe that so many childern do.

Courtney Post said...

I do feel that students are misdiagnosed. I agree that schools do feel like they have no choice but to comply with the parents requests, however the child may not need to be put under a special classification. Some students just need to go to extra help after school to understand some of the material that was taught. They are not in need to be classified but the teacher may just have to explain the information in a slightly different way so that the child may have the chance to learn the information in a way which may suit the child better. I use to work in an afterschool program and I agree that the way a student is raised does influence the way that student will react to situations at school, or just how they behave in school. I don't think school should be so quick to classify students, they should examine the student in may different senarios and test before they classify the student into a stigma he/she will be under forever.

Maria Spinella said...

I agree with Courtney. All children do learn differently, some may be more visual learners and some may by more audible learners. It is in the best interest of the teacher to make sure that they are teaching their lessons in a way that that every type of learner is gasping the information in the way they will understand best. Teachers should not be quick to judge if a student has a learning disability or not. Parents should not force the issue of their child having disability when in actuality they do not. Instead of putting energy into classifying that child they put that energy into making sure that do not need to be classified.

Rachael O'Hara said...

Over classification is something I have personally experienced through my current job as the Pre-K teacher at my school.
A student who was previously enrolled in the class before mine was having a lot of difficulty in class. The teacher of this classroom explained that it was extremely difficult to incorporate him into the class activities as he had no interest in sitting with them and he often acted out and misbehaved when the teacher told him to sit with the other children. She constantly asked that we request services for him, and she did this without ever trying some sort of different learning strategy with him. She even once made the comment to me that we try and suggest to the director that this child be removed from the school explaining that we can not meet his needs.
It was at this point that I brought up the option to move this child up to my classroom at the start of the new school year. Even though he was a few months younger than the children in my class I felt he was not being given the chance to succeed in his current classroom. Throughout my curriculum and lesson plans I try take a very hands on approach to learning and also use Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory as I plan activities related to the topic we are discussing. Especially with children that young I can't imagine teaching them anything successfully without these strategies as they all learn in different ways and engaging them as much as possible is always beneficial. The child I moved up into my class made such huge progress it is almost a different child. His mother reports that he is now actually excited about school and has even improved behavior at home, often 'teaching' his parents about the topics we learned in school. He still needs a little more re-direction than the other children but it does not take much to get him back on track.

I have had another experience recently where a child was brought into my classroom who was having severe difficulty working within our structured setting. The child psychologist we work with was brought in and her immediate strategy was to first address his behavior at home. His parents basically gave into his every whim, and she requested that before they allowed themselves to give in to any request he had, they first needed to ask him to complete some other task first. Although we are still working with him on this, the changes made at home are visible in our classroom as well. He is now more receptive to us when we ask him to join our group first before he can have free time.

Although school psychologists are of course more qualified to pick up on these various needs I think it is extremely important for teachers to keep this in mind before they rush to their own conclusions. Changing the the way a child may learn information in the classroom can make a huge difference. And it also needs to be taken into account that home-life and the behaviors that are reinforced there can have a big impact on the way the child behaves in school. Before rushing for some sort of diagnosis these issues can be first addressed by teachers.

Regina Wietecha said...

This blog makes me rethink the way young students are treated. I know a parent who got told that their six year old has ADHD because they are more hyper active than the other children in the classroom. The mother, who is a psychologist herself, had gotten angry because her child is just growing normally and is being just a normal active hyper kid who loves to do things. This blog made me think of this story because this child was getting diagnosed with something before the child was even put through any tests. Every child is different and just because one child may be more hyper than another does not mean they have to be labeled any different.

Gene Zannetti said...

If I were in elementary school or middle school now, I would almost certainly be diagnosed with ADHD. How would have this affected me and my life later on? I always considered myself honorable mention because the teachers thought enough to refer me for testing in 6th grade. I am only honorable mention because I passed all their tests with relative ease. I had to stand on one foot, walk in a straight line, repeat numbers forward and backward, and finally sit in a quiet room alone for a half hour and click the computer mouse every time I saw a certain number or heard a certain sound. I probably struggle with some form of attentional or hyperactivity in my brain that does not appear in others. I also thrive in changing circumstances, exert more energy and attention on something I am interested in than most people you know. That being said, I always knew most things I was doing in school have no practical application for my future other than to get into higher levels and get into college. What factor does motivation play in diagnosing children? Can a child be unmotivated and still exhibit the same characteristics of someone with ADHD? How would you tell the difference? If I was labeled ADHD would I have grown up with the same confidence and drive in areas that do interest me? All things to factor in when diagnosing a child.

Patty Fochesato said...

I found this article extremely interesting. I do believe many students are misdiagnosed. The correct diagnosis of a child at a young age is vital. My son struggled greatly in grammar school. I was told by the pediatrician that his school would handle the evaluation. My son went to a small catholic grammar school. The school did not feel my son needed to be tested. My son was becoming more frustrated with school as the years went on. I did take my son to a specialist to find out if he had ADHD. This doctor we saw called him by the wrong first names numerous times and told my son he did not have ADHA and he was just lazy and that’s why he was having trouble in school. My son went to an all boy catholic high school and in freshmen year they agreed to have him test. My son does have ADHD and a learning disability. I was disappointed on the extra help my son did receive in high school. My son started taking medication for his ADHD and it helped him tremendously with his focus while he was in school. My son suffered unnecessarily in school for many years because of being misdiagnosed.

Michelle Montoya said...

I really like and agree with this article, I believe some schools manage our tax money inappropriately. Some teachers do to lack of interest, wrongly judge some students intellect. I agree with some students having trouble in school due to personal problems at home, yet teachers avoid that possibility and send them to a counselor or just send a letter home to the parents, instead of trying to help the student. Parents also affect their children's education, by enforcing special care , just because they feel their child has trouble reading or learning math. Today parents should help out with their child's education, even if its helping them read, or do homework. Instead of parents complaining about any little difficulty their child has in a subject, help them so teachers can help you.

Gabrielle Walker said...

There is definitely an over classification and misdiagnosis of students, especially African American students. I feel that African Americans are over represented, constantly battling negative stereotypes, discrimination and preconceived notions in the education system. These students suffer because they often attend schools that have poor funding and therefore do not prepare them for higher education. Furthermore, a large portion of the curriculum is based off the mainstream culture. In many cases the only time African Americans and their contributions are mentioned are for one day during Black History month.
I think we can all agree that teachers need to come up with new lesson plans and methods to teach students. Classrooms are becoming more diverse therefore we need to utilize many different teaching methods. Kids begin to dread school once class becomes boring and repetitive. It is important for teachers to incorporate a level of surprise in the classroom and more hands on learning. In addition, I believe that large class sizes do make it harder for teachers to spend individual quality time with each student. Some students may be diagnosed as a slow learner simply because they have not received enough one on one time with the instructor.
Finally, I believe that parents should be able to receive special accommodations/ services if their child is not performing well in school. Many families pay a lot of money in taxes every year and want to see the money going to good use. In the end, every parent wants the best education for their child and we should try to ensure that every student has an equal opportunity to succeed.

Gabrielle Walker

El9186 said...

Plus know a child's background entirely. My son did not attend preschool or Pre-K, so the transition into kindergarten was a bit tough. His teacher assumed he had sensory related issues because he would twirl his hair or bite his nails. He no longer does either. I saw it as a stress behavior, getting used to a new situation. Kids are expected to transition and settle in quickly. With the pressures to teach a curriculum designed for standardized testing, there are many 'quick to judge' moments. Understand the child as a whole and get a refresher in childhood development.