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Resources for Improvement

Topic briefs, training modules, self-study tools, workbooks, checklists, surveys, guides, handbooks, research, and reference documents related to disproportionality.

The tools listed in this section will assist California local educational agencies (LEAs) in addressing disproportionate representation and significant disproportionality issues. It is recommended that California LEAs select the tool judged to be most appropriate for local use.

The following categories organize the resources listed here and include the recommended steps for school improvement:

All resources listed here are chosen to support identified California LEAs in addressing the disproportionality issues. These resources offer an initial framework for action. The resources are drawn from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), projects funded by the ED, and other state education agencies (SEAs).

Comprehensive Programmatic Self-Assessment

A Comprehensive Programmatic Self-Assessment should include the following elements:

  • Selection and completion of one or more of the self-assessment options described in the sections below
  • 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 exiting information on of policies, procedures, and practices (beyond questions of compliance)
  • Review of existing initiatives

The following programmatic self-assessment options describe 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.

The authors’ intent for these tools is described in audio recordings found on the CDE SPP-TAP Web page External link opens in new window or tab.. A three to five minute audio description of each tool is provided by the respective authors. Additionally, Webinars and learning modules describe the appropriate use of each tool.

Programmatic Self-Assessment: Option One

The Annotated Checklist for Addressing Racial Disproportionality in Special Education External link opens in new window or tab. (DOC), by Daniel J. Losen (2008), may be downloaded as a Web document on the SPP-TAP Web page.

The three checklists on: (1) district and school resource issues; (2) system policy, procedure, and practice issues at district, school, and classroom levels; and (3) environmental factors, aid the identification of possible root causes and help LEAs develop hypotheses and action plans for more detailed exploration of racial disproportionality.

According to the author, the Annotated Checklist is designed to help LEAs form hypotheses about the likely contributors to disproportionality as manifested within the context of the LEA. Ideally, each of the three checklists should be reviewed and used as a diagnostic tool to highlight possibilities for change. LEAs should use at least the first or second checklist which both focus on factors in which the LEA has some control.

This tool is most appropriate for LEAs that: (1) desire a comprehensive reflection on the legal requirements, and (2) desire to focus beyond disproportionality to broader equity issues.

To use this tool with fidelity, LEAs must: (1) clarify definitions based on LEA context for deeper application, (2) describe and provide evidence of the response to each question or issue prompt instead of just stating the reason for identifying the issue, and (3) obtain a facilitator with specific expertise and understanding in each area.

Programmatic Self-Assessment: Option Two

The National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRESt) created a rubric tool that can be used by LEAs for programmatic self-assessment:

  • Equity in Special Education Placement: A School Self-Assessment Guide for Culturally Responsive Practice Form A: Administrators (Heraldo Richards, Alfredo Artiles, Janette Klingner, and Ayanna Brown; National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems; 2005) is a self-study tool that LEA teams can use to examine policies, procedures, and practices in general and special education to prevent disproportionality. It is ideal for school-level self-assessments and small LEAs. The Form A: Administrators Web document External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) can be found on the NCCRESt Web page.


  • Preventing Disproportionality by Strengthening District Policies and Procedures—An Assessment and Strategic Planning Process (Elizabeth Kozleski and Shelley Zion; National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems; 2006). This instrument guides the examination of LEA practices once data suggest that serious and inappropriate disproportionate referral, identification, and placement of students who are culturally and linguistically diverse may be occurring. It is ideal for mid to large size districts to supports the completion of a district-wide self-assessment and strategic planning process. The Assessment and Strategic Planning Process Web document External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) can be found on the NCCRESt Web page.

These tools assist LEA teams to examine policies, procedures, and practices in general and special education to prevent disproportionality, and include illustrated collaborative practices, appropriate supports, accommodations, curriculum modifications, effective teaching strategies, classroom-based techniques, and intervention to ensure appropriate identification.

This option is appropriate for LEAs that want to: (1) focus on general education first rather than just on special education, and (2) focus beyond disproportionality to broader equity issues.

To use this tool with fidelity, LEAs must: (1) use the tool as a rubric to provide examples of what each standard looks like at the beginning, developing, and at the standard level; (2) utilize evidence to support rating; and (3) devote the time needed for this intensive process.

Programmatic Self-Assessment: Option Three

The Racial/Ethnic Disproportionality in Special Education Data Analysis Workbook and Equity in Education Handbook (Volume 1 and 2): Addressing Racial/Ethnic Disproportionality in Special Education: Technical Assistance Manual for Identifying Root Cause, can be found on the New York University Steinhardt Web page External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF; 3MB) (Dr. Edward Fergus, Roey Ahram; Technical Assistance Center on Disproportionality; New York University, 2006).

The workbook provides the LEA with an overview of how to analyze special education and general education enrollment data in order to identify rates of disproportionality in special education classification and placement. The author, Dr. Edward Fergus, notes that the Data Analysis Workbook is part of the first module and it should be completed prior to conducting the first module. A smaller group assigned to gather and analyze the LEA data can complete the Data Analysis Workbook. The larger stakeholder team should complete the training modules that include the results of the Data Analysis Workbook. The activities and process description listed for each module should be viewed as a guide.

A major premise of the Equity in Education Handbook training modules involves understanding disproportionality as an outcome of policies, practices, and beliefs. At the end of this data-driven process, school districts will be able to identify policies, practices, and beliefs implicated in their disproportionality patterns and, more importantly, develop system-wide buy-in and perspective of this equity issue.

Together, these two documents provide a tool that is appropriate for LEAs that: (1) have an understanding of the LEA data from previous analysis, and (2) require a shared understanding of the issues.

To use this tool with fidelity, LEAs must utilize the five, six-hour training modules from the Equity in Education Handbook. These modules create a common understanding of the issues and approaches involved in conversations about disproportionality.

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Select Focus Area(s)

Once the root causes are identified, LEAs select one or more focus areas for addressing significant disproportionality. The LEA may also add focus areas beyond the five focus areas outlined below:

Focus Area One: Closing the Achievement Gap

Examine ways to improve student achievement at all levels and to create an integrated, seamless system of student learning from preschool through the twelfth grade. An LEA could examine the results of the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) and the California School Climate Survey (CSCS) to guide efforts in closing the achievement gap (CTAG) to improve the teaching and learning environments of all schools. Please note these surveys do not cover the knowledge and methods used to analyze LEA practices and reveal information about significant disproportionality, nor do they explore what is necessary to address the three programmatic self-assessment tools. Examination and analysis of the CHKS and the CSCS is not equivalent to completion of a programmatic self-assessment process.

CTAG training topics could include:

  • Data-driven decision-making
  • Alignment of curriculum, instruction and assessment, and differentiated instruction
  • Culturally responsive leadership and instructional practices
  • Positive behavioral intervention and supports
  • Leadership and CTAG

CTAG resources that support the work of policymakers, educators, and interested community members are available on the WestEd CHKS Web page External link opens in new window or tab.. This Web page is the electronic hub for helpful information, research, and success stories about efforts to close the achievement gap in California.

Focus Area Two: Culturally Responsive School Environments

Become aware of cultural differences, adapted programs, interventions (as appropriate), and the effects of monitoring intervention for particular groups of students that have been historically marginalized. Culturally responsive school environments are those that have a comprehensive, culturally relevant, and responsive strategy for educators that help them become the kind of educator that can teach any student effectively. There are at least four LEA/school organizational categories in which culturally responsive principles can be applied: (1) Data analysis and monitoring; (2) Policies, practices, and procedures Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS); (3) Curriculum and instruction; and (4) Student and family engagement. For supporting information on MTSS, please visit the CDE Brokers of Expertise MTSS: Common Core State Standards professional learning module External link opens in new window or tab..

Culturally Responsive Educational Systems training topics could include:

  • Research-based interventions
  • Principles of culturally responsive school environments and teaching
  • Principles of differentiated instruction
  • Programmatic strategies for language development and English language literacy for adolescent English language learners in inclusive classrooms
  • Targeted interventions and supports for moderate to high risk students
  • Responding with cultural awareness to classroom conduct
  • Leadership: setting the tone and the laying the foundation for culturally responsive education

Additional resources are available through The Equity Alliance at Arizona State University Web page External link opens in new window or tab.. The Equity Alliance provides information and support to state and local school systems on high-quality and effective opportunities for all students to learn, and reducing disparities in academic achievement.

Focus Area Three: Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports

Integrate positive behavior interventions and support (PBIS) systems with the academic support systems within the LEA and school sites. School-wide PBIS (SWPBS) can be understood as:

. . . a decision-making framework that guides selection, integration, and implementation of the best evidence-based academic and behavioral practices for improving important academic and behavior outcomes for all students. In general, SWPBS emphasizes four integrated elements: (a) data for decision making, (b) measurable outcomes supported and evaluated by data, (c) practices with evidence that these outcomes are achievable, and (d) systems that efficiently and effectively support implementation of these practices. (Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports)

PBIS training topics might include:

  • Integrate PBIS systems with academic support systems
  • Sustain the use of effective prevention and behavioral support practices as a priority to make schools safe, effective, and supportive places to learn
  • Institute well-organized, clearly articulated systems of intervention in five areas: school-wide, classroom, common areas, individual students, and family support and collaboration
  • Build and maintained a positive "social culture"
  • Operate out of a conviction that all students with chronic problem behavior can benefit from the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports

Jeffrey Sprague, Ph.D., under contract with the CDE, created The Positive Behavioral Supports for Safe, Healthy, and Effective Schools. Core messages articulate critical research findings and essential components of effective application.

The Technical Assistance Center on PBIS was established by the U.S. Department of Education to give schools capacity-building information and technical assistance to identify, adapt, and sustain effective school-wide disciplinary practices. Valuable tools and materials are at the PBIS Web site External link opens in new window or tab..

Focus Area Four: Response to Instruction and Intervention Using a Multi-Tiered System of Supports

California supports the utilization of an MTSS when describing a framework for LEAs and schools to instruct students in the California Common Core State Standards. MTSS describes a data-driven solution-based model for delivering integrated behavioral and academic instruction and intervention with varying intensity (tiers) based on student need. It assumes that the general education classroom (Tier One of MTSS) delivers universally designed and culturally responsive instruction in order for maximum student achievement and success.

In order to ensure all students are successful in achieving in their grade level standards, establishing an MTSS LEA-wide is helpful in order to meet the needs of all students in their least restrictive environment (LRE). MTSS is not another term for Response to Intervention (RtI) or RtI2. MTSS describes an evidence-based model for LEAs to ensure that high quality, universally designed, and differentiated instruction is occurring in every classroom. This is validated through data-driven instructional adjustments and differentiation, which drives teachers’ daily instructional decisions. For students who require additional supports, MTSS puts policies and procedures in place to ensure these individual needs are met.

MTSS conceptualizes the approach to designing LEA systems that: (1) efficiently and collaboratively focus resources to provide all students with high-quality core instruction, and (2) respond to any student’s need for differentiated instruction and/or targeted academic or behavioral interventions and supports. This approach is grounded in effective, evidence-based, core instructional practices where every student is able to access the curriculum and standards, regardless of their learning style or ability.

Training topics in this area may include:

  • Supporting implementation of an LEA-wide MTSS framework
  • Understanding your student data (for teachers and principals)
  • Research-based interventions
  • Using universal design to create differentiated lesson plans
  • Systematic intervention and monitoring
  • Principles of culturally responsive school environments and teaching
  • Strategies for language development and English language literacy
  • Positive behavioral supports
  • Targeted interventions for high risk students
  • Integrating RtI at school sites

Focus Area Five: Access to, and Achieving in, the Least Restrictive Environment

Research supports improved academic outcomes for all students occur to a greater extent when they are given the opportunity to learn with age appropriate peers in classrooms with high quality, universally designed, data-driven, and culturally responsive instruction, with appropriate supports and accommodations. Improving access to, and instruction in, the general education classroom that engages and supports all learners is the foundation of focus area five.

The areas to address within focus area five consist of research-validated activities that focus on practices found to improve learning for all students. They are based on the California LRE Core Messages, which include:

  • Educational Infrastructure: Educating all students in the LRE requires adequate and accessible physical environments and structures that support instruction in the wide range of students’ physical, academic, and behavioral needs. Also necessary is alignment of district and school initiatives, policies, and procedures relative to educational placement and continuum, facility planning, staff resource allocation, scheduling, and staff accountability for student achievement. Numerous tools are available to assist in the analysis of LEA policies, procedures, and practices and their relationship to educational infrastructure.
  • Instructional Capacity: Educators require the appropriate tools, knowledge, skills, and support necessary to provide quality, differentiated instruction in order to address the wide array of student learning needs in their classroom. Access to the core curriculum for all students begins with teachers and instructional leaders who receive high quality, evidence-based professional development and on-going support and training for continued professional improvement.
  • School Culture, Climate, and Leadership: Research has validated a positive correlation between school culture and climate, and student engagement. Positive school culture and climates have also been directly linked to higher academic achievement. A positive school climate with strong leadership and vision is academically, behaviorally, and culturally responsive. It requires administrators and teachers to continually strive to create and maintain inclusive learning environments where students are engaged, achieve, and feel safe.
  • Family and Community Engagement: Numerous models for school, family, and community partnerships have been validated as key components in school and student success in recent years, providing further proof that engagement matters. Students thrive in environments where family and school goals are aligned and where communities take an active role in their local schools. The recent changes in California’s education system, including Local Control Funding Formula and the California Common Core State Standards, provide great opportunity to engage families and community members in new and authentic ways leading to deeper involvement. California’s Family Engagement Framework is one tool to address alignment of family and community participation across programs.

The LRE core messages articulate critical research findings and essential components of effective application.

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

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Questions:   FMTA III | | 916-327-6966
Last Reviewed: Monday, August 12, 2019
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