Teachers' perceptions of Hispanic and Anglo children's behavior and learning problems



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Although Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group in the U.S., and Hispanic children are at a higher risk for failing to complete a high school education than children of any other ethnic group, factors related to Hispanic children's school success are not well understood. Hispanic children's learning and behavior problems are identified by teachers at rates disproportionate to the rate of Hispanic students in the population, but it remains unclear whether these problems are over or underidentified. Teachers' perceptions of children's problems are crucial, because teachers are the gatekeepers of psychological treatment in the schools. Many children's behavior and learning problems are treated solely in educational settings, making teachers' referral and ratings practices even more salient. This study attempted to clarify previous findings regarding teachers' perceptions of Hispanic and Anglo children's psychopathology. Teachers read vignettes describing a Hispanic or Anglo boy with either behavior or learning problems, then answered questions about her level of concern for the boy, types of interventions she would use, whether she would make referrals for special services, and her prediction about the boy's future. I hypothesized that the teachers' responses would be influenced by the ethnic description of the boys in the vignettes. In addition, I hypothesized that the number of weeks teachers waited before referral would differ based on ethnicity. A significant difference was found between ethnic descriptions for the length of time teachers would wait to make a referral to special services for the boy described as having behavior problems, and for teachers' predictions for futures of boys described as having behavior problems. No other significant differences were found.