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Are African-American students overrepresented in special ed classrooms? That’s the question asked by Destani Parker.

After a thorough review of the existing literature, Destani conducted a series of qualitative interviews with parents and teachers. Discussing samples of these interviews, Parker highlighted that a lack of knowledge about test procedures, referral processes, and the meaning of tests among the parents and the students is crucial for understanding why so many students of color end up in special ed programs.

For instance, a student appraiser who had tested students for seven years reported a ratio of 8 to 2 in referrals, meaning that out of every 10 students she referred to special ed programs 8 were African-American students. This interviewee explained the difference with black students’ underexposure to the learning materials.

Parker stressed that parents need to be educated better about their rights and that teachers and student-appraisers need to be trained better to avoid test bias. She concluded by pointing out that the various tests are not very reliable and that, in the future, school systems might have to think about abandoning them, the same way that IQ tests were eventually tossed out.

Destani’s presentation prompted a series of questions and engaged conversation among the audience and some good ideas about possible changes in public education.