Decision-making in Manifestation Determinations: The Influence of Student Racial Stereotypes and Perceived Student Intentionality

Document Type


Degree Name

Specialist in School Psychology (SSP)


School Psychology

Date of Award

Spring 2022


Despite educational professionals’ increased awareness about the disproportionality between Black and White students, closing the gap in suspensions and expulsions has not improved. Due to their daily encounters with students, committee members have important information and observations to discuss during the manifestation determination review (MDR) decision-making process. The purpose of this study was to investigate potential biases in MDR decision-making of MDR team members. Participants (N = 519) from four states completed an online survey in which they answered questions about their MDR knowledge using a scale developed for this study. Following, participants rated Black and White students on stereotypical racial traits. Participants were then randomly assigned to read a vignette about either a Black or White student and asked to make a manifestation determination decision and rate their decisional confidence. Afterwards, participants rated their perceptions of a student’s controllability and awareness of consequences, the latter of which was assessed using a scale developed for this study. Participants did not make a “no-link” decision for a Black student more than a White student. Also, participants identifying as racially diverse did not make a “yes-link” decision more than participants identifying as White. Participants’ endorsement of negative racial stereotypes was not associated with “No-Link” MDR decisions for either a Black or White student. Participants’ MDR substantive knowledge was not associated with MDR decision-making confidence. Finally, participants’ perceptions of student awareness of consequences and student controllability over their behaviors was not associated with MDR decision-making confidence. Further research is needed to investigate other potential influential variables in MDR decision- making, such as stigma associated with the label of an Emotional Disturbance or administrative pressure to agree with the local education agency. This investigation was the first quantitative study assessing potential biases associated with individual MDR decision-making.


Sean A. Lauderdale

Subject Categories

Education | Educational Psychology