Minorities Are Disproportionately Under-Represented in Special Education: Over-Time Evidence across Five Disability Conditions

Paul Morgan, Pennsylvania State University
George Farkas, University of California, Irvine
Michael Cook, Pennsylvania State University
Hui Li, Pennsylvania State University
Richard Mattison, Pennsylvania State University
Steven Maczuga, Pennsylvania State University

We investigated whether and to what extent minority students attending U.S. elementary and middle schools are over- or under-identified as disabled and so disproportionately represented in special education. We analyzed ECLS-K data, using hazard modeling to estimate over-time dynamics of disability identification across five specific conditions, and employing extensive controls for student- and family-level confounds such as student-level academic achievement and behavior, and family-level socioeconomic status. We found that minority students in the U.S. are consistently less likely than otherwise similar White, English-speaking students to be identified as disabled. From kindergarten entry to the end of middle school, racial/ethnic minorities are less likely than otherwise similar Whites to be identified as having (a) learning disabilities, (b) speech or language impairments, (c) intellectual disabilities, (d) health impairments, or (d) serious emotional disturbances. Language minority students are less likely to be identified as having specific learning disabilities or speech or language impairments.

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Presented in Poster Session 7: Health and Mortality of Women, Children and Families