Minorities May Be Underrepresented in Special Education Forget what you thought you knew about minority children in special-education classrooms, say the authors of a new study from Pennsylvania State University. Although young minority students often have been reported as overrepresented in special education across the country—something that federal laws and policies have attempted to correct—the study authors ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   October 01, 2015
Minorities May Be Underrepresented in Special Education
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Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / School-Based Settings / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   October 01, 2015
Minorities May Be Underrepresented in Special Education
The ASHA Leader, October 2015, Vol. 20, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB4.20102015.np
The ASHA Leader, October 2015, Vol. 20, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB4.20102015.np
Forget what you thought you knew about minority children in special-education classrooms, say the authors of a new study from Pennsylvania State University.
Although young minority students often have been reported as overrepresented in special education across the country—something that federal laws and policies have attempted to correct—the study authors say reality may be just the opposite: With data adjusted in new research, they say minority children may actually be less likely to receive help for disabilities compared with otherwise similar white, English-speaking children.
“The general limitation of the available studies is that they haven’t been able to correct for minority children’s unfortunate, but well-established, greater risk factor exposure to factors that themselves increase the risk for disability,” says Paul Morgan, associate professor of education at Penn State and lead author of the study, which was published in Educational Researcher. “For example, minority children in the U.S. are much more likely to be born with low birth weight than children who are white, as well as more likely to be exposed to lead in their environment.”
Tracking federal data of a nationally representative group of students from kindergarten to eighth grade, Morgan and his team found minorities—in race, ethnicity and/or language—are less likely than white children to be identified as disabled and may have less access to special-education services. Compared to their white counterparts, black children are 57 percent less likely to have intellectual impairments identified, and 77 percent less likely to have health impairments identified. Hispanic children are 27 percent less likely than whites to have learning disabilities identified, 33 percent less likely to have speech or language impairments identified, and 73 percent less likely to have health impairments identified.

Minorities—in race, ethnicity and/or language—are less likely than otherwise similar white children to be identified as disabled and may have less access to special-education services.

On its face, unadjusted data—such as numbers that show black children making up 19 percent of children in special education nationally while only accounting for 14 percent of the general school population—have prompted the federal government to call for corrective action in some school districts under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
“What’s happening is that federal officials have been monitoring and, to some extent, flagging racial bias when they observe what they view as minorities being overrepresented in special education,” says Morgan, “yet, what is occurring is that minorities are underrepresented in special education. Instead of emphasizing prevention or reduction of minority overrepresentation, cultural or language barriers may be making it less likely for minority children with disabilities to be appropriately identified and treated.”
Although Morgan and his team say their data suggest a systemic problem, rather than a tendency of schools to be racially biased when identifying disabled children, they recommend educators be aware of “cultural and language barriers” that may keep a child from being properly diagnosed.
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October 2015
Volume 20, Issue 10