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CDE Guidance on Disproportionality

Critical values and beliefs, background, goals, data, and improvement strategies related to disproportionality.

Background: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) made many changes in how state educational agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs) must now address disproportionality in special education. In the area of disproportionality, SEAs are required to do the following:

  • California Annual Performance Report

  • The Annual Performance Report (APR) describes the State's progress or slippage in meeting the measurable and rigorous targets established in the State Performance Plan (SPP); and any revisions to the State's targets, improvement activities or resources in the SPP and justifications for the revisions

  • This Annual Performance Report for the Federal Fiscal Year 2019 is located on the GRADS 360 Web application External link opens in new window or tab. maintained by the Office of Special Education Programs

  • Monitor compliance

  • Provide for the review and revision (if appropriate) of policies, procedures, and practices used in identification, discipline, or placement of children with disabilities in LEAs

  • Identify those LEAs with significant disproportionate representation and require them to use 15 percent of IDEA Part B funds for comprehensive coordinated early intervening services (CCEIS)

  • Require the LEAs who are identified as significantly disproportionate to report on: (1) the number of students receiving CCEIS every year for which the LEA uses IDEA funds for CCEIS; and (2) the number of students who received early intervening services, and who subsequently receive special education and related services within two years after receiving CCEIS

Critical Values and Beliefs about Disproportionality

The California Department of Education (CDE) uses critical values and beliefs related to disproportionality in California public schools (Updated 14-Aug-2012) to support school districts and select resources. These values and beliefs are consistent with the guiding beliefs, principles, and performance benchmarks of the CDE. Relevant articles are:

Guidance and Resources to Identified Districts

The CDE annually identifies certain LEAs as having disproportionate representation based on a calculation methodology explained in the Annual Performance Report (APR FFY 2014) External link opens in new window or tab.. Any district with noncompliant policies, procedures, or practices as a result of inappropriate identification is identified and required to do a follow-up.

Additionally, CDE identifies LEAs as having significant disproportionality pursuant to the requirements of the IDEA. This calculation includes race or ethnicity with respect to the identification of children with disabilities; the identification of children in specific disability categories; the placement of children with disabilities in particular educational settings; or the incidence, duration, and type of disciplinary actions, including suspensions and expulsions. Calculation methodology utilizes district data for SSP Indicators 4b, 5, 9, and 10. These LEAs are required to use 15 percent of IDEA funds for CEIS.

Guidance—Significant Disproportionality

Coordinated Early Intervening Services Programmatic Improvement Process

CDE recommends that all LEAs identified as having significant disproportionality contact State Performance Plan Technical Assistance Project (SPP-TAP) staff for assistance with the Programmatic Improvement Process. More information can be found on the SPP TAP Web site External link opens in new window or tab..

This guidance is based upon the promising practices for improvement detailed in the national disproportionality literature and the CCEIS federal guidance from the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

LEAs having significant disproportionality engage in a process for systems change designed to provide LEA and school improvement teams with the knowledge and technical expertise to develop a thorough understanding of problems, issues, and concerns in their schools, and what needs to be done to address disproportionality. . The CDE encourages LEAs to view and use the resources made available in the OSEP’s Virtual Symposium on Significant Disproportionality External link opens in new window or tab. held on February 8, 2017.

The completion of the SD-CCEIS Programmatic Improvement Process involves the following phases and activities:

Phase One – Getting Started

The first phase of the Program Improvement Process involves forming a leadership team, convening a stakeholder group, engaging in technical assistance, choosing a facilitator for guidance through the improvement process, gathering relevant data for analysis, and attending an orientation Webinar hosted by the CDE and the SPP-TAP contractor at the Napa County Office of Education (NCOE).

Activity One: Identify and Convene Leadership Team and Stakeholder Group

This activity involves forming an initial leadership team that assumes responsibility for the Significant Disproportionality Coordinated Early Intervening Services (SD-CCEIS) Program Improvement Process. The team should include the local educational agency (LEA) superintendent or a designee empowered to make decisions and to report directly to and from the superintendent. Effective leadership teams typically have three to five members and must include representatives from both special and general education.

An initial task of the leadership team is to convene a diverse stakeholder group. The stakeholder group may be either an existing or newly formed group, but it is important that it involve stakeholders that are representative of the LEA and the identified racial/ethnic group and indicator. Generally, the group should include: parents; directors of curriculum, special education, and assessment; a principal; and appropriate grade-level general and special education teachers. The group will develop an understanding of disproportionality and the conditions that resulted in the LEA’s identification as significantly disproportionate, and will contribute to the Program Improvement Process efforts.

Activity Two: Contact the SPP-TAP Project at the Napa County Office of Education

The CDE partners with the SPP-TAP at NCOE to provide in-depth technical assistance and support to LEAs throughout the significant disproportionality activities. The SPP-TAP technical assistance consists of training, coaching, information dissemination, and referrals of best practices.

For assistance with the Program Improvement Process, the CDE recommends that LEAs identified as significantly disproportionate contact Connie Silva-Broussard, SPP-TAP Director, by phone at 707-738-9616 or by e-mail at for details. More information can be found on the SPP TAP Web site External link opens in new window or tab..

Activity Three: Choose a Facilitator

Activity three involves selection of a facilitator to lead the leadership team and stakeholder group through the Program Improvement Process. LEAs may choose their own facilitator or engage a facilitator from the SPP-TAP at NCOE. The SPP-TAP has selected a cadre of facilitators who are experts in a variety of educational areas to assist LEAs with planning, accessing high quality technical assistance resources, and assessing progress to address issues of disproportionality. For a list of facilitators, please contact the SPP-TAP at the information listed in the section above.

Activity Four: Gather Relevant Data

Using a well-defined set of data is the key to successfully analyzing the data for improving practices and informed decision-making. The data analysis tool in Phase Two will help in identifying useful data points. Conducting data gathering activities during Phase One will prepare LEAs for the orientation Webinar and for the self-assessment process in Phase Two.

Phase Two – Data and Root Cause Analysis

Phase Two activities are focused on engaging in a programmatic self-assessment process to reveal the root cause(s) of disproportionality, and planning for implementation of CEIS that addresses the root cause(s) identified.

Activity One: Complete a Local Educational Agency Initiative Inventory

Conduct a review of local educational agency (LEA) initiatives. Aligning and integrating the significant disproportionality improvement process with other LEA initiatives builds supports for the work of the LEA and coordinates positive outcomes for all students. For this activity, please use the Local Educational Agency Initiative Inventory analysis sheet provided in the Phase Two: Featured Tools and Resources section.

Activity Two: Choose and Complete a Programmatic Self-assessment Tool

A programmatic self-assessment should include the following elements:

  • Selection and completion of one or more of the self-assessment options described in the Phase Two: Featured Tools and Resources section
  • Thorough and reflective analysis of a broad range of student-level data with a focus on ethnic/racial, discipline, disability, and placement disparities
  • Reflective review of information on policies, procedures, and practices (beyond questions of compliance)
  • Review of existing LEA-wide and school wide initiatives
  • Review summary of self-assessment results with the stakeholder group

The programmatic self-assessment options in the Phase Two: Featured Tools and Resources section describes methods to analyze LEA practices to reveal information about significant disproportionality. Each option contains methods the LEA may use to better understand characteristics which may have caused the significant disproportionality.

Activity Three: Conduct Reflective Data Analysis

Through the self-assessment process, analyze the identified data elements. Use tools in the self-assessment material and/or the data analysis sheet provided in the Phase Two: Featured Tools and Resources section. A thoughtful and comprehensive programmatic self-assessment will produce both qualitative and quantitative data to reveal a great deal about current conditions in the LEA and at specific school sites. The assessment process should engage the leadership team and stakeholder group in conversations about student outcomes, as well as the policies, procedures, practices, and beliefs that contribute to those outcomes. In these conversations, participants begin to share hypotheses about the causes of disproportionality, and consider these hypotheses in relation to the data they are reviewing. The next step is a more systematic root cause analysis.

Activity Four: Determine Root Cause(s) Based on Data

A root cause analysis is a process that leads to a narrowing of potential causal factors of a problem to specific areas of focus. From the determined area(s) of focus, leverage points may be identified which lead to the greatest impact for change. The most important function of this process is for the LEA to use evidence and data to gain a deeper understanding of the possible cause(s). At the end of the process, the LEA should be able to briefly describe the area(s) of focus and leverage points that they have identified for improving student outcomes. These conclusions will inform and guide the selection of area(s) of focus, a theory of action, and the development of a data-driven Programmatic Improvement Action Plan.

LEAs may find the research article by Dr. Edward Fergus, Distinguishing Difference from Disability: The Common Causes of Racial/Ethnic Disproportionality in Special Education External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF; 5MB), helpful in this process. The article describes some of the commonly identified root causes of disproportionality based on work completed through the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education over six years using a data-driven process. The article also provides information on potential remedies for these common policies, practices, and beliefs that place racial/ethnic minorities and low-income students at risk.

Phase Three – Plan for Improvement

Activity One: Select Area(s) of Focus

Once the self-assessments are completed in Phase Two, LEAs select one or more areas focus for addressing significant disproportionality. Areas of focus are derived from the data and root cause analysis. These areas of focus are then distilled further to leverage points that will give the LEA the most benefit for successful change and improvement. The areas of focus become the heart of the Programmatic Improvement Action Plan. For guidance, the Phase Three: Featured Tools and Resources section contains resources on the following five areas of focus:

  • Area of Focus One: Closing the Achievement Gap
  • Area of Focus Two: Culturally Responsive School Environments
  • Area of Focus Three: Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports
  • Area of Focus Four: Using a Multi-Tiered System of Supports
  • Area of Focus Five: Access to, and Achieving in, the Least Restrictive Environment

Activity Two: Develop Programmatic Improvement Action Plan

After the LEA has completed the activities in Phase Two, the Programmatic Improvement Action Plan is developed. This Action Plan will guide the actions the LEA will take to address disproportionality, identify target student population to be served under Significant Disproportionality Coordinated Early Intervening Services (SD-CEIS), the timeframe and staff responsible for each action, and the expected outcomes. In addition, the plan will address tools and processes for assessing progress on specific actions for decreasing disproportionality.

The Action Plan

The Programmatic Improvement Action Plan addresses the following questions:

  • How does the action plan reflect the data and root cause analysis?
  • How does the action plan tie the LEA Initiative Inventory and self-assessment together?
  • How does the action plan integrate with and/or support other district initiatives and the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) priorities?
  • How does the action plan address the actions the LEA will take toward improvement?

Phase Four: Implementing, Evaluating, and Sustaining

Phase Four of the Programmatic Improvement Process involves implementing, evaluating, and sustaining the changes initiated through the Programmatic Improvement Action Plan.

Activity One: Implement Programmatic Improvement Action Plan

Based on the data and information gathered and interpreted in phases one through three of the Programmatic Improvement Process, phase four begins the implementation of the course(s) of action detailed in the Programmatic Improvement Action Plan. Implementation science research has identified the following core implementation components, or implementation drivers: staff selection, pre-service training, ongoing coaching and consultation, staff performance evaluation, data systems that support decision making, facilitative administrative support, and systems interventions. These drivers should be addressed in the Programmatic Improvement Action Plan. Success of the action plan relies on ensuring all of these areas are utilized to address the identified causal factors contributing to the local educational agency’s (LEA’s) disproportionality. Also essential are goals, benchmarks, and timelines clearly stated in the plan that allow the leadership team and stakeholders to ensure accountability to the plan. For more information on implementation research, please visit the National Implementation Research Network Web site at

Activity Two: Evaluate Effectiveness

The LEA will need to have a system to monitor and document the implementation of the Programmatic Improvement Action Plan. An ongoing process of reflection and assessment entails reviewing short-term and long-term measures using initial data points, and comparing these with benchmarks and intended outcomes.

The success of the action plan requires ongoing monitoring and evaluation of effectiveness. Periodically assessing progress will ensure the plan is on track to meet its goals. The Programmatic Improvement Action Plan should have built in an identified form of measurement(s) to gage effectiveness and to measure progress, as well as timelines for achieving expected outcomes. As needed and based on progress monitoring, the team should be given the flexibility to make appropriate adjustments to the plan.

It is important to focus on implementing interventions with fidelity before jumping to adaptation. However, LEAs may continuously adjust or adapt the plans, actions, and resources they are using to support implementation. Data related to fidelity of implementation as well as progress measures should guide these changes. For more information on implementation research, please visit the National Implementation Research Network Web site External link opens in new window or tab..

Activity Three: Build Supports and Plan for Sustainability

It is important to focus on implementing interventions with fidelity and putting supports in place before jumping to a sustainability plan. LEAs may continuously adjust or adapt their plans, actions, supports, and resources as they plan for change in disproportionate representation. Data related to fidelity of implementation as well as progress measures should guide these changes.

In education, “readiness for change” is something that needs to be developed, nurtured, and sustained. Readiness is not a pre‐existing condition waiting to be found or an enduring characteristic of a person, organization, or system. The same person, organization, or system can be in the Full Implementation stage with respect to one innovation and in the Exploration Stage for a different innovation. Accountability for creating readiness rests with the implementation team, not with those who are expected or invited to change.

Building supports into the action plan as you evaluate where you are moves your plan to sustainability. Here are a few ideas to help move toward implementing change:

Comprehensive implementation strategies need to be in place to effectively and efficiently help teachers and others make use of education innovations to benefit students. This typically means investing in

  • Building local capacity for on-going training
  • Developing and supporting a cadre of coaches who can facilitate full and effective use of innovations in practice
  • Organizing a formal plan of evaluation that emphasizes teacher/staff fidelity as well as student outcomes
  • Regular and repeated professional development experiences for faculty and staff who are engaged in the day-to-day implementation efforts

The full article, “Scaling-up Brief,” is available on the State Implementation and Scaling-up of Evidence-based Practices Center Web page External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF).

Activity Four: Complete and Submit a Survey

At the conclusion of the Phase Four activities, please complete the survey provided on the SPP-TAP Web site External link opens in new window or tab.. Please submit this survey electronically to the CDE at

More information about the Coordinated Early Intervening Services Programmatic Improvement Process can be found on the SPP TAP Web site External link opens in new window or tab..

Questions:   FMTA III | | 916-327-6966
Last Reviewed: Thursday, June 13, 2019
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