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Educational structures can be set up in such a way that students are not afforded the same opportunities, even if they live in similar, urban areas. Persell (2007) described the educational structures of schools of the upper and upper-middle class, private, and urban students as having differences that affected student learning. According to Persell (2007), the schools in upper and upper-middle class neighborhoods offered students more by way of instructional materials, upgraded facilities, small class sizes, and challenging curriculum. This information is reinforced in data presented by Anyon (1980), which states that "affluent" and "elite" schools offer students more opportunities to demonstrate creative learning. In contrast, Persell (2007) describes urban schools as being overrun by bureaucracy. Anyon (1980) also describes the state of the classroom itself as one where students are not driven to seek creative answers, but are required to complete menial tasks.
The educational structures mentioned above give way to the funding inequalities seen in schools. While some schools (the upper and upper-middle class, or affluent) have many financial resources to draw on, others, such as the urban schools, have little funding to allocate towards student learning. Persell (2007) states that affluent communities are able to allocate more tax funds to education and can provide enriching school services for their students. In contrast, the urban school has less financial resources to draw on, and, as is noted by Persell (2007), results in less resources for student learning.
Teachers also contribute to educational inequalities in schools by tracking students, not being fully prepared to enter the classroom, and expecting less of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Teachers of students from low-income families are often less prepared than their counterparts working in more affluent neighborhoods (Persell, 2007). These teachers may also not have the same high expectations of students as a teacher at an upper or upper middle class school may have. Persell (2007) presented data that showed that high expectations were not held for students from low socio-economic backgrounds even when their test scores and IQ was comparable to that of a middle class peer.
Parents of students with disabilities from low income and culturally and diverse backgrounds often find it difficult to participate in special education programs because of the divide that their perceived differences create. One reason parents may feel it is difficult to participate in special education services their child is receiving is much of the language and process of special education is targeted at a middle class participant (Meyer, Bevan-Brown, Harry, & Shapon-Shevin, 2007). If parents are anything below middle class, they may feel out of place.
Another reason parents may feel it is difficult to participate in such proceedings is the educational professionals working with the family may not have made the family feel that their input was valuable or even wanted (Kalyanpur, Harry & Skrtic, 2000). Kalyanpur, et. al. (2000) discuss the sentiment that some parents may hold regarding individualism as being contradictory to that of the professionals.
Parents may also feel it is difficult to participate in special education matters due to clashes with the professionals providing services to their child. Both Kalyanpur, et. al. (2000) and Meyer, et. al. (2007) discuss the negative impact that professional assumptions can have on parent-professional relationships and communication. Meyer, et. al. (2007) described a situation that arose when specialists ignored a recommendation made by a parent to rephrase a question to be more culturally sensitive. The refusal by the specialist not only drove a wedge between the parent and the specialist, but also skewed assessment results because the culture of the student was not taken into account. Kalyanpur, et. al. (2000) discussed how culturally loaded questions could also skew classroom responses and assessments when a psychologist asked an African American student questions about fathers and policemen.
Question 3. Assessment and evaluation of English learners can result in inequities for the student if an effective assessment plan is not in place. Some criticisms of the assessment of ELs include the use of invalid tests, lack of qualified personnel to administer tests, and the tendency of school personnel to blame the student rather than instruction for the shortcomings of the student. When EL students are to be assessed for special education, it is common to see a direct translation of an English assessment into the home language of the student, which invalidates the results (Ortiz & Yates, 2002). Ortiz and Yates (2002) also state that it is common to see assessments in English being administered to EL students due to a lack of availability of the appropriate assessment. EL students that are tested for special education must not only be tested in the appropriate language (their home language or English if they have demonstrated sufficient proficiency) but a bilingual assessor must also be made available if the student requires one. Ortiz and Yates (2002) point out that many of the persons that are entrusted in evaluating students for potentially life changing services often have little training in administering the assessments needed. A lack of student achievement in the classroom is often a red flag for teachers when referring students for special education. EL students are often more likely to be referred for special education on account of their lack of academic progress. Ortiz and Yates (2002) discuss the process that teachers must take an EL student through before making a referral for special education, but they state with caution that such processes will only be effective if the proper intervention path has been taken before the referral.
A comprehensive assessment plan should not only include reliable, valid bilingual assessment tools in English and in the native language of the student, but should also include highly trained personnel to administer assessments, current performance data of the EL student, and provide for intervention before a referral is made to allow the student to demonstrate whether or not they are able to make progress with intensive assistance outside of the regular classroom curriculum, exclusive of special education services. Both EL students and gifted students need specialized assessment measures in place to ensure that their referrals are handled accurately. A comprehensive assessment plan for both sets of students will ensure that EL students are not being overrepresented in special education programs while the same plan will ensure that those students who are potentially gifted will be properly identified and served. In each case, it is an issue of where each student is best served. The EL student will only be best served in a special education classroom if they truly have special needs. The potentially gifted student will better flourish if they are in an environment that targets and teaches to their talents. In both cases, comprehensive assessment is crucial to serving these populations of students.