A Decade of Disproportionality: A State-Level Analysis of African American Students Enrolled in the Primary Disability Category of Speech or Language Impairment

Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch. 2019 Apr 23;50(2):267-282. doi: 10.1044/2018_LSHSS-17-0149.


Purpose This study aimed to determine if African American students were disproportionately represented between the years of 2004 and 2014 in the primary disability category of Speech or Language Impairment (S/LI) under the 2004 reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. Method S/LI enrollment data from the Office of Special Education Programs and general enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics were analyzed to compare the risk of primary S/LI category enrollment of African American students to that of all other students. Risk ratios with 99% confidence intervals were calculated for each state across the 10 years studied. Results An average of 75% of states disproportionately represented African American students in the S/LI category each year; on average, 62% underrepresented African American students, and 14% overrepresented them. A post hoc analysis of the relationship between African American student representation and population densities revealed that states with high African American population densities almost exclusively underrepresented African American students and states with low densities tended toward a proportionate representation. Conclusions African American students were largely underrepresented in the category of S/LI in the years studied. These findings, alongside historic and chronic overrepresentation in other categories of special education, are discussed in the context of the fragmented harm theory ( Payne, 1984 ; Voulgarides, 2018 ; Voulgarides, Zwerger, & Noguera, 2013 ) and the disability rights and critical race theory ( Annamma, Connor, & Ferri, 2013 ). Supplemental Material https://doi.org/10.23641/asha.7967024.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Black or African American
  • Child
  • Communication Disorders
  • Disabled Persons*
  • Education, Special
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • Language Development Disorders / epidemiology
  • Language Development Disorders / ethnology*
  • Learning Disabilities / epidemiology
  • Learning Disabilities / ethnology*
  • Male
  • Risk
  • Social Stigma
  • Speech
  • Speech Disorders / epidemiology
  • Speech Disorders / ethnology*
  • Students
  • United States
  • Young Adult