I am a School Psychologist. I received my degree in school psychology at a Historical Black College (HBCU) called Howard University in 2007. I began my professional career as a School Psychologist in a charter school in Washington D.C. and later in nearby Laurel, Maryland. The schools I had chosen to work at served students and families from lower socio-economic statuses, as well as predominately Black communities. Like my other School Psychologist colleagues, I administered IQ tests and other processing batteries, completed behavior analysis and plans, work reports on student performance and achievement, attended IEP meetings, etc. It wasn’t until I moved to California in 2014 and accepted a position as a School Psychologist that I first learned of the landmark lawsuit referred to as Larry P vs. Riles (1979).
For those that are unaware of this case or it’s significance, the Larry P v. Riles (1979) court case is a landmark lawsuit that changed special education for Black students across California and banned the administration of standardized intelligence quotient (IQ) tests for the placement of Black students in special education. The case represented a class action lawsuit of Black parents in San Francisco who challenged the over-representation of Blacks students in special education classes and programs based on standardized assessment. During the court case, the basis of the argument in opposition to IQ tests and standardized assessment for Black students were that the tests were biased, founded in Eurocentric “White supremacist” culture and were overall discriminatory. The court case concluded with a permanent ban on IQ testing of Black students within California and the ban continues to this day. California is the only state with such a ban. Therefore, you can understand my initial shock and confusion when I learned that as a school psychologist in California, I would not be allowed to utilize the familiar assessments I had previously learned in Washington D.C and Maryland.
I’ve since lived in California for the last 5 years and during that time, I’ve had numerous debates on the validity of this law and its purported ability to reduce over-representation of Black students in special education. The California Association of School Psychologists (CASP) wants the ban lifted and notes that their reasoning is that the ban has not been effective in curbing the overrepresentation of black students in special education. As a School Psychologist and now Director of Special Education, I don’t need to see the hard numbers to know through observation that this law has not been effective in reducing the disproportionality of African-American students in special education, but simply banned the use of assessment tools, that while imperfect provide valuable information about an individuals' overall cognitive learning profile. It is my belief that the issue is less on the assessment batteries themselves, but instead the interpretation of the results by the individuals administering the assessment.
While I understand you may not want to take my professional judgement and beliefs as truth, let me share some relevant data. Both nationally and locally within California, disproportionality of Black students continues - but now specifically, disabilities are more related to perceived challenging behaviors. According to a KQED article, A Landmark Lawsuit Aimed to Fix Special Ed for California’s Black Students. It Didn’t, Lee Romney shared, “But data released in 2016 show that Black students nationwide are still being placed disproportionately in special education—particularly in categories like ‘emotional disturbance,’ which are tied to behavior.” The author further shares, “Many black families find themselves navigating the system because nearly one in three black students in San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is in special education—compared to one in eight non-black students, district data shows.” The data suggests that disproportionality for Black student in special education is still rampant and reform is still needed to address the issue.
Given our current place in history, the year 2020 has been filled with uncertainty due to the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 and the social-political cry to action due to recent undeniable viral videos of the on-going pervasive crimes against black bodies, people, and minds. However, I wonder if now is the time to review this law, its utility, and take action to lift the ban. I wonder if now is the time to re-think and re-examine our educational practices, policies and procedures to truly create an equitable educational system for all students, but specifically those disenfranchised by the system. My vote is to lift the Larry P ban and instead focus on full inclusion efforts, new special education eligibility definitions and criteria’s such as Patterns of Strengths and Weaknesses model (PSW), and overall improvement of educational programs for teachers, school psychologists, and other related service providers that don’t just infuse “cultural competency,” but dismantle implicit bias and racism. The call to action is now!
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