There are many opinions on this. Two things can happen. If a student isn’t identified to meet the eligibility criteria for special education they might be described by their teachers as a “behaviour problem, slow learner, unmotivated or just plain lazy”. They’ll remain in the general education and will most likely do poorly in school. The probability of dropping out will increase.
If a student is identified as requiring special education the student will be categorized into a stream that hopefully the teachers will have knowledge and methods to assist the student to achieve. This classification alters the school experience and for this reason many educators criticize this process and claim that it does more harm than good to the student.
Let’s explore advantages and disadvantages of labelling.
Advantages of labelling
- Labels are required to get funding for special education from the BC ministry.
- Categories give educators a general idea about learning characteristics.
- If present categories were abolished then new descriptors would be made to take their place. Humans need “mental hooks” to figure out problem areas.
- Labelling will create more tolerance towards the minority of those who have a disability.
- Labelling creates specialized teaching methods, assessment and interventions for behaviour issues.
Disadvantages of labelling
- Once a child has been categorized this label will be forwarded to every new teacher. The label sticks.
- There is a stigma of being deficient.
- Labels shape teacher’s expectations. Studies demonstrate that what a teacher believes about student capability is directly related to student achievement.
- Labels can exaggerate a student’s actions in the eyes of a teacher. A teacher may over react to behaviour of a labelled child that would be tolerated in another child.
- Diagnostic labels are not always reliable. Sure they try to be accurate, but they can never be. Human beings are complex and unique.
Is it good or bad? Yes and No. Assigning a student a label for special education is a fateful step that should only be taken when all other options have proved unsuccessful.