School Counselors and School Psychologists: Collaborating to Ensure Minority Students Receive Appropriate Consideration for Special Educational Programs

This article discusses the challenges in providing psychoeducational services to the rapidly increasing minority populations in the U.S. and offers a brief elaboration of the role and function of school counselors and school psychologists and how they can meet the mental health and educational needs of this large and growing population.

School counselors and school psychologists have long functioned as crucial educational personnel assisting students, parents, teachers, administrators, and other school personnel in meeting the educational and behavioral objectives of children within and outside of the classroom. Among the pressing issues in education today is the need to identify effective strategies to accommodate the increasing cultural and linguistic diversity of U.S. students. In particular, there is a great need to appropriately identify culturally and linguistically diverse students with special learning needs to ensure that they receive suitable services. This requires that students are not erroneously labeled and placed in services that are not needed as well as ensuring that students who require such services are able to receive them. In addition, it is critical that the needs of regular education students are met.

In this article we first provide demographic information as a context and then briefly elaborate on what appear to be endemic problems in the delivery of educational and mental health services to minority schoolchildren, more specifically to Latino/Hispanic children and their families. We then elaborate on the role and function of school counselors and school psychologists and how they can assist in the delivery of appropriate services to minority schoolchildren and their families. Finally, we provide recommendations and suggestions important for meeting the mental health and educational needs of this large and growing population.


In 2001, the U.S. Census indicated that the ethnic minority population in the United States exceeded 104 million people (Nagayama Hall & Maramba, 2001). Moreover, by 2050, half of the U.S. population will belong to an ethnic minority group (Nagayama Hall & Maramba; Rodriguez & Barona, 2004). In 2003, 42% of students attending public schools were considered to be an ethnic or racial minority, a 20% increase from 1972 (Livingston & Wirt, 2005). Much of this dramatic growth was due to increased numbers of Latino students, who now represent 19% of the total public school enrollment. The proportion of African-American students also increased and now makes up 16% of the public school enrollment (Livingston & Wirt). Approximately 20% of school-age children were born outside the United States or are children of immigrants (Capps, Fix, Ost, Reardon-Anderson, & Passel, 2004; Hernandez & Charney, 1998), many originating from Latin America or Asia (Pong, 2003). Additionally, 9.9 million, or 19 percent, of children between 5 and 17 years speak a language other than English at home; of these, 29% speak English with difficulty (Livingston & Wirt). Of those who speak English with difficulty, over 30% report speaking Spanish in the home; Indo-European and Asian/Pacific Island languages also are frequently spoken in the home, with reports of 25% and 27% for these languages, respectively (Livingston & Wirt).

Perhaps a more telling statistic is the fact that in the year 2000 the mean age for Latinos/Hispanics was 25, compared to 37 for White Europeans, indicating that Hispanic females are at a prime childbearing age, whereas White European females are approaching the end of child bearing (Ramirez, 2004; Rodriguez & Barona, 2004), thus projecting an even larger Latino percentage in the general population in the future. In fact, it is expected that by 2050, Latino/Hispanic children will make up the majority of the school-age population. This trend clearly suggests a need for attention to the needs of this group of individuals residing in the United States.

Puente (2003) and Rodriguez and Barona (2004) suggested that the rapid growth of the Latino/Hispanic population has created a need for a paradigm shift within psychology. We propose that the overall increase of minority children enrolled in our schools requires a paradigm shift not only inpsychology but also in the manner in which we view and provide educational services. Just as Holliday and Holmes (2003) suggested that psychology developed primarily based on the study and needs of White/European people, we suggest that the U.S. educational system also is based on a narrow set of values and theories that have been generalized to other ethnic groups without considering cultural and language differences. The net result appears to be that these incomplete theories often portray minority children and their families as educationally inferior and unable to benefit from traditional mental health practices.

The increase in cultural and linguistic diversity has resulted in many challenges for educators. These challenges are as varied as poverty, unemployment, housing, health needs, and mental health services, to name a few. Recent arrivals often originate from poor areas of the world; despite residing in families with high employment in the United States, many culturally and linguistically diverse children live in homes with limited financial resources, food and housing insecurities, and no health insurance (Capps et al., 2004; Dinan, 2005). According to Pong (2003), Latino students are the most disadvantaged socioeconomically.

Culturally and linguistically diverse students face additional hurdles. African-American and Latino students are twice as likely to attend schools that are predominantly minority (Orfield & Lee, 2005), often in high-poverty settings. According to Orfield and Lee, "Black and Latino students are more than three times as likely as Whites to be in high-poverty schools and 12 times as likely to be in schools where almost everyone is poor" (p. 18). Such schools have difficulty attracting and retaining qualified teachers: High-poverty schools have three times as many uncertified or out-of-field teachers as other schools have (Borman et al., 2004; Committee on Minority Representation in Special Education, Donovan, & Cross, 2002; International Reading Association, 2004).

With approximately 90% of public school teachers being of European-American descent (Weinstein, Tomlinson-Clarke, & Curran, 2004), an additional challenge is the need for these educators to become familiar with the unique characteristics and experiences of their students in order for them to have an impact on the students' educational success. Without such exposure, school personnel unaware of such differences may use their personal frame of reference to incorrectly interpret children's behaviors and approaches to learning (Fradd, Barona, & Santos de Barona, 1989; Ladner & Hammons, 2001; Weinstein et al.). Weinstein et al. provided the following examples:

When some African-American students, accustomed to a more active, participatory pattern ("call-response"), demonstrate their engagement by providing comments and reactions, teachers may interpret such behavior as rude and disruptive. Similarly, teachers who do not realize how strongly Pacific Islanders value interpersonal harmony may conclude that these students are lazy when they are reluctant to participate in competitive activities (Sileo & Prater, 1998). In addition, teachers may be shocked when Southeast Asian students smile while being scolded if they are unaware that the smiles are meant not as disrespect, but as an admission of guilt and an effort to show that there are no hard feelings (Trueba, Cheng, & Ima, 1993). (p. 26)

Such teacher interpretations, unintentionally insensitive as they may be, may create the perception that neither the student nor the student's culture is valued or respected. When combined with issues of poverty and limited access to quality instruction, the result may be an estrangement from the school community that is manifested in school absence, low achievement, and behavioral difficulties. Indeed, the graduation rate for African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans is disproportionately lower than it is for their White peers (Fox, Connolly, & Snyder, 2005), hovering around 50% nationally (Orfield, Losen, Wald, & Swanson, 2004).

In addition, there is evidence that participation in center-based child-care and preschool programs facilitates children's development and school entry (NICHD Early Child Care Research, 2000; Rathbun, West, & Germino Hausken, 2004). However, students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to have participated in centerbased early-childhood care and education programs. Ethnicity and race further affect involvement in preschool experiences, with poor African-American and Latino children having lower rates of participation in these programs than poor White children do (Capps et al., 2004; U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2002). Such disparities often create a situation in which culturally and linguistically diverse students arrive for the K-12 experience less ready to learn than their more acculturated peers and continue to lag behind as they progress through school.

Other areas worth mentioning as problematic include assessment and the placement of minority schoolchildren in special education programs such as programs for children with learning disabilities, for children who are talented and gifted, and for children identified as having behavioral difficulties. The area of intellectual and academic assessment is particularly problematic. In spite of more than 50 years of controversy, the literature suggests that psychoeducational assessment and the subsequent placement of limited-English-proficient and other ethnic minority students may be the root cause for the misidentification and labeling of these children.

For example, for culturally and linguistically diverse students, referral and enrollment in special education occur at disproportionately high rates, while referral and enrollment in gifted education occur at disproportionately low rates. National data indicate that African-American children are nearly three times and two times more likely than others to be labeled mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed, respectively, phenomena that cannot be explained by poverty theory (Losen & Orfield, 2002; Skiba, Poloni-Staudinger, Simmons, Feggins-Azziz, & Chung, 2005). Recently, the Committee on Minority Representation in Special Education et al. (2002) found that "schooling independently contributes to the incidence of special needs or giftedness among students in different racial/ethnic groups through the opportunities it provides. Schools with higher concentrations of low-income, minority children are less likely to have experienced, well-trained teachers" (p. 4), additionally noting that children's performance varies, depending on the level of teacher support and the degree to which classroom management is effective. Specifically, despite the mandate that pre-referral interventions occur prior to referral and placement in special education, the degree to which children are exposed to effective instruction or classroom management before receiving special education services is unclear.

This point was emphasized by Ladner and Hammons (2001), who found that the race of students' teachers and fellow students affected the number of minority students in special education. A higher percentage of minority students were enrolled in special education in predominantly White school districts and in districts with higher proportions of White teachers than in other districts. These findings led the authors to conclude that minority students are treated differently depending on the characteristics of the school district; they also suggested that teachers untrained in issues of cultural diversity may erroneously perceive any differences in learning as deficiencies. Problems of disproportionality also occur with academically talented youth. Perhaps because of the subjectivity of the referral process — which historically has been teacher generated—and the limitations of the assessment process to determine eligibility, African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are significantly underrepresented in programs for the academically gifted and talented. The degree of under-representation ranges from 50% to 70% (Committee on Minority Representation in Special Education et al., 2002; Ford & Grantham, 2003)and may be attributed in part to teachers' lower expectations for minority students, their lack of awareness of multicultural issues, and a mismatch in learning styles (Ford & Thomas, 1997). Interestingly, ethnic disparities exist among students who do receive services. According to the Committee on Minority Representation in Special Education et al., although students in middle school gifted and talented programs generally are more often assigned to algebra classes than are those who are not in gifted programs, Latino and African-American students enrolled in gifted programs are less likely to be assigned to these accelerated classes. Latino students have the lowest probability of enrollment in algebra, a finding that cannot be explained by lower grades or test scores, and which raises the question of whether different criteria for selection are being used.

A similar trend occurs in high school, where minorities are significantly less likely to be enrolled in advanced-placement classes (NC Community Advocates for Revitalizing Education, 2005). Minority gifted students also have higher dropout rates than non-minority gifted students (Renzulli & Park, 2002). These issues have highlighted the need for teachers to be able to recognize indicators of potential in culturally different groups (Frasier et al., 1995; Frasier & Passow, 1994), as well as for definitions of giftedness that are culture-fair and multicultural and that reflect selection processes that use multiple criteria and authentic assessment tools (Borland, 2004; Frasier & Passow).

A subgroup of gifted students that has received little attention is learning-disabled, gifted minority students. Ford and Thomas (1997) noted that, although the prevalence of underachievement among gifted students ranges from 20% to 50%, 46% of gifted African American students in one study were underachieving. Often called the underachieving gifted (McEachern & Bornot, 2001) or the twice-exceptional (Winebrenner, 2003), these students are less likely to be referred for either gifted or special education services yet can benefit from special services in both areas of exceptionality.

These data challenge the often-held belief that many minority students are inherently less capable. The data highlight the need for continuous monitoring of school-environmental factors that may result in inequitable educational outcomes.

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Role and function of school counselors and school psychologists

The issues just discussed provide the backdrop for the daily responsibilities of school counselors and school psychologists. Clearly, efforts to transform the school setting to a more equitable arena for culturally diverse students will require sustained effort from many entities. However, the job functions of both the school counselor and school psychologist place them in an ideal position to focus attention on critical variables that can affect student outcomes. Both professionals are in positions to inform and guide colleagues about essential aspects related to culturally and linguistically diverse students as well as how the students' characteristics may have a differential impact on their access to specialized educational services.

As professionals with specialized graduate training involving both education and mental health, school counselors and school psychologists often work side by side in the schools to meet student needs (Staton & Gilligan, 2003). At times parents and educators may confuse the two professional positions. Both may serve as members of the student services team, be involved in efforts to create a healthy and safe learning environment, and deliver short-term counseling services in the school.

By 2050, half of the U.S. population will belong to an ethnic minority group.

According to the ASCA National Model (American School Counselor Association, 2005), school counselors provide individual and group counseling, large-group guidance, consultation, and coordination. As leaders in the school, they may advocate for students, promote systemic change, and be involved in developing and evaluating prevention programs in the school setting. According to the National Association of School Psychologists (2003), school psychologists consult with teachers, administrators, and parents, conduct psychoeducational evaluations as well as evaluations of learning environments, and provide direct and indirect interventions that may include counseling and classroom-based approaches. They also may be involved in the design, implementation, and evaluation of prevention and education activities as well as efforts to establish the efficacy of school-based interventions. In addition, they usually are involved with the assessment of intellectual and emotional functioning. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes individuals who are professionally trained for the specialty of school psychology as prepared to deliver services at the individual and system levels, to promote positive learning environments, to know effective instructional processes, and to use research findings to effectively address "cognitive, behavioral, social, and emotional problems encountered in schooling" (APA, 2005).

Although both professionals work with the general school population as well as with those receiving special services, school counselors are at times more likely to be involved in services with the general school population than are school psychologists, who spend significant time diagnosing and working with and/or coordinating services for students who have or are suspected of having special learning needs. However, particularly for school psychologists, multiple models of service delivery exist. Although many school psychology training programs provide professional preparation in "psychological diagnosis, assessment, intervention, prevention, health promotion, and program development and evaluation services with a special focus on the developmental processes of children and youth within the context of schools, families, and other systems" (APA, 2005), the degree to which these skills are used in districts varies as a function of funding and role definition.

In some school districts, school psychologists are only peripherally associated with special education referral, identification, and assessment activities, instead providing crisis intervention, counseling, and psychotherapeutic services for students, as well as consulting with teachers and other school personnel on student, classroom, instructional, and system level issues (J. L. Torres, executive director, Dallas Independent School District, personal communication, January 19, 2006). In other districts, they may be the only mental health professional housed at a school and provide a full range of services that include assessment, consultation, and counseling with regular- and special-education students and personnel. In still other districts, their role may be that of an itinerant professional whose work is narrowly focused on special education activities.

Regardless of the model of service delivery, both school psychologists and school counselors possess a wide range of skills that—when combined with their breadth and depth of knowledge related to both instruction and mental health issues—situate them well to facilitate significant positive change for culturally and linguistically diverse students. In the following section, we provide a number of suggestions that may be useful in this effort. Because the roles and responsibilities of both professionals vary by state and district, and because there may be an overlap of activities in some settings, we have chosen not to present these suggestions by discipline but rather by broad areas of activity. We group these suggestions according to the roles of leadership and advocacy, work with families, the referral process, and professional development. We acknowledge that the ability of any professional to implement these suggestions is contingent on a number of factors, particularly level of training. However, we believe that this approach provides both of these mental health professionals with useful ideas that, when used collaboratively, enable a positive impact on the educational system in the form of more equitable and positive outcomes for culturally diverse students.

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Leadership and Advocacy

Both school counselors and school psychologists should take a visible, proactive role in facilitating the educational success of all students. As leaders within the school setting, they should use their influence and specialized skills to identify strategies to change the attitudes and beliefs of teachers and students that work against success, identify and implement effective motivational strategies, and encourage the development of critical skills needed for student success (Stone & Clark, 2001). They should advocate for an analysis of course enrollment data to determine if patterns of disproportionality exist and work to develop appropriate criteria to eliminate discriminatory practices related to enrollment (U.S. Department of Education, 1991).

A similar examination should occur with regard to access to guidance and counseling activities. Strong efforts should be made to identify and provide relevant, effective services for students who may be marginalized (Bemak & Chung, 2005). As this may necessitate the introduction of new strategies, school counselors and school psychologists must stay current with changes in the field and also have a process in place for implementing and evaluating their effectiveness.

As advocates, school counselors and school psychologists must work in the best interests of the child, recognizing that at times their efforts may place them in conflict with other school personnel. They should attempt to address issues at a systemic as well as student level, develop and use multicultural competencies as a natural part of their service delivery, and work to have other school personnel use similar competencies consistently. Teachers' effectiveness increases with experience; building a setting in which teachers are skilled collaborators is likely to be a long process (Orfield & Lee, 2005). Recognizing that a positive school climate is important not only for student success but also for teacher retention, school counselors and school psychologists can encourage efforts to develop a collaborative setting where teachers and students alike feel empowered, motivated, and able to grow.

Working with Families

It is not unusual for educators to perceive infrequent parental involvement as reflecting a lack of interest in children's education. However, in the case of non-English-speaking families, a lack of involvement often is due to an inability to communicate with the school. In cases where language is not an issue, parents may be unable to participate in school activities because of work responsibilities, transportation difficulties, or a lack of familiarity with how schools operate. Parents of high-potential students may feel uncomfortable discussing their concerns about placing their children in a setting that may better address their academic needs yet isolate them socially. School linkages with culturally and diverse families need to be nurtured so that parents will feel comfortable collaborating with the school about their children's special needs. School counselors and school psychologists can work to correct misperceptions for low parental involvement and suggest ways in which the schools can improve school-parent communication. Strategies may include having translators available during Individualized Education Program meetings and school conferences as well as providing communications in both English and the home language whenever possible. Such efforts communicate that parent involvement and input are valued and increase the probability that parents will participate.

School counselors and school psychologists also can arrange for and provide opportunities to help parents better understand their children's special learning needs and provide culturally sensitive suggestions for supporting their children's educational activities. These activities will necessitate awareness of a potential stigma or other impact that a child's special learning situation may have within the family's cultural framework. Meetings should be arranged at times when parents are likely to be available and with child care provided. Opportunities should be provided for parents to share ideas about making the school community more culturally responsive. Teachers should be encouraged to welcome parents as observers and classroom volunteers,assisting in meaningful classroom instructional activities. Finally, school counselors and school psychologists may be instrumental in organizing and developing after-school homework clubs, which, when staffed by paraprofessionals, parents, and additionally paid teachers, provide an important source of assistance to children and their families whose circumstances make it difficult for such support to occur in the home.

The Referral Process for Special Services

Determining eligibility for special services is a complicated process made even more complex when it involves a culturally diverse or limited-English speaking
student. As noted earlier, the subjectivity of the decision to refer places minority students at high risk for premature labeling, misclassification, and inappropriate placement. While careful examination of students is always essential when determining eligibility, it is even more critical when language and cultural diversity are involved. Students' academic functioning must be interpreted with an awareness of social and cultural factors that may affect academic performance and test results. As critical members of the student assessment team, school counselors and school psychologists must be aware of and use the most culturally appropriate procedures throughout all phases of the decision-making process to avoid confusing problems of low achievement arising from a handicapping condition with problems resulting from second-language learning or cultural differences (Barona & Santos de Barona, 1987). Table 1 presents some ways in which such confusions may be manifested.

Table 1. Indicators of Learning Disabilities That Are Also Behavior Characteristics of Students in the Process of Learning English

Cultural or Linguistic Explanation

Discrepancy between verbal and performance measures on intelligence tests
This discrepancy is predictable because those who are not proficient in the language of the test often are able to complete many of the nonverbal tasks correctly (Cummins, 1984).

Academic learning difficulty
Students in the process of learning a new language often experience difficulty with academic concepts and language because these terms and ideas are more abstract, less easily understood and experienced than ideas and terms that communicate social interactions and intents (Cummins, 1984).

Language disorders
When second language learners enter into meaningful communication, they often appear as language disorders because of influences that are a natural part of second language development (Oller, 1984).

Perceptual disorders
Even the ability to perceive and organize information can be distorted when students begin to learn a new language (DeBlassie, 1983).

Social and emotional problems
Students in the process of learning how to function successfully in a new language and culture predictably experience social trauma and emotional problems (DeBlassie & Franco, 1983).

Attention and memory problems
When students have few prior experiences on which to relate new information, they may find it difficult to pay attention and to remember (DeBlassie, 1983).

Hyperactivity or hypoactivity; impulsivity
When students have little prior knowledge or experiences on which to base present information, they frequently become restless and inattentive (DeBlassie, 1983).

Note. Reprinted from Fradd, Barona, and Santos de Barona, 1989, p. 78.

Appropriate identification of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students for disability or gifted services has been hampered by issues of test bias, selective and/or subjective referrals, and reliance on narrow paradigms (Frasier, Garcia, & Passow, 1995). In response to these concerns, it has been recommended that multiple data sources be used as part of the decision-making process and that teachers receive specific training in how cultural factors may influence student achievement.

Considerations for Identifying CLD Students for Disability-Related Services.

The process of determining eligibility for special services must include a pre-referral phase in which classroom-based interventions are implemented. Pre-referral interventions have been mandated since the 1970s, before which many interventions were conducted informally and without systematic monitoring. Teachers developed problem-solving strategies independently or in consultation with a teacher assistance team, a school psychologist, or a school counselor. Documentation of efforts and systematic review of the fidelity of the intervention occurred rarely.

More recently, federal guidelines have been changed to permit an alternative route for identifying eligibility for the special education category of learning disability. Responsiveness to Intervention, also known as RTI, uses research-based interventions, measures students' response to those interventions, and uses the data to further inform instruction (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 2005). Although numerous models exist, RTI generally is conceptualized as having several tiers of increasingly intense interventions. In Tier 1, high-quality instructional and behavioral supports are provided to all students in general education. Children are screened for difficulties several times each year. The effects of instruction, which is based on research-supported strategies, are continuously monitored, and the data generated are used to differentiate instruction. In Tier 2, students who progress at a rate slower than their peers continue in general education but are provided specialized instruction. Although services may be individualized or based on a standard protocol, all continue to be based on strategies that have empirical support for their effectiveness. As with activities occurring in Tier 1, data are continuously generated to evaluate progress. The design and implementation of specific strategies are part of a collaborative problem-solving effort that involves parents and school personnel. Additionally, support for implementing and monitoring general education is provided within a problem-solving, collaborative framework. During Tier 3, a comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation is conducted of those students who have not responded at an appropriate level to the specialized instruction provided. The purpose of this evaluation is to determine eligibility for special education and related services. Thus, only after substantial efforts have been unsuccessful is a student considered for special education services under a disability category.

With its emphasis on the use of authentic data, RTI has the potential for addressing sources of bias that result in disproportionality in special education. Because it addresses problems early and does not wait for children to fail, learning difficulties may be more easily remediated. Indeed, early studies have found that the use of RTI reduces the numbers of minorities in special education (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 2005). If implemented properly, RTI can be a valuable tool in differentiating between children who underachieve because they have not received high-quality classroom instruction or were taught by teachers unfamiliar with critical cultural and linguistic issues, and children whose lack of achievement is a result of a true disability.

School counselors and school psychologists can play a major monitoring role in this process by consulting with teachers at each level of RTI to ensure that services are being provided with fidelity. They may be instrumental in identifying appropriate research-supported techniques, in communicating with parents, and in assisting in ongoing monitoring, collection, and interpretation of data. They also may be closely involved in Tier 3 evaluation activities. Finally, school counselors and school psychologists should lead efforts to evaluate the efficacy of RTI with students in general and with culturally and linguistically diverse students in particular. Results from the evaluation of the RTI should be used to further inform instructional and behavioral interventions.

In settings that do not use the RTI model, measures used in the diagnostic process must be closely examined to ensure their appropriateness. Standardized measures should be scrutinized to determine if norms are representative of the student being evaluated; additionally, the degree of linguistic demand and cultural loading of instruments must be considered. Both formal and informal data should be collected from multiple sources and substantively interpreted by a culturally competent multidisciplinary team. Prior to determining that a disability exists, information related to a student's opportunity to learn and rate of learning, compared to peers of a similar background, should be examined and alternative explanations for lack of progress should be eliminated.

Considerations for Identifying CLD Students for Gifted and Talented Services

Historically, the identification of students for gifted and talented services was based on a narrow set of procedures developed for native English speakers from middle class backgrounds (Cohen, 1988). This practice resulted in few culturally and linguistically diverse students being served as gifted. Although most states encourage the use of multiple criteria, many school districts rely largely or solely on measures of intelligence to identify students (Cohen), which perpetuates the pattern of under-representation.

The graduation rate for African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans is disproportionately lower than it is for their White peers, hovering around 50% nationally.

Several studies have found that different groups have different conceptions of both intelligence and giftedness. As an example, Hartley (1991) reported that the term gifted was not part of the Navajo language; instead, the term outstanding was used in conjunction with a specific ability. Hartley also found that the Navajo and Anglo conceptions of giftedness were strikingly different from each other, with differences also reflecting level of acculturation. Similarly, Robert Sternberg (Mid-Continent Comprehensive Center, 2004a) found very different conceptualizations of intelligence among Latinos, Anglos, and Asians in California. These findings highlight the need to understand the role of culture in reinforcing specific characteristics and behaviors and also highlight the need for school personnel to recognize and use contemporary definitions of giftedness to identify students (Ford, 1994). School counselors and school psychologists can lobby for changes in district gifted selection criteria as well as for more appropriate identification procedures.

They also can assist teachers in recognizing and interpreting the actions of students who may demonstrate characteristics of giftedness that are consistent with the students' cultures. The use of self-assessment guides, such as that provided by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (Mid-Continent Comprehensive Center, 2004b), may facilitate such reflective activities.

Both professionals may facilitate the recruitment and retention of under-served gifted students by considering these guidelines offered by Ford (1994):

  • Develop a culture of assessment that is diagnostic, prescriptive, and proactive.
  • Adopt a multidimensional assessment approach that considers students' learning styles and motivation, examines multiple and specific areas of ability and talent rather than a global dimension, and permits a variety of products, tests, and work samples to be examined.
  • Provide comprehensive services that include counseling needs, academic counseling, and vocational guidance to address the alienation and misunderstanding that culturally diverse students may experience in gifted programs.
  • Involve family members consistently and substantively in gifted education activities.

To help them increase access to talented and gifted programs and to accelerated coursework teachers should be provided with information on ways to recognize indicators of potential among culturally diverse students.

Efforts to more equitably identify and serve minority gifted and talented students may be improved by examining the experience of two school-based efforts. The Houston Independent School District recommended that test scores account for only 40 percent of the selection criteria, with the remaining 60 percent based on more subjective criteria, such as teacher and parent data, observations, behavior checklists, work samples, and motivation (Texas School Performance Review, 1997). The San Diego City School System spearheaded a major reform of its program for talented and gifted students that used authentic collaboration to develop better identification procedures and increased minority-student representation and successful participation. Critical components of the reform include dual certification as both bilingual and gifted teachers for many participating teachers, training for parents to increase their ability to provide home assistance, community mentors, and the use of multiple criteria for admission (Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1998). The school system saw minority involvement in gifted and talented programs increase from less than 19 percent to approximately 50 percent over a 9-year period.

Professional Development for School Personnel

School counselors and school psychologists can be instrumental in identifying areas in which teachers may benefit from professional development activities and in identifying resources for those activities. Professional development needs may be wide-ranging, and a needs assessment should be conducted. This section provides some focused suggestions for working with culturally diverse students.

Few states currently require specific background or training in instructional techniques for English language learners (Short & Echevarria, 2005). As a result, many teachers have received little professional training related to the instruction of culturally diverse students, particularly English-language learners (Gandara, Maxwell-Jolly, & Driscoll, 2005). School counselors and school psychologists should be prepared to communicate information about effective practices through consultation as well as through arranging for formal professional development activities. Through their efforts, they can help to raise teachers' awareness of how a second language is learned as well as its relationship to the learning of other academic content. They also may help teachers set realistic expectations for students' progress. As part of this effort, they can communicate the need to incorporate scaffolding activities,which integrate contextual supports, such as simplified language, teacher modeling, and strong visuals, into instructional strategies. Effective strategies include opportunities for students to interact with peers meaningfully and orally in a variety of formats, such as small-group work, cooperative learning, peer tutoring, and individualized instruction (Gray & Fleischman, 2005; McLaughlin, 1992; Short & Echevarria).

School counselors and school psychologists also can help teachers better understand how the child's home experiences and cultural background affect values related to learning, use of language, and style of interaction. They can suggest ways for teachers to affirm their own support of children and their families and emphasize the need for classroom teachers to provide emotional support for students and communicate the belief that students can be successful (McEachern & Bornot, 2001).

English-language learners in general education classrooms require active engagement, extra time, and high-quality instruction. These elements necessitate that teachers be acutely aware of the language demands of academic content, provide continuous opportunities for students to participate in meaningful academic discussions, and monitor students' progress regularly. School counselors and school psychologists should be prepared to assist the classroom teacher in developing appropriate classroom strategies to accomplish these goals that may include academic interventions, curriculum-based assessment, and social-emotional guidance.

Finally, to help them increase access to talented and gifted programs and to accelerated coursework, teachers should be provided with information on ways to recognize indicators of potential among culturally diverse students. School counselors and school psychologists may need to initiate discussion with parent and community representatives to generate more culture-specific descriptors, examine the research literature to gather useful information, and disseminate their findings to school personnel. In addition, these professionals should make an effort to help teachers recognize their own limitations in knowledge and skills through self-reflection and discussion and develop action strategies to bring about positive change.

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The minority school population in general and the Latino population in particular are growing at a rapid rate. Both educational personnel and schools need to be prepared to meet the needs of these growing populations. Lack of progress in working with minority schoolchildren is evident in continued poor academic performance, high dropout rates, disproportional placement in special education, and other key indicators. Although special circumstances such as poor housing and nutrition, overcrowding, and other indicators of poverty exist, they do not completely account for the continued lack of progress among minority schoolchildren. Therefore, professional educators must be vigilant about the educational and mental health needs of these children and develop new and improved strategies for serving this vulnerable group. School counselors and school psychologists are in a unique position to assist in the development and dissemination of these strategies. In doing so, they must ensure that the strategies are culturally appropriate and effective, and they must continually evaluate and challenge their own cultural competency and that of other school personnel. Finally, despite time constraints, school psychologists and counselors should be committed to documenting empirically the effectiveness of services for culturally and linguistically diverse students through research and evaluation activities.

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Andres Barona, Maryann Santos de Barona (2006)


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This article provided significant insight into the disparities that exist between Caucasian students and minority students in placement of special education and gifted programs. According to the article, as well as Vernon (2009), the minority student population in schools is increasing, and as this population grows, their placement in special education increases, while their participation in gifted programs decreases. When these students are placed in underachieving schools, the problem intensifies. The article goes on to say, “The subjectivity of the decision to refer places minority students at high risk for premature labeling, misclassification, and inappropriate placement. While careful examination of students is always essential when determining eligibility, it is even more critical when language and cultural diversity are involved.” Many teachers are not skilled in recognizing cultural differences, yet are the ones that recommend students, which leads an inaccurate assessment of minorities.

In an attempt to remedy misplacement, the article mentions that a phase to implement classroom interventions must take place before a referral can be made. While I was teaching, there were seven Latino students who were recommended for special education. The teachers on my team and I were told that we were not permitted to implement our own strategies because it was the responsibility of the learning aid. They were supposed to have a learning aid with them everyday and work on learning strategies in the classroom before an official referral could be made. Over a four-month period, the aid only came into my room twice. There was very little intervention done, but all seven students were eventually placed in special education classes, illustrating the need for more thorough and individualized evaluations.

As a counselor, my goal would be to promote equal consideration for services and attend to the needs of students who might feel alone, anxious, or frustrated in school. To do this, I would need to ensure that all students are being accurately assessed and placed in appropriate classes based on their needs and achievement, while taking into consideration their diverse and cultural background. It would be crucial to educate teachers on cultural sensitivity, discriminatory practices, and how individual student characteristics can impact access to special education or gifted programs. This would help them avoid confusing low-achievement with a learning disability and hold high expectations of minority students so they could be properly considered for gifted programs. In addition, implementing RTI would give an unbiased picture of needs and interventions for all students.

Vernon, A. (2009). Counseling children and adolescents (4th ed). Denver, CO: Love Publishing Company.

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