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Hispanic students at risk: do we abdicate or advocate?

Hispanic Students at Risk: Do We Abdicate or Advocate?

ABSTRACT: With the rapid growth of Hispanic student populations in the United Stages comes a corresponding increase in the number of students who have limited English proficiency as well as disabilities. Specific educational interventions, such as programs of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) and bilingual instruction, are needed to enable these students to enter the mainstream. The chief obstacles to bilingual special education are the paucity of personnel training programs that include cross-cultural communication, and a lack of awareness of the need for these services. Transdisciplinary teaming is a cost-effective, appropriate approach to providing the services which both handicapped and at risk language minority students require. It is our expectation that every person in America be educated to his or her fullest potential, that will result only when all students stay in school, and this year's first graders go on to graduate in the year 2000.

Lauro F. Cavasos

U.S. Secretary of Education

January 1989 Will at-risk Hispanic students and those with disabilities be among America's appropriately educated population in the year 2000? Is this country moving toward advocating for effective education for Hispanic students by committing resources to meeting the needs of this special population? Or is the United States abdicating by resigning to a slowly changing system plagued with prejudices, vague fears, and misunderstanding?

The time has come to answer these questions. The Hispanic student population entering public schools is rapidly growing, and with that growth come increasing numbers of students with disabilities. Serving at-risk Hispanic students and their families has become one of the most critical concerns for many public schools across this country. Although demographic data clearly indicate that the population of Hispanic students in this country is on the rise, professionals are only now realizing the complex ramifications these data will have on schools serving Hispanic students with disabilities. Revitalization and reform is needed now in special education to meet the complex needs of Hispanic students and their families.

The common issues of nonbiased assessment, second-language acquisition, and bilingual education continue to be critical in understanding the needs of Hispanic students. Educating Hispanic students has become a complex task not only requiring sensitivity to linguistic and cultural differences but also requiring an understanding of early intervention, transdisciplinary teaming, and family involvement. When Hispanic students are at risk or have disabilities, their educational needs become much more complex. A spirit of advocacy must be awakened within special education--and throughout the educational process--to adequately prepare the United States for the surge of Hispanic students with disabilities entering our schools every year. This advocacy effort can serve to assist not only Hispanic students, but all linguistically and culturally diverse students with special needs.

To better understand the present trends in special education as they relate to Hispanic students, one must understand the demographics of the population, the definitions of the terms most commonly used, and the evolution of public policy over recent decades.


The term Hispanic requires definition and understanding. Literally, it refers to persons from Spain or Spanish-speaking Latin America. However, the term is not easily understood. Persons born in the United States of families of Hispanic heritage are also referred to as Hispanic, whether or not they speak Spanish. Some school systems differentiate students as Hispanic or non-Hispanic by the presence of a Hispanic surname. The use of family names as defining characteristic excludes a large number of students who speak Spanish and includes a large group whose only connection with Spain or Latin America is their last name. For purposes of this special issue, the term Hispanic refers to persons of all races whose cultural heritage is tied to the use of the Spanish language and Latino culture.

Demographic information on the numbers of minority, Hispanic, and Hispanic students with disabilities is difficult to extrapolate from the many sources available because of the lack of consistency in defining, identifying, and reporting these populations. In a 1987 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office, the U.S. Department of Education estimated that there were 1.2 to 1.7 million limited-English-proficient, school-aged children in the United States. These estimates do not represent the actual number of these students, because many states do not report such data and others undercount their students. Moreover, many school districts count only the students for whom programs are available (Fradd, 1987).

At present, 7% of the U.S. population is estimated to be Hispanic; by the year 2080, it is conservatively estimated that the percentage will increase to 24% (Bouvier & Davis, 1982). In this country the fastest growing, largest minority group is Spanish-speaking, with an estimated increase of 48% between 1980 and the year 2000 (Macias, 1985). Using the criteria established by researchers working for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs, the single largest group of limited-English-proficient students are Spanish speakers (Development Associates & Research Triangle, 1984), approximately 80% of the total cohort. By the year 2020 the Hispanic population is expected to surpass the Black cohort to become the largest minority group in the nation (Bouvier & Davis, 1982).

Many Hispanics are proficient in both conversational and academic English. However, because of the lack of definition of English proficiency, the limited availability of special services for limited-English-proficiency and other language-minority students, as well as the scarcity of trained personnel, many Hispanics are not receiving an appropriate, meaningful education.

Hispanics as a group are younger than the population as a whole, with a mean age of 23 as opposed to the national average of 35 (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1983a). Almost 40% of the Hispanic population is school age or younger. Sustained high rates of immigration and birth rates that far surpass the national average portend that the need for specialized services will increase over the next several decades (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1983b). It is unknown how many of these students may be in need of specialized services. What is known is that both over- and under-representation of limited-English-proficient Hispanics in special education occurs (Fradd, Weismantel, Correa, & Algozzine, 1988; Ortiz & Yates, 1983).

Efforts have been made to increase the reliability and availability of demographic data on diverse language and culture groups (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1987). Many of the available demographics are not straightforward indicators of students' instructional needs, yet have substantial implications for conceptualizing the issues facing school, communities, and states.

The term at risk has been used to describe a number of different categories of children. It encompasses children who are affected by adverse economic, environmental, and geographical factors. It also refers to children who are physically, medically, and psychologically in danger of failing to thrive. Among these children are large groups of children for whom English is not the first language (Fradd, Weismantel, Correa, & Algozzine, in press). The fact that children are not proficient in English does not automatically put them at risk, unless, as the result of this lack of English-language skills, they are unable to effectively participate in the social and educational processes that enable them to grow and benefit from the opportunities available to mainstream children. For Hispanic children with mild handicapping conditions, the risk of educational failure and the likelihood of consequent failure to become participants within the mainstream of society is greatly increased. Specific learning opportunities and interventions are needed to overcome the obstacles to participation that these students face.

Educational programs with bilingual and English as a second language (ESL) or English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) components are a first step. Bilingual and ESL/ESOL instruction can provide a bridge across which students can move into the educational mainstream. Unfortunately, not all states have personnel preparation programs that provide certification or even training (Fradd, Gard, & Weismantel, 1988), although all states have limited-English-proficient students (McGuire, 1982).

Instruction and services provided through the use of two languages is usually referred to as bilingual education. In the United States all public bilingual education programs have an ESL/ESOL component to develop students' proficiency in English while advancing their academic skills through instruction in the students' non-English language. The most common form is transitional bilingual instruction that moves students toward proficiency in English while providing support in the non-English language. Despite the success of bilingual instruction in comparison with other alternatives (Willig, 1985) and its wide acceptance within the rest of the industrial world (Fradd, 1987), bilingual education has become a politically sensitive topic in the United States (Willig, 1985).

When the educational needs of students with both limited English proficiency and disabilities are considered, the use of the students' non-English language becomes a central issue (Fradd & Vega, 1987; Ortiz, 1984). Special education services that provide instructional support in both English and a non-English language have been considered as an appropriate instructional alternative for limited-English-proficient students with disabilities (Baca & Cervantes, 1984). However, as political support providing for "English only" or "special alternative instruction" (a federal term used to indicate special English-language instruction for school districts impacted with a large number of different non-English languages) has increased, and the number and variety of non-English languages or newly arrived students has expanded rapidly, the concept of bilingual special education has not gained popular support. Even the notion of providing students who are limited in English proficiency with special education services appears to meet with reluctance in many school districts and states (Fradd, Weismantel, Correa, & Algozzine, 1988; in press).

Few of the existing personnel preparation programs in special education address the issue of children at risk or instruction for limited-English-proficient students (Salend & Fradd, 1986). Though many ESL/ESOL training programs contain multicultural content, it is frequently directed toward understanding other cultures without emphasizing cross-cultural communication or strategies for teaching students and families to participate in the mainstream North American culture (Fradd, Gard, & Weismantel, 1988).

Although difficult to define, culture is an important part of the instructional process. Differences in culture can act as effective barriers for students and families. Differences in perception of the need to acknowledge multicultural values and perspectives can be observed in the ways in which professionals in special education, ESOL/bilingual, and ESOL/bilingual special education view the development of personnel competencies required to meet the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students with disabilities (Fradd, Algozzine, & Salend, 1987; in press).


Programs for limited-English-proficient students with disabilities have evolved slowly during the past three decades. Program development has been influenced by three initiatives: (a) civil rights efforts for equality of educational and economic opportunities, (b) bilingual education issues, and (c) initiatives on behalf of persons with handicapping conditions. Efforts to modify educational programs to meet the needs of Hispanic learners with disabilities have occurred in three arenas: (a) legislation, (b) litigation, and (c) executive orders. The focus of programs for limited English proficient students with disabilities, specifically Hispanic students, has evolved primarily in response to concerned citizens, educators, and political leaders. As advocates lobbied for equal educational opportunities, consideration of students' native language became a federal requirement for state support of programs for the handicapped through Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act.

In the mid-1970s school districts were told that equal placement was not the same as equitable educational treatment for limited-English-proficient students. As a result of the Supreme Court decision in Lau v. Nichols (1974), which directly impacted Fourteenth Amendment issues, districts were expected to provide instruction that enabled all students to effectively participate in the education process. Later federal court decisions suggested criteria for determining program adequacy (Fradd & Vega, 1987; Gold 1989): * Programs are based on sound pedagogy,

theory, and research. * Programs are adequately funded and

implemented. Adequacy considers teacher

preparation and materials, class size and location,

and articulation and planning across

instructional environment. * Programs produce effective long-term results

and minimize early school leaving.

Historically, parents have been the moving force behind change and reform in special education. If change is to occur, culturally diverse families must become actively involved in advocating for better services for their children. For example, in a recent court suit, the plaintiffs charged that the school district of Lowell, Massachusetts, failed to provide limited-English-proficient students with appropriate and effective educational services. The plaintiffs stated that the high dropout rate for language-minority students was a result of inferior programs provided to these students. The final decision called for counseling and support services for language-minority students and their parents, equal access to all instructional programs, expanded multicultural and two-way bilingual programs, development of dropout prevention programs, and training of bilingual staff members (Gold, 1989).

During the 1980s, issues of educational equity have refocused in terms of effectiveness of assessment and instruction. As the profession prepares to move into the 1990s, educational research describing effective instruction is still needed (Tikunoff, 1987). What constitutes effective instruction for Hispanic students with disabilities has only begun to emerge (Garcia & Ortiz, 1988; Russell & Ortiz, 1988).

Specialized instruction cannot be carried out effectively without the involvement of professionals trained to seek common perspectives and to provide comprehensive services (Fradd & Bermudez, 1989; Fradd & Weismantel, 1989). With the reduction of available resources, the need to develop cost-effective strategies increases. Transdisciplinary teaming can be both cost effective and appropriate. The development of collaborative, transdisciplinary approaches is essential.

The arena for serving Hispanic students who are at risk and who have disabilities is changing dramatically as more professionals become aware of the needs of this group. Included in this arena are not only special education personnel, school psychologists, school counselors, and administrators, but also parents, regular education personnel, bilingual educators, human service providers, social workers, family therapists, prenatal care providers, day-care workers, health-related professionals, clergy, teacher-training personnel, and community leaders.

The policy of a closed network of school professionals will no longer adequately serve the population of Hispanic students with disabilities and their families. A collaborative approach is important for communication among the professionals working within the new arena. Supportive attitudes must prevail for success in transdisciplinary teaming (Correa, 1989; Yates, 1988).

SANDRA H. FRADD is Associate Research Scientist, Institute for Advanced Studies in Communication Processes, University of Florida, Gainesville, and VIVIAN I. CORREA is Associate Professor, Department of Special Education, University of Florida, Gainesville.
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Author:Fradd, Sandra H.; Correa, Vivian I.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Oct 1, 1989
Previous Article:Meeting the multicultural needs of Hispanic students in special education.
Next Article:Assessment and instruction of at-risk Hispanic students.

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