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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Teacher bias towards visible ethnic groups in special education referrals Myles, David


Previous research has demonstrated that students from some visible ethnic minority groups may be discriminated against by teachers and policies of many school systems. This research has reviewed evidence indicating how Black, Mexican-American and Native Indian students are accorded differential treatment by teachers. Some of the research has shown how students from some cultural minority groups are at greater risk of being inappropriately referred or placed in special classes. This form of ethnic discrimination can be harmful to those cultural minority children who are removed from the regular class setting. This problem has not been adequately researched in Canada. Through the use of a researcher designed questionnaire, this thesis has reviewed teacher bias toward visible ethnic minority groups in special education referrals. The questionnaire consisted of nine questions regarding respondent characteristics, a fictitious case history of a grade five male student described as having some academic and behaviour problems, and nine response items regarding educational placement. The questionnaires were identical except for the brief reference to the ethnicity of the child described in the case study. The child was described as either Native Indian, Oriental, East Indian or Caucasian. A Likert-type scale was used for the subjects to rate agreement or disagreement to the nine items. Questionnaires were sent to 591 Vancouver public elementary school teachers within 29 randomly selected elementary schools. Questionnaires were returned from 396 subjects. Some questionnaires were returned blank or incomplete, therefore, data analysis was performed on the responses of 347 subjects (58.54% of all the teachers who received the questionnaires). This sample represented about 20% of the population of Vancouver public elementary school teachers. The results provided evidence of teacher discrimination against the child described as Native Indian. In addition, a positive bias was observed in the teacher responses for the Caucasian child and especially for the Oriental child. The teacher's responses to the questionnaire items revealed that the child described as Native Indian tended to be rated as being more suitable for placement in a special class for behaviourally disordered, would not be as likely to graduate from high school and had parents who would not be as cooperative. Female teachers were more likely to refer the child to a class for behaviourally disordered children and less likely to expect cooperation from the child's parents, than male teachers. Teachers who taught for 21 years or longer were more likely to consider the child in the case study as being a detriment to the education of the other children. Teachers who spoke English as second language were more likely to refer the child to a class for slow learners and expect greater cooperation from the child's parents, than teachers who spoke English as their first language. In addition, Special education teachers, teachers more familiar with special education programs and teachers who had university credits in special education, rated the children in a significantly more optimistic manner than regular teachers.

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