Den språklige faktor : pedagogisk-psykologisk utredning av barn med minoritetsspråklig bakgrunn
Appears in the following Collection
- Psykologisk institutt 
AbstractThe dissertation deals with school psychology assessment of minority language children in a typical sample of Norwegian school psychology services, in a three-phase design with an embedded intervention, where statements are evaluated before and after professional development, and for long term effect after a two year latency period.
Internationally there are few studies of assessment practices aimed at language minority students, and no one study points to adequate national practices in any country. Typically, minority language students are assessed predominantly as though they were majority language students, without sufficient account being taken of their social, cultural and linguistic characteristics, and without exploiting the existing knowledge base on bilingualism, education and special education. The two first chapters draw a line between language as an evolved speciesspecific biological entity, an abstract construct not easily studied, and bilingualism as a basic fact of social life, a vehicle of communication. Contrasting theoretical positions are discussed.
The dissertation is based on Cummins' theory that learning outcomes for minority language students are a resultant of causal social, pedagogical and individual factors mediated through a language factor. Dominant in the fields of bilingual education and special education and well corroborated empirically, the theory is insufficiently taken into account in national school systems and school psychology services. The theory and the critique it has been subjected to, are discussed in chapters 3 to 6. After a short introduction to various educational models for language minority students (chapter 7), arguing for strong bilingual programs, empirical research on assessment practices is presented (chapter 8), documenting the need for more and better research along the lines of this project. Especially, there is a need for longitudinal studies, studies of actual practices as opposed to reported practices, studies incorporating professional development, and studies integrating quantitative, qualitative and discourse analyses by way of triangulation. The present study seems to be the first of its kind in these respects, taken together.
A section on the Norwegian school system (chapters 9 and 10) critically analyzes the historical and conceptual bases of Norwegian education and special education. It is argued that the conceptual basis of Norwegian schooling – inclusion and special needs education for all – is weakly founded theoretically, poorly implemented, and has led to – and necessarily must lead to – high rates of school-generated learning problems, affecting minority students not least. It is argued that the professional tension between special education and general education, which arose with the introduction of inclusion and special needs education for all in 1976, could be settled by adopting an integrated individual and systems perspective on special education. It is further argued that school psychology services and special education cannot be blamed for high rates of school-generated problems in the general student population, and should not - as they have been of late - be called upon to help schools solve problems for which general education exclusively has the mandate and the competence, namely the inclusion of, adaption to, and teaching of ordinary students.
An analysis of the mandatory guidelines for the instruction of minority students in schools (chapters 11 and 12) concludes that the recommendations (e.g. to develop minority students' bilingualism) were laudable but poorly implemented by 1997. Since 1997, the goal of minority student bilingualism has been abandoned and replaced by a theoretically unjustified and poorly implemented model of linguistic compensation (mother tongue teaching on a pull-out basis, second language teaching – comparable to ESL – and first language assistance in class), which has no documented effect on learning outcomes in Norway. Mandatory guidelines and evaluations of professional practices of national school psychology services are critically analyzed (chapters 13 and 14), assuming that the effects of the services’ professional practices toward minority students are largely unknown, in spite of some state and scientific pretensions to the contrary. The present study aims at contributing to the closure of this knowledge gap.
In a section on methodological theory (chapters 15 to 17) a realistic, practicable and consensus-orientated model of minority student special needs assessment is first presented, derived from legal guidelines, current school psychology practices and the scientific knowledge base presented in preceding chapters, the three constraining factors delimiting and delineating the field of possible improvement. This realistic assessment tool is used normatively throughout the project as the yard-stick of non-discriminatory assessment. Next, in chapter 16, the typical problems dealt with in school psychology statements are summarized, organized hierarchically to fit study design (i.e. possible language linkage). Last, in chapter 17, the socratic interview is introduced, the chosen tool for interviewing participating school psychologists.
Primary data in this project are 40 interviews conducted in 2001, and 94 statements written in phase 1 to 3 between 1997 and 2004. Data are analyzed by triangulation, quantitatively through an operationalized check-list based on the proposed yard-stick, qualitatively by an expert panel, and through discourse analysis. Simple statistical tools of frequencies and correlations are used for the analyses. In support of data analysis a few additional tools have been developed (participants’ evaluation of professional development and of project participation, a measure discerning possibly effort-related from knowledge-related improvement, new statement conclusions and suggestions as an expression of new knowledge, and a control study conducted in 2010 (60 pristine statements analyzed quantitatively), suggesting that main findings are not dated). The embedded intervention was a small two day program of professional development, each day (interspersed by a month) consisting of a lengthy lecture and some group supervision of ongoing statementing. The rationale of the intervention was to find out whether substantial change can be effected through a minimal but well directed program, realistic on a national scale. Methodological considerations are presented in chapter 18. The interview with 40 participants (chapters 19 to 25) reveal limited competence for work with the target group and poor knowledge of non-discriminatory assessment, legal guidelines, and established scientific insights in the field of bilingual special education, e.g. the importance of the language factor. Participants’ actual professional practices are presented in chapters 26 to 30. Statements written before intervention are not compliant with non-discriminatory assessment, in that minority students predominantly are assessed as though they were majority students, a finding consistent with existing international research. A discrepancy is showed between reported and actual practices, a problem often alluded to, but not sufficiently studied. No relation can be demonstrated between practices and factors that ought to predict them, i.e. professional preparation and experience.
Substancial improvements, attributable to the intervention, are documented in phase 2. Practices improve with added knowledge. In phase 3, two years after intervention, practices are, expectedly, variable. Some participants show further improvement, possibly having taken a special interest from their participation, some retain the gain, and some return to square one, showing few or no signs of improved understanding. It is argued that improvements could easily have been sustained with a minimum of supervised work over some time.
Results are discussed in chapter 31 and found valid and reliable. Findings and generalizability are discussed in chapter 32. The control study (2010) suggests that findings are not dated. It is concluded that official guidelines for the schooling and special education of minority students are theoretically unwarranted and should be changed. It is argued that documented limitations in the professional preparation of school psychologists should lead to curricular change in universities, along the lines of ”best practices” recommendations suggested in this dissertation. The method and theoretical foundations employed in this project should be of value for professional development, for research, and for administrative and scientific evaluation and monitoring of current practices. It is strongly underscored that the revealed shortcomings result from structural and political factors and are not attributable to individual lack of professionalism. School psychology does have a problem, but this problem is soluble through an available and cost-efficient intervention. The viability of such professional improvements in national services has not previously been demonstrated in the professional literature.