Minorities are Disproportionately Underrepresented in Special Education: Longitudinal Evidence Across Five Disability Conditions

Educ Res. 2015 Jun-Jul;44(5):278-292. doi: 10.3102/0013189X15591157. Epub 2015 Jun 23.


We investigated whether and to what extent minority children attending elementary and middle schools in the U.S. are over- or under-identified as disabled and so disproportionately represented in special education. To address existing limitations in the field's knowledge base, we (a) analyzed multi-year longitudinal data, (b) used hazard modeling to estimate over-time dynamics of disability identification across five specific conditions, and (c) extensively corrected for child-, family-, and school-level potential confounding variables (e.g., child-level academic achievement and behavior, family-level socioeconomic status, school-level state location). Despite long-standing and on-going federal legislative and policy efforts to reduce minority over-representation in special education, our analyses indicated that this has not been occurring in the U.S. Instead, minority children are less likely than otherwise similar White, English-speaking children to be identified as disabled and so receive special education services. From kindergarten entry to at least the end of middle school, racial and ethnic minority children are less likely than otherwise similar White children to be identified as having (a) learning disabilities, (b) speech or language impairments, (c) intellectual disabilities, (d) health impairments, or (d) emotional disturbances. Language minority children are less likely to be identified as having (a) specific learning disabilities or (b) speech or language impairments.

Keywords: Minority disproportionate representation; hazard modeling; language minorities; longitudinal; racial and ethnic disparities.