Category: Child / Adolescent - School-Related Issues

PS10- #B53 - Racial Disproportionality in the Classroom: Why Do We See Black Students as Having More Executive Function Problems?

Saturday, Nov 18
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Location: Indigo Ballroom CDGH, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: School | African Americans/Black Americans | ADHD - Child / Adolescent

Educators’ implicit biases can lead to unequal disciplinary actions against Black students as early as preschool (Gilliam, Maupin, Reyes, Accavitti, & Shic, 2016). Black students are disproportionately referred for special education services and disciplinary action relative to their White peers (Skiba, Poloni-Staudinger, Simmons, Renae Feggins-Azziz, & Chung, 2005; Horner, Fireman, & Wang, 2010). Behavior rating scales are frequently used in these settings to assess students’ academic, social, or behavioral difficulties (Merrell, Shapiro, & Kratochwill, 2000). Because teacher ratings provide data that drive high-stakes educational decisions, it is imperative that they are accurate and objective.

In this study, we aimed to identify possible rating biases on the Swanson, Kotkin, Agler, M-Flynn, and Pelham (SKAMP) Scale, a classroom measurement of executive functioning (EF), and on objective classroom observations that evaluated students in the following areas: Reciprocity, Following Rules, Transitions, Stuck, Negativity/Overwhelmed, and Participation. On both scales, higher scores indicate more EF problems. The sample included 105 children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD; N= 74) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD; N= 31), ages 8-11 (M= 9.56, SD= .93). The sample was ethno-racially diverse: 39.0% Hispanic, 27.6% Black non-Hispanic, and 33.3% White non-Hispanic. The schools, urban & suburban, were eligible for Title 1 funds to support low-income students (average household income: M= $75,900, SD= $64,546). All participants were referred by teachers for a broader school-based treatment study for EF difficulties.  

Overall, SKAMP and observer ratings were positively correlated (r= .361, p< .001), with Black students rated as having greatest EF problems across both raters; however, there were significant differences by diagnostic group when including student ethnicity as a moderator. Compared to an observer, teachers reported more EF problems for Black students with ADHD (β= .502, p= .029, R2= .162) and fewer EF problems for Hispanic students with ADHD (β=-.595, p= .002, R2= .180). Racial differences were not found among Black or Hispanic participants with ASD. This pattern of findings may indicate that ASD-related social impairments are protective against racial stereotypes, while ADHD-related symptoms are not.  Increased EF difficulties in Black students in this sample may be attributable to exposure to concentrated poverty in inner-urban areas and related trauma or to systematic racism/discrimination. These factors, in addition to possible teacher-rater biases, may be contributing to longstanding perceptions that Black students more commonly exhibit externalizing behaviors.

Meredith D. Powers

Clinical Research Coordinator
Children's National Health System
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Allison Ratto

Children's National Health System

Bruno Anthony

Center for Child and Human Development, Georgetown University

Lauren Kenworthy

Associate Professor
Children's National Health System
Rockville, Maryland

Jonathan Safer-Lichtenstein

Center for Child and Human Development, Georgetown University

Sydney Seese

Children's National Health System

Alyssa Verbalis

Children's National Health System

Laura Anthony

Associate Professor
Children's National Health System
Rockville, Maryland