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Rylee Knips
Professor Adam Nelson
Erin Hardacker
History 412: History of American Education
24 November 2014
Diana v. The California State Board of Education:
Origin and Outcome
Racism is not black and white. It is not black, and white, and brown, and yellow
and red either. Racism is gray. While American education systems accepted integrationist
policies after the civil rights movement, they continued to segregate diverse children in
schools. A court case in 1970 demonstrates how even litigation may not have the power
to ensure the results that it calls for. Although Diana v. The California State Board of
Education resulted in special education assessment that better fit culturally and
linguistically different students, the difficulty to enforce these results allowed for the
continuation of inequality and overrepresentation of minorities in special education
classrooms so that it continues today.
Before Diana even attended school, racial tensions were spurred by the increase
of immigrants. The population in California nearly doubled from 1950 to 1970
(Rosenberg n.pag.) when the court case took place. This increased not only population,
but also the number of minority children who needed an education. Assimilation became
a priority, yet this was not to the benefit of the minorities, but to benefit the people in
office and in control: whites. While white officials may not have thought of themselves as
racist, the assimilation practices focus on white culture and white supremacy. In attempt

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to maintain social order and control, schools used an English-based curriculum that
discouraged the speaking of another language (Mercer 137). This made school more
difficult for bilingual students and students who did not speak English. Furthermore,
instead of assimilating them neatly into the school setting, the curriculum segregated the
culturally different students from each other.
It is important to understand that the civil rights movement for inclusion in
schools was not equivalent to inclusion in classrooms, and intelligence testing became the
primary way to segregate students within the schools. Intelligence testing was developed
in France in the early 20th century by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon in order to test
students who would not benefit from the regular school program (Mercer 132). Their test
questions contained aspects of French culture that they thought all French children would
have been exposed to (Mercer 132). While this was a probable solution to testing French
children, when the movement spread to the United States, the items on the intelligence
test was drawn from the Anglo-American culture. The increasing diversity in the United
States resulted in unfair test questions for minority children. Because of this, more and
more minority children were placed in special education programs. A study by Jane
Mercer carried out in 1967 found that Mexican-American students were consistently
overrepresented in special education classrooms by a margin of two to one (Weintraub
28). This high incidence was due to the ineffective use of assessment materials, test bias,
and the language barrier (McLean 5). Scores on intelligence tests positively correlated
with the Anglicization of the family (Mercer 132). The increase in both population and
intelligence testing in California reinforced social hierarchies and allowed for segregation
in the schools to continue.

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With its foot in the door, the idea of white intellectual supremacy took off in the
school systems. With more and more minority children in special education classrooms,
culturally diverse families began to question the schools methods of placing students in
special education programs. In 1970, Diana v. the California State Board of Education
explored if current intelligence testing was capable of providing a meaningful assessment
(Gargiulo 43). The case involved nine students from Monterey County in California
aging eight to thirteen. They came from homes where Spanish was the major spoken
language and had taken intelligence testing that had placed them in special education
services because they scored from 30 to 72 (Abeson 11). The cut off for special education
was 75, and when the children were retested in Spanish, eight out of the nine scored
above 75 (Connor 108). Dianas personal scores increased from 30 to 79 (Weintraub 28).
The other students averaged a gain of 15 points (Abeson 11). The results clearly showed
how the intelligence test did not measure intelligence, but the degree to which the child
was exposed to white culture. The plaintiffs charged that the testing procedures were
unfair due to a heavy emphasis of verbal skills that required an ability to use and
understand English. The questions were culturally biased and standardized on white,
native-born Americans (Abeson 11). The unfair testing resulted in overrepresentation of
minorities in special education classrooms. In fact, while the Hispanic students only made
up 18.5% of the student population, one third of the students in the special education
classroom were Hispanic (Abeson 11). The California State Board of Education also
reported that the incidence of mental retardation in the United States never exceeded 2%
and anything over that was illegitimate (Weintraub 28). The rate was far above this which
proved that students who shouldnt be placed in special education classrooms were being

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placed there. There was no misunderstanding that intelligence testing in the school was
biased and resulted in segregation within the schools. Yet, the assimilationist practices
encouraged the complete use of English. How would school officials maintain social
order and the hierarchy that placed whites at the top if schools did not need to adhere to a
strict English-based curriculum? In 1970, there were only 131 bilingual programs in the
United States for the Spanish-speaking population (Weintraub 137). The nation had
worked very hard at assimilating diverse populations to white society even during and
after the civil rights movement.
The courts decision would alter the total focus on English in the schools,
equaling the playing field for children from minority families. The case results of Diana
v. the California State Board of Education had four parts. First, children were to be tested
in their primary language (Abeson 11). This included the use of interpreters if a bilingual
examiner was not available (Abeson 11). Second, Mexican American and Chinese
children that were currently in special education classes under the presumption that their
intelligence test score fell below 75 and were thus labeled as mentally retarded were to be
retested and evaluated (Abeson 11). Then, special efforts were to be extended to aid
misplaced children in their readjustment to regular classrooms (Abeson 11). Finally, the
court decided that they would take immediate effort to organize and develop an
appropriate standardized intelligence test (Abeson 11).
Dianas win was another step towards desegregating the schools and made a
positive impact on the way schools viewed themselves. The case results forced the
reluctant educational establishments to change (Hendrick 1). They were forced to
accommodate minority students, and allow them fair testing. The schools also began to

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understand how learning was more than an intelligence score. They understood the role
of adaptive behavior in learning that included maturation and social adjustment
(Weintraub, 1971, p. 29). This forced realization allowed educators to develop realistic
expectations for their students. The population of children labeled mentally retarded
decreased rapidly after Diana v. the State Board of Education. In 1969, 55,519 students
were labeled mentally retarded, but that decreased to 19,370 after the case (Hendrick 2).
Hispanic students indicated as mentally retarded decreased from 28.2% to 22.6% and
black students decreased from 27.1% to 23.2% (Hendrick 2). The numbers and
proportions of students in special education classrooms decreased overall.
Yet even though the number of minority students identified as mentally retarded
decreased, minorities were still overrepresented because of the difficulty of enforcing the
new testing standards. While many organizations labeled children as mentally retarded,
the public school system did this to the greatest extent. Furthermore, 46% of the students
labeled by public schools actually had an intelligence score over 70 (Mercer 126). Was
this a continuation of segregation in the school? A study published in 1974 showed that
intelligence tests were still biased toward the native born Anglo-Americans and that
classification systems based on standardized tests have labeled a disproportionately large
number of people from minority groups as intellectually subnormal (Mercer 131). This
study showed how the tests dont measure the childs intelligence, but the childs
background and if it is similar to white culture. Apart from the decrease in the overall
number of students identified as mentally retarded, the segregation in schools based on
race and cultural background had continued. The problem was made more complex since
the amount of racial and ethnic diversity was also increasing (Oswald 195). Furthermore,

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distinctions between higher and lower social classes also played a role, and many
minorities fell into the lower socioeconomic status category (Mercer 127). This
increasingly complex social structure and variation between schools and teachers made it
nearly impossible to enforce the standards agreed upon in Diana v. the State Board of
Education.
While the situation is complex, there is a hierarchy of important factors
influencing overrepresentation in special education classrooms and ethnic and cultural
differences are at the very top followed by socioeconomic status. This hierarchy
contributes to the complexity since there are many overlaps between race and low
socioeconomic status when students are placed in special education classrooms. Yet, a
study done in 2005 shows that even when poverty is held constant, race significantly
influences the odds of being placed in special education (Skiba 139). Yet, when race was
held constant, poverty was a weak predictor of disproportionality (Skiba 141).
Another indicator of the importance of ethnicity in predicting placement in
special education services includes the switch from segregation of all minorities to
mainly the segregation of African American students. By 1985, there was a continued
disproportion in special education classrooms for black students, but not for Hispanic
students (Hendrick 2). The study done in 2005 showed that at all economic levels,
African American children are disproportionately represented in special education
disability categories (Skiba 139). These studies show how the problem with
overrepresentation of minorities in special education classrooms relates back to how
society views their culture and expects minorities to assimilate into it.

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The continuation of intelligence testing and its inability to be enforced contributes


to the subordinate position of minorities in the United States and allows society to blame
children and their families when the schools educative program fails (Mercer 137). Some
minority families work hard to preserve their culture, and this is punished by a
segregationist special education placement system.
We still reward those who acculturate into white society yet our country is
becoming more and more diverse. Forty percent of our classrooms are filled with
minority students yet ninety percent of our teachers are white (Connor 109). Teachers are
some of the only adults that students are exposed to as children. If ninety percent of their
educators are white, who will minority children look up to? How will they know that they
are able to be successful in life when the very institution they are attending to better
themselves is filled with people that are culturally different from them? Schools send a
message to minority students that in order to become successful, they must change who
they are culturally. The school system perpetuates cultural stereotypes by allowing
segregation to continue in special education classrooms through intelligence testing.
As the results of Diana v. the California State Board of Education proved,
legislation and litigation is not enough to change the amount of minority students,
especially African American students, who are overrepresented in special education
classrooms today. First, we must give minority students role models in the school setting.
We must hire non-white teachers who are better at connecting with minority students and
have a better understanding of their cultural background. Second, we must remember to
focus less on intelligence testing and more on adaptive behavior. With an emphasis on
maturation and social adjustment, we will be better able to understand different students

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diverse cultural backgrounds and help them succeed in the classroom. Third, we must
stop separating the students in special education classrooms. Integration for students with
special needs is another step we need to take that will help integrate our society culturally
since the two overlap consistently. Separate classrooms allow segregation to continue.
Special educators are currently pushing towards a model called the least restrictive
environment (LRE) (Gargiulo 71). This focuses on giving students with disabilities the
opportunity to be educated in environments as close as possible to the general education
classroom setting (Gargiulo 71). Along with LRE, comes the regular education initiative
(REI). REI is an approach that advocates that general educators assume greater
responsibility for the education of students with disabilities. If we employ a more diverse
teaching staff, all of these can work together to help decrease the idea of white
supremacy.
The problem with overrepresentation of minorities in the classroom not just about
intelligence scores or even about changing the laws and school system. As Diana v. the
California State Board of Education showed us, the problem is in the minds of our
educators in which a racial hierarchy has been engrained. In order to change this, we can
start inside the schools, reach inside the minds of teachers, and inside the minds of the
community so that eventually, we can reach a collective unconscious that agrees that all
cultures are equally important. We must change ourselves and the way we think our
world so that we dont see the world in black, and white, and brown, and yellow, and red,
but so that we see it as gray. We must remember that the situation is very complex.
Change will be slow and it will be a lot of work, but change is necessary.