Achievement gaps may explain racial overrepresentation in special education

March 19, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- U.S. school districts may be flagged as over-identifying students of color as having disabilities when other factors, such as achievement gaps, may explain these disparities, according to new Penn State research published in Exceptional Children.

Federal legislation and regulations require U.S. school districts to monitor whether students of color are overrepresented in special education. School districts reporting overrepresentation that exceeds pre-specified risk ratio thresholds are required to take corrective action including reallocating up to 15 percent of their federal funding for special education. Earlier work led to the belief that U.S. school districts were systemically over-identifying students as having disabilities based on their race or ethnicity.

According to Paul Morgan, Harry and Marion Eberly Fellow, professor of education and demography, and director of Penn State's Center for Educational Disparities, new work is now consistently finding that students of color are less likely, on average, to be identified as having disabilities than similarly situated students who are white.

"We sought to extend this knowledge base by expanding our analysis to include black-to-white and Hispanic-to-white student achievement gaps, as well as other variables measured at the district level for several thousand districts nationwide, as alternative explanatory factors for the reported risk ratios," said Morgan.

The research team used data sets from the U.S. Department of Education, the Civil Rights Data Collection survey on student enrollment, services, and outcomes, and the new Stanford Education Data archive that includes school district-level mathematics and reading achievement scores.

They analyzed about 2,000 districts with black students and white students, and about 2,500 districts with Hispanic students and white students. "In many U.S. school districts, the lack of racial diversity in student enrollment makes it difficult to conduct this type of analysis," said Morgan.

After merging the data sets, the researchers found that the larger a district's black or Hispanic-to-white achievement gap, the larger a district's black or Hispanic-to-white risk ratio. Statistical control for district-level achievement gaps indicated that, on average, black and Hispanic students were less likely to be receiving special education than white students.

"This provides further evidence in the debate regarding whether non-white students are overrepresented in special education due to systemic bias," Morgan said. "While inappropriate over-identification may sometimes be occurring, our analyses of district-level data suggests that the greater representation of black or Hispanic students in special education is largely explained by black or Hispanic students being more likely to experiencing academic difficulties. U.S. school districts may be attempting to provide students experiencing academic difficulties with greater academic supports, including through special education. "

The researchers were able to demonstrate a method that can be used to identify U.S. school districts where significant disproportionality is occurring that is not explained by achievement gaps. This method could be used by state and federal authorities to better monitor for U.S. districts for significant disproportionality based on race or ethnicity.

"Doing so would provide a more methodologically and substantively justifiable method for identifying school districts where significant disproportionality based on race or ethnicity may be occurring, and where further civil rights investigations may be warranted," Morgan said.
-end-
Other researchers on the project were George Farkas, distinguished professor of education, University of California, Irvine; and Marianne Hillemeier, professor emerita of health policy and administration; Cynthia Mitchell, researcher analyst and programmer; and Adrienne Woods, postdoctoral research scholar in educational policy, all at Penn State.

Funding was provided by Penn State's Center for Educational Disparities Research, part of the Social Science Research Institute; an infrastructure grant to Penn State's Population Research Institute; and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Penn State

Related Disabilities Articles from Brightsurf:

College students with disabilities at greater risk for substance abuse
College students with physical and cognitive disabilities use illicit drugs more, and have a higher prevalence of drug use disorder, than their non-disabled peers, according to a Rutgers study.

Asthma among children with developmental disabilities
How common asthma was among children with various developmental disabilities (including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder and vision, hearing or speech delay) was compared to children without disabilities in this survey study.

Children with developmental disabilities more likely to develop asthma
Children with developmental disabilities or delay are more at risk of developing asthma, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open led by public health researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) as part of the Center for Pediatric Population Health.

Self-help groups empower caregivers of children with disabilities
Caregivers in low-income settings will be able to respond to the challenges of bringing up children with disabilities, thanks to a new model created by the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI).

Unintended pregnancy rates higher among women with disabilities, study says
Pregnancies among women with disabilities are 42% more likely to be unintended than pregnancies among women without disabilities, says a new report published in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

More medical students are telling their schools about disabilities, and getting a response
The percentage of medical students who told their schools that they have a disability rose sharply in recent years, a new study shows.

The unpopular truth about biases toward people with disabilities
Needing to ride in a wheelchair can put the brakes on myriad opportunities -- some less obvious than one might think.

How to improve care for patients with disabilities? We need more providers like them
When it comes to patients with disabilities, the chance of getting a clinician 'like them' is extremely low, which may lead to patients' reluctance to seek care or follow prescribed interventions and treatments.

Progress to restore movement in people with neuromotor disabilities
A study published in the advanced edition of April 12, 2019 in the journal Neural Computation shows that approaches based on Long Short-Term Memory decoders could provide better algorithms for neuroprostheses that employ Brain-Machine Interfaces to restore movement in patients with severe neuromotor disabilities.

Certain physical disabilities may affect outcomes in kidney transplant recipients
Compared with kidney transplant recipients who did not report a disability, recipients with a visual disability were at higher risk of organ failure and recipients with a walking disability were at higher risk of early death.

Read More: Disabilities News and Disabilities Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.