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DISPROPORTIONALITY. VIVIAN STITH-WILLIAMS, PH.D. VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION. WHAT IS IT AND WHY DOES IT MATTER? March 31, 2010. TOPICS for DISCUSSION. Definition of terms Data overview Facing the Issues Virginia’s data Why does it matter? Causes of Disproportionality

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March 31, 2010

topics for discussion

Definition of terms

Data overview

Facing the Issues

Virginia’s data

Why does it matter?

Causes of Disproportionality

Strategies to Address the Problem

Technical Assistance Emphasis


What is disproportionality?Disproportionate representation is defined as the extent to which membership in a given group affects the probability of being placed in a specific education category (Oswald, et. al. 1999).Disproportionality or disproportionate representation refers to the over and/or under representation of minority students in receiving special education services in numbers greater than their percentage in the general population. Simply defined, disproportionate representation encompasses both “overrepresentation” in high incidence disabilities and “under representation” in programs for gifted and talented (NCCRESt, 2003). Additionally, disproportionate representation is found in school based discipline practices (Losen & Orfield, 2002).

data overview

The United States Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights

(OCR) has documented the patterns of disproportionate representation

of minority students in special education programs for over 30 years.

With each OCR survey, the following pattern has emerged:

  • African American students have been found to be overrepresented in the high incidence categories of intellectual disability, formerly mental retardation (MR) and emotional disability, formerly emotionally disturbed (ED)
  • American Indians are overrepresented in the specific learning disability (SLD) category
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders are underrepresented in almost every category
  • Caucasian students are consistently overrepresented in the gifted and talented (GT) programs and specific learning disability category
  • African American, Latino/Hispanic and American Indian students are

underrepresented in the gifted/talented category.

Nationally, African American students constitute 35% of the total

special education enrollments in the ID category, yet represent

17% of elementary and secondary student enrollments. African

American students are 2.4 times more likely to be labeled ID than

white students and 26.4 percent of African American students are

classified as ED, but are only 17 % of the overall student population.

No other groups are overrepresented in the high incidence categories

of intellectual disability and emotional disability. African Americans,

especially males who engage in certain behaviors that represent

artifacts of their culture – such as language (Ebonics), movement

patterns (verve), and a certain “ethnic “ appearance have been found to

be over referred for special education placement (Neal, McCray, &

Webb-Johnson, 2001).

facing the issue
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) requires accountability for all children, including student groups based on poverty, race, and ethnicity, disability and limited English proficiency. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA, 2004) mandates that State Education Agencies/local education agencies collect and examine data to determine if significant disproportionality based on race and ethnicity is occurring in: 1) the identification of students with disabilities; 2) particular disability categories; 3) placement in particular educational settings; and 4) the incidence, duration and type of disciplinary actions, including suspensions and expulsions.FACING THE ISSUE
why does it matter

Disproportionality has been shown to cause harm to many

minority students by:

  • Being denied access to the general education curriculum.
  • Receiving services that do not meet their needs.
  • Being misclassified or inappropriately labeled.
  • A stigma associated with labeling
  • Lowered expectations as well as a higher incidence for drop-outs, suspensions and expulsions that contribute to limited options for future success.
  • Placement in special education as a kind of discrimination through school segregation
causes of disproportionality
Causes of Disproportionality
  • General education practices
  • Defacto Segregation
  • Race/Ethnicity/Language
  • Lack of prereferral interventions
  • Assessment
  • Determination of eligibility
  • Placement decisions
  • Special education classes
strategies to address the problem
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching – a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning.
  • Positive Behavior Supports
  • Improving School Climate by eliminating bias, ensuring cultural competence, and being culturally responsive
  • Instructional Support Teams that provide a data-based process for academic intervention services in the general education classroom
strategies to address the problem1
  • Availability of relevant data on minority identification and placement
  • Evidence-based teaching techniques
  • Supportive learning environments
  • High expectations for students
  • Strong Administrative support
  • Pre-referral interventions and modifications
Both IDEA, 2004 and NCLB require schools to use

effective methods, intervention and instructional strategies

that are grounded in research. Prereferral interventions

have been recognized as a response and/or approach to

reduce the number of inappropriate referrals to special


The defining features of the prereferral model include a

preventive process, a team-based problem-solving

approach, action-research orientation, and an intervention

process that is centered upon the enhanced success of all

students and teachers within the general education setting

(Buck, Polloway, Cook, 2003).

Prereferral interventions within the general education settings
  • Documented evidence basis for areas of concern
  • Comprehensive data for all areas
  • Culturally responsive assessment measures
  • Teaching staff reflect school demographic
  • Strong home-school relationships
  • Uniform criteria for how students are identified

TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE EMPHASISOperational definitions for Inappropriate IdentificationFramework for Indicator 9Framework for Indicator 10Record Review ProcessRecord Review Form/Scoring RubricSuggested Practices:Examination of local school division dataNCCRESt Rubric for self-assessment of division policies, procedures and practicesProtocol to document self-assessment for disproportionalitySpecial Education Identification Process SurveyStudent Academic Intervention ChecklistAction Plan to Reduce Disproportionality