Academic Identities and School Behaviors of African American Boys Being Evaluated for Special Education

The proposed exploratory case study will examine how African American boys being considered for referral for special education evaluation, are variously viewed by themselves, special education referral personnel, and significant adults in their lives.

Focusing on special education prereferral interventions—processes and procedures in which racial disparities become particularly salient—and on a critical transition period (Grades 3–5), the project will give particular attention to views of participating boys’ individual and social identities as learners, attitudes toward school, and academic behaviors throughout the special education prereferral period. Social network theory suggests that home, school, and peer environments are overlapping, mutually influencing sites of identity formation, and that identities and competencies are partly developed through participation in or exclusion from social and cultural activities.

Through in-depth interviews and classroom observations, this study aims to identify the ways in which African American boys are viewed as competent or in need of referral and evaluation for special education. The research will also identify those beliefs, social and cultural practices, and other experiences embedded within the school and social relationships of African American boys that, from the perspective of the child, promote or discourage feelings of competence, positive academic identity formation, motivation to learn, and constructive behaviors and attitudes toward school.


The Spencer Foundation

Project Website


Completed on December 31, 2005

Contact Information

Jeffery Lewis