Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies

First Advisor

Erik Drasgow


The disproportionality or overrepresentation of African American students in special education is a longstanding problem that continues to be prevalent today. There are numerous reasons why this phenomenon continues to persist including but not limited to implicit bias among multidisciplinary team members (MDT). One function of the MDT is to decide if a student needs to be referred for special education services. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the decision making processes of the MDT members to determine if implicit bias impacted their decision to refer an African American student for special education services. This qualitative study utilized one-on-one interviews of eight MDT members at an elementary school in South Carolina with a predominantly African American student body being taught by a majority Caucasian teaching staff. Four significant themes emerged from the study: 1) academic and behavioral factors, 2) race or ethnicity plays no role, 3) academic delays and behavioral problems, and 4) lack of stimulation and motivation. Findings further indicated that when African American students and their families did not conform to the dominant or mainstream European American cultural modes of learning and knowing, deficit thinking and implicit biases surfaced among the MDT members. The “Whiteness as property” critical race theory tenet was also reflected in the way MDT members perceived the African American students and their parent through assumptions and everyday practices that again, perpetuate white, middle-class norms. The current findings emphasized the importance of ensuring that school administrators implement practices in which the emotional, social, cognitive, and cultural needs of all students are met through a culturally responsive pedagogy. Culturally responsive teaching recognizes student strengths and seeks to build on them. Additionally, one of the major factors emphasized in achieving a culturally responsive classroom is that teachers and administrators engage in self-reflection in order to gain understanding of their own cultural biases in teaching.


© 2014, Twana Romona Fletcher