General education teachers' perceptions of Asian American students: implications for special education
Teachers’ perceptions of, and attributions about students relative to school performance influence their special education referral decisions (e.g., Andrews, 1997; Drame, 2002). In the light of under-representation of Asian American students with learning disabilities, it is crucial to understand how general education teachers’ perceptions of their Asian American students may become a factor in their decisions to refer students to special education. The purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate general education teachers’ perceptions and attributions regarding Asian American students in terms of their school performance. The research questions focused on (a) participating teachers’ perceptions of their Asian American students with regard to their academic, behavioral, and social/emotional characteristics; and (b) factors that the teachers believed contributed to these characteristics. The primary participants were five general education teachers in a Texas elementary school where Asian American students comprised about 15% of the student enrollment. The five teachers included one Asian American male teacher and four white female teachers. Using naturalistic inquiry viii (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), the data were generated through interviews with the primary participants and two bilingual teachers, classroom observations of the teachers and of 19 Asian American students, and document reviews. The findings revealed that the teachers’ understanding of their Asian American students was greatly influenced by their own racial identity; personal and professional experiences; beliefs and knowledge regarding culture, language and disabilities; as well as positive stereotypes/assumptions about Asian culture. In turn, these perceptions and attributions were reflected in their instructional practice, decisions for special education referrals, and retention decisions. The results of this study suggested that, due to their limited training in areas of special education and cultural and linguistic diversity, combined with internalized positive stereotypes about Asian American students, the teachers tended to overlook their Asian American students who struggled academically but displayed acceptable classroom behavior; the teachers referred only those who had difficulty in both academics and behavior. Implications are presented for teacher preparation, research and practice.