*Before reading this article, please take a moment to read this caution statement: It is important, when speaking about any group of people, to keep certain cautions and principles in mind.  Please read carefully the numbered items found next.

Cautions to Observe when Considering Cultural Influences on Learning Style, Behavioral Patterns, and Value Orientations.

Discussing “cultural differences” and the influences of one’s heritage on learning style preferences, behavior patterns, and deeply-held values is fraught with hazards.  At any moment, we are just a few syllables away from inflicting verbal self-injury and perhaps unintentionally alienating ourselves from those with whom we wish to connect.  In order to prevent stereotyping and overgeneralizing (or on the other extreme, denying that cultural differences exist which fails to recognize and honor the characteristics that give a group their sense of peoplehood) we need to remember that:

1. All behaviors are found in all cultural groups.

2. Some behaviors are demonstrated more so in some cultures than in others, but the first point still applies.

3. Individuals within a particular culture display the traditional traits and cultural markers of that group to varying degrees… from “not at all” to “exclusively and intensely”.  These variations can be due to ethnic group differences with the larger culture, socio-economic status, degree of acculturation to the mainstream society, gender, religion, and myriad other factors.

4. If a student displays a behavior that is common and accepted within his/her cultural group, it should be viewed as “a difference” from the ways of the mainstream society that are promoted in the schools; NOT as a “deficiency” or “disorder”.


Source: Tom McIntyre (1995). Newsletter of the Council for Children with Behavior Disorders..

 Culturally Sensitive and Appropriate  Assessment for EBD

     Nearly all people are "ethnocentric", unaware of the ways of other cultures, and viewing their own ways as being "best".  Because different cultures tend to have different blueprints for creating a model citizen, culturally different youth are at risk for being misidentified as EBD in school where 93% of teachers are from a white middle-class background.  Indeed, the greater the difference between the ways of the home and the school, the greater the chance that youngsters will be viewed as EBD by educators.

     Certain "red flags" should alert school districts to the possibility that educators have misunderstood cultural traits, and/or assessment procedures are bias.

 -Higher percentages of certain cultural groups in EBD programs than in the school's student population.
 -Certain groups referred for evaluation more often than expected given their numbers in the school.
 -Reasons for referral tend to differ by group.
 -Certain groups receive less post-referral intervention before placement in EBD programs.
 -Restrictiveness of placements vary by group.

     Though federal guidelines require non-biased assessment, discriminatory evaluation stills occurs due to ethnocentricity, the presence of cultural bias in most instruments because they consider middle-class European American behaviors to be "normal", and reliance on standardized tests using linear statistical models that are inadequate for assessing multidimensional, non-linear humans.  Culturally appropriate evaluation requires a more holistic/ecological approach, including:

1.  Examination of school records for evidence of a cultural background different from the mainstream, and whether teachers submitting disciplinary referrals and assigning low grades are of a different cultural background than the student.  Those teachers may be unaware of behavioral and   learning style differences and how to modify for them.

2.  Examination of past evaluation records to determine if cultural differences were addressed.  Attempts should also  be made to determine the cultural awareness of former evaluators, especially if they were from a different  background than the student.

3.  Interviews with individuals familiar with the youngster.  Differences in perceptions by culture should be noted.

4.  Observations should note not just frequency and duration, but why the behaviors are occurring.

5.  Completion of behavioral checklists.  However, checklists typically score European American behaviors as being   "correct".  Therefore, comparisons with norms merely  indicate to what degree students are "acting white".   Youngsters who display traditional cultural traits are at  risk for being labeled EBD when they are not.

6.  Administration of instruments that eliminate cultural bias (e.g., Iowa Assessment Model in Behavioral Disorders,  McIntyre Assessment of Culture).

7.  Examination of curricular and behavioral requirements to determine if they represent only European American expectations.

8.  Assessment of the referring teacher's attitudes toward youngsters from various cultures.  This might be done by  asking "Have you noticed differences in academic or  behavioral performances between different groups of kids in  your classes?"  Poor student performance may reflect a  teacher's lack of cultural awareness and knowledge of how to  modify instructional and behavior management procedures.

9.  A discussion of findings with a panel including at least one member of the youngster's cultural background.

     In summary, culture affects behavior, and assessment procedures for EBD are seriously flawed because culturally-based behavioral styles often differ from what is considered normative on instruments.  Because of imbedded cultural bias, norm and criterion referenced instruments should be used only for setting IEP objectives, not identification for EBD.  Behaviors are not "inappropriate " when they reflect a culture's time-honored ways.  Accordingly, youngsters do not possess a behavioral disorder when their cultural group believes that they have created good persons.

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