Disproportionality is defined as the overrepresentation and under-representation of a particular population or demographic group in special or gifted education programs relative to the presence of this group in the overall student population. Disproportionality by race and ethnicity of students receiving special education services is often identified as an area needing improvement.
Three major reports give a glimpse of the trends seen in the nation’s public school systems.
- Expansive Survey of America's Public Schools Reveals Troubling Racial Disparities (March 2014)
Announces findings revealing a lack of access to pre-school, greater suspensions cited
- National Education Association Report Truth in Labeling: Disproportionality in Special Education (2007)
Provides educators with basic information about the nature and causes of disproportionality; discusses related policy, procedural, and practice issues; offers recommendations to educators about how to address disproportionality, and; outlines implications of disproportionality and questions for local and state affiliates to consider.
- Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities (2007)
Examines the educational progress and challenges that racial and ethnic minorities face in the United States. The Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), is the primary federal entity for collecting, analyzing, and reporting data related to education in the United States.
As summarized in Disporportionality and Overrepresentation, Module 5 from Building the Legacy: A Training Curriculum on IDEA 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) amendments of 2004 have made numerous changes to how states and local educational agencies (LEAs) must now address disproportionate representation. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Memo 07-09 (PDF) provides a discussion of the requirements related to 34 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Section 300.600(d)(3) for disproportionate representation as it relates to Indicators 9 and 10 of the State Performance Plan/Annual Performance Report, followed by a discussion of the requirements of 34 CFR Section 300.646 relating to significant disproportionality.
Changes in IDEA Part B regulations include, for example, a more extensive scan for instances of disproportionality, more extensive remedies where findings of disproportionality occur, and a focus on the development of personnel preparation models to ensure appropriate placement and services for all students and to reduce disproportionality in eligibility, placement, and disciplinary actions. A table attached to the above-cited memo highlights requirements for both disproportionate representation and significant disproportionality.
IDEA requires that where a determination of significant disproportionality (as discussed in the OSEP Memo 07-09) is found, the SEA shall provide for review and, if appropriate, revision of policies, procedures, and practices used in identification and placement to ensure compliance with the requirements of IDEA. The 2004 provisions of the IDEA law additionally stipulate that when states identify significant disproportionality, those states must require LEAs to reserve the maximum amount of funds under Section 613(f) to provide comprehensive, coordinated early intervening services (CEIS) to students in the LEAs, particularly students in groups that are significantly overidentified, and to report publicly on the revision of policies, procedures, and practices used in identification and placement.
The OSEP provides guidance on CEIS under Part B of IDEA in a memorandum (DOC) that describes and explains the following: federal requirements for the use of CEIS funds by LEAs identified as having significant disproportionality by race or ethnicity; what is meant by coordinated early intervening services; and the calculation methodologies.