Ch 2_Challenge 6_Info box

Disability identification rates are often disproportionate to the overall enrollment rates for students in different racial or ethnic groups. For example, African American students made up nearly 16% of public school students nationwide and 20% of students identified with SLD in 2013–2014. That year, Asian students made up nearly 5% of public school students, but only 1.5% of students with SLD.16

The field is in agreement that no one race or ethnicity is more likely than another to have a learning or attention issue based on race or ethnicity alone. However, there are numerous factors that may influence the prevalence and identification of learning and attention issues, including adverse childhood experiences and bias.

Some studies have found that the effects of poverty amplify racial disparities, but do not solely explain the racial disproportionality among students in special education.17 Many researchers point to data that indicates African American students are overidentified as needing special education services, with cultural bias likely playing a role in overidentification.18

When students of color are misidentified as needing special education services, it can lead to fewer opportunities and lower expectations for those students. For example, research shows that minority students and English language learners are not only disproportionally labeled as needing special education services but are also more likely to be placed in more restrictive settings.19

Students of color in special education spend less time in general education classrooms than white students in special education,20 which is troubling because studies have repeatedly shown that inclusion in general education classrooms has a positive effect on academic and social outcomes for students with disabilities–and particularly for students with learning disabilities.21

These findings emphasize the importance of using comprehensive evaluation and identification procedures that are free from bias when identifying students in need of services, which can lead to the overrepresentation of some races in special education.