March 14, 2013
To whom it may concern:
My name is Donald Lee Stovall, Psy.D, L.P. I am with the Department of Counseling and School Psychology at the University of Wisconsin River Falls (UWRF). Our department is working with staff from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), education professionals representing a variety of disciplines, parents of children with disabilities, and administrators, on a revision of the manual A Vision For A Better Education: Reducing Bias in Special Education Assessment for American Indian and African American Students. The manual, first produced in 1998, focused on disproportionate representation of African American and American Indian Students in special education programs, with an emphasis on the assessment process and eligibility decisions. The purpose of the initial manual was to provide a set of best practice guidelines to support educators and assessment teams in fair assessment of students from diverse backgrounds, and in making recommendations for services that met the needs of students.
Disproportionate representation of American Indian students and African American students in special education programs continues to be a concern throughout school districts in Minnesota. This phenomenon is found in other states as well, where a literature review shows a prominent dialogue across the country on issues around disproportionate representation of students from diverse backgrounds in special education services such as learning disabilities, emotional or behavioral difficulties, or cognitive disabilities. Concerns exist that some students are referred for placement in specific special education categories based on cultural or communication differences, rather than meeting eligibility criteria for a specific disorder.
The Minnesota Department of Education promotes use of comprehensive strategies and proactive policies and procedures to support students, and in making special education placement decisions. There are several goals associated with the project. They include updating the literature on disproportionality, providing a framework of understanding and supporting the needs of African American students and American Indian students in Minnesota schools, identifying methods to support parents and caregivers of African-American students and American Indian students through the special-education assessment process, and providing educators with best practice rubrics involving assessment and decision-making strategies with African-American and American Indian students. We seek input from parents, educators, administrators, and trainers throughout Minnesota and other states that contribute educators to Minnesota schools.
For your information, we have a web blog established for the project and you can review the biographies of other team members and review some of our preliminary work. Drafts of content will also be posted for review, comments, suggestions, or feedback that will support schools in augmenting services to American Indian and African American student in ways that do not contribute to disproportionate placement. I appreciate your ideas and strategies on what works to support students, their caregivers, and educational systems in promoting positive practices. If you have ideas or strategies to contribute, please contact me at the e-mail or telephone number below.
Donald Lee Stovall, Psy.D
School Psychology Training Program UWRF