Biased tests and educators’ racial attitudes hinder academic opportunities
Alexandria, Va. — Flaws in testing and racial bias among teachers and school counselors are some of the reasons many Black boys are denied advanced learning programs and misdirected into special education, according to a new assessment published in the American Counseling Association’s Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development.
The report is part of a special forthcoming issue of the journal, “Understanding the Black Male Experience: Recommendations for Clinical, Community and School Settings.” In the article, Donna Ford, PhD, a distinguished professor of education and human ecology at The Ohio State University (OSU), and her colleagues report that educators often develop erroneous and harmful perceptions of Black boys as lazy, unruly and apathetic, which may contribute to scant referrals to gifted and talented education programs and excessive special-education placements. Furthermore, tests often lack cultural context for Black students and favor those who excel at pen-and-paper exams rather than oral expression, they say.
“Black boys make up 9% of our school students, but only 3.5% of students in gifted-and-talented education,” Ford said. “So, we're talking about the most underrepresented of any group.”
Ford and her co-authors cite several reasons that Black boys are overreferred to special education and shut out of advanced learning, including:
- Tests often don’t accommodate linguistic differences.
- A population of mostly white teachers overlooks different life circumstances, cultural values and abilities.
- A dearth of minority teachers who can exemplify academic interests and success for Black boys.
“When you put underreferral of Black boys to gifted and talented education, and you put these linguistically and culturally loaded tests together, it’s a double whammy that denies our Black boys opportunities to be motivated to be engaged and to reach their potential,” Ford said.
The authors call on teachers, administrators and school counselors to expand and diversify testing, to stop referring Black boys to special education based solely on low test scores, and to examine their own assumptions and racial biases.
“It’s important that school counselors interrogate any deficit thinking that they may have about an individual,” said co-author James L. Moore III, PhD, distinguished professor of urban education at OSU. “And sometimes the deficit thinking might be who their parents are or where they live. And we make broad assumptions. Fundamentally, I believe that great minds come from every ZIP code.”
The authors also call on school counselors to better help Black boys handle the academic and social stressors they may experience in advanced learning programs. And they cite a need for more minority representation in the teaching profession. Studies show that minority students achieve more academic success when they have educators who look like them, share their culture and hold high expectations for them.
“Culture matters and representation matters,” Ford said. “We need to be culturally responsive and antiracist, and we need more minoritized professionals in our schools.”
Other co-authors on the paper were Erik M. Hines, PhD, of George Mason University, and Tanya J. Middleton, PhD, of OSU.
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Founded in 1952, the American Counseling Association (ACA) is a not-for-profit, professional and educational organization that is dedicated to the growth and enhancement of the counseling profession. ACA represents nearly 60,000 members and is the world’s largest association exclusively representing professional counselors in various practice settings. Driven by the belief that all people can benefit from the power of counseling, ACA’s mission is to promote the professional development of counselors, advocate for counselors, and ensure that ethical, culturally inclusive practices protect our members’ clients and all people who seek counseling services.