Roots, Reality, Reboot: Transforming (Special) Education to Advance Equity and Learning

Disproportionality in Special Ed. (II)

**National Education Association. (2008). Disproportionality: Inappropriate identification of culturally and linguistically diverse children. Washington, DC: National Education Association. Available at

This policy brief provides an overview of the causes and consequences of the disproportionate representation of culturally and linguistically diverse children (CLDs) in special education. The document summarizes research suggesting that a child’s race and ethnicity significantly influence the probability that he or she will be misidentified or inappropriately served in special education. Disproportionally labeling CLDs as special needs students can lead to unwarranted or inappropriate services, reduced expectations, less rigorous curriculum, stigmatization, and racially segregated environments. Finally, the brief asserts that state and district funding, disability definitions, and discipline policies—exacerbated by school- and classroom- level factors–drive these disproportionalities and thus should be addressed to ensure that all children receive an excellent education.

**García, S.B., & Ortiz, A.A. (2006). Preventing disproportionate representation: Culturally and linguistically responsive prereferral interventions. Tempe, AZ: National Center for Culturally Responsive Education Systems. Available at %20Rep.pdf

Appropriate identification of students needing special education services depends on the ability to determine whether students’ academic or behavioral challenges are caused by a disability or other causes such as a cultural or linguistic mismatch between the student and the schooling environment. This brief highlights four components of culturally and linguistically-responsive prereferral interventions: 1) preventing school underachievement and failure among culturally and linguistically diverse learners, 2) early intervention for struggling learners, 3) diagnostic and prescriptive teaching, and 4) availability of general education problem-solving support systems. The authors emphasize the importance of carefully sequenced, differentiated instruction by teachers with cultural self-awareness and an understanding of socio-cultural influences on teaching and learning. They also suggest the creation of Teacher Assistance Teams to support teachers in designing interventions for struggling students.

Skiba, R. J., Simmons, A. B., Ritter, S., Gibb, A. C., Rausch, M. K., Cuadrado, J., & Chung, C. (2008). Achieving equity in special education: History, status, and current challenges. Exceptional Children, 74(3), 264–288.

This article addresses the causes of and appropriate means of addressing disproportionality in special education. The authors examine the literature on potential sources of disproportionate identification rates—including test bias, poverty, special education processes, inequity in general education, issues of behavior management, and cultural sensitivity—and conclude that no single simple explanation exists. Given the multiple and sometimes inconclusive reasons for disproportionality, the article advocates for an identification process that includes thoughtful data collection and examination, interpretation, culturally competent intervention, and evaluation. The authors emphasize that no universal solution exists, and that the approaches to identifying and intervening with students must be comprehensive and responsive to the individual student and local context.

Klingner, J.K., & Harry, B. (2006). The special education referral and decision-making process for English Language Learners: Child study team meetings and placement conferences. Teachers College Record, 108, 2247-2281. Available at

This article examines the special education referral process for English language learners (ELLs) and identifies certain adult behaviors and misconceptions that can lead to inappropriate special education identification of ELLs. The authors observed Child Study Team (CST) meetings and multidisciplinary placement conferences across nine schools in an urban district in one southern state. They found that many professionals were confused or unaware of how to differentiate between English language acquisition and learning disabilities. There was also confusion about when students can be referred for an evaluation and when they should be assessed in English as opposed to their native language. Pre-referral strategies were used rarely and ineffectively. The authors found that psychologists tended to hold the most decision-making power throughout the decision making process, while there was little evidence of strong parental involvement and instead a pervasive negative attitude towards parents from other members of the CST.

**This document is considered a priority reading.