School Psychology Forum

The Shield or the Sword? Revisiting the Debate on Racial Disproportionality in Special Education and Implications for School Psychologists

By Amanda L. Sullivan & Sherrie L. Proctor

pp. 278–288

Encouraging Racial and Social Justice

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ABSTRACT: Scholars in special education and school psychology are engaged in renewed debate about the disproportionate representation of students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in special education following research and commentaries challenging long held assumptions that many students are inappropriately identified with special needs. A brief synthesis of disproportionality scholarship, federal policy, and related research, followed by discussion of the implications for school psychological practice from an orientation toward racial justice, is provided. A more deeply contextualized review of the special education research is offered, recognizing the relations of disproportionality to research on other educational inequities and the questionable effectiveness of both general and special education services for many students. A racial justice perspective is encouraged that reconciles these controversial literatures by emphasizing ecological orientation to understanding development and behavior, challenging the essentializing race and student performance, and focusing on professional efforts to improve preventative general education services and reliable identification of special needs.