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School psychologists need multicultural competency training

Practicing school psychologists may be in need of re-training to assure multicultural competency because cultural issues need to be and often are not considered in student assessments, said Eric Lopez, a special education associate professor in New Mexico State University's College of Education.


udy published in the online journal Forum: Qualitative Social Research, Lopez surveyed 125 school psychologists including educational diagnosticians who are members of a school psychology association along the U.S.-Mexico border. The study was funded by the New Mexico Department of Education and received a 13.6 percent response rate.

The participants were given two scenarios; each identified a seventh grade male student who was portrayed with emotional, behavioral and academic difficulties and was being referred for special education testing. The majority of the characteristics described in the scenarios were responses to cultural stress that students may experience daily. The only significant differences in the scenarios were the ethnic identification and names of the students.

Lopez said that after reviewing responses he and his colleagues concluded the respondents were more likely to recommend diagnostic procedures to identify what the practitioners perceived to be underlying psycho-pathological problems with the student who was clearly a minority, without considering cultural issues.

"Regardless of the student's ethnicity, the majority of respondents took a Western world view perspective in initially assessing and diagnosing the subjects in the case study," Lopez said. "The student described as a minority was assessed more often for neurological dysfunction than the student presented as Anglo. These results are important due to the fact that these practitioners are evaluating students being referred for possible learning disabilities, emotional disturbance, or speech and language impairments, many of which are culturally and linguistically diverse."

Lopez indicated in his study that research suggests there are an estimated five million individuals being misdiagnosed each year due to cultural and linguistic factors not being taken into consideration.

He said the age and ethnicity of the participants in his study could have impacted the results, as the average respondent's age was 53, and the world view and training of these participants would be different from those being trained today.

Lopez said only two respondents mentioned the need for further information for an adequate assessment, only one mentioned being bilingual and only seven made reference to cultural aspects that included language testing, language dominance, acculturation, family and linguistic competencies.

"This also has implications for our students serving as interns. We don't want to just provide a single class on multicultural assessment, but present it as a process and embed it throughout school psychology curriculum. However, students need to see it practiced in the field," Lopez said. "Multicultural issues should be assessed during any evaluation, as there should be no assumptions, period. Faculty should encourage moving away from the Western world view of assessing and diagnosing, and assess diversity and strengths within these differences," Lopez said.

Lopez is the director of NMSU's Educational Diagnostician Program and co-coordinator of the School Psychology Program. He is a member of the National Association of School Psychologist's National Certification Board. He was the lead author for the state of New Mexico's Technical Assistance Document for Nondiscriminatory Assessment of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse School Age Students which was adopted in 2001. He also has consulted with other states about adopting nondiscriminatory assessment practices.

A complete copy of his article can be found on the Forum: Qualitative Social Research Web site at www.qualitative-research.net, in Volume 5, No. 3.