Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2014

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Social Work

First Advisor

Hartley, Carolyn Copps

First Committee Member

Landsman, Miriam

Second Committee Member

Gilster, Megan

Third Committee Member

Campbell, Mary

Fourth Committee Member

Wesely, Pamela


This study examined whether the disproportionality of African American children referred to special education is influenced by the level of implicit racial bias among teachers, using the aversive racism theory. Data were collected from teachers of kindergarten through sixth grade in the Iowa City Community School District through email recruitment. Using a factorial survey design, teachers evaluated five vignettes, each with five questions mirroring the referral process to special education, an implicit and explicit racial bias measure, and demographics. Of the 307 teachers emailed, only 21 completed the full survey. The small sample size hindered the analysis due to violations of two of the major assumptions of linear regression: normality and constant variance. Due to these violations, only limited interpretations can be concluded from the linear models. A logistic regression was also completed on the referral for special education dependent variable and yielded the following significant results: The teachers who scored high on the explicit racism measure were more likely to refer a child to a special education assessment and other results revealed associations between certain characteristics and behaviors of the children and their likelihood of referral. The majority of teachers in the sample (67%) scored high in implicit racial bias but none of the models indicates a relationship between the child's race and referral to special education. The study suggests there is some connection between implicit racial bias and referrals to special education but not due to race. However, the complexity of relationships among these and other factors in both interpersonal relationships and classroom dynamics makes it necessary to further investigate this question and potentially remedy the problem of disproportionality in special education.


Aversive Racism, Disproportionality, Factorial Survey Design, IAT, Implicit racial bias, Special Education


viii, 165 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 154-165).


Copyright 2014 Chris Elizabeth Martin