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Disabled Hispanics Found More Segregated Than Blacks

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Hispanic students with disabilities are far more segregated in American high schools than black special-education students, and they get fewer classroom opportunities to learn vocational skills, according to a national study.

The study tracks the progress of 733 Hispanic high-school students nationwide who were enrolled in special-education programs during the 1985-86 school year. It suggests that students in these programs may be "doubly segregated,'' said Lynn Newman, who wrote the report for the research firm SRI International of Menlo Park, Calif.

Previous studies have shown that Hispanic students attend more racially and ethnically segregated schools than do most black students.

The new study suggests, however, that, within those schools, Hispanic special-education students are also being isolated because of their disabilities.

The study found, for instance, that Hispanic students were more likely than both white and black students in special-education programs nationwide to be in special classrooms for disabled students and that they were least likely to spend any time in regular classes.

Yet, when researchers asked parents to rate the functional abilities of their children, they found the Hispanic students were no more severely disabled than their African-American counterparts.

"If you have the same backgrounds in terms of disabilities, you would expect the school backgrounds to be the same,'' Ms. Newman said. "It was unsettling to see the differences.''

The study is thought to be the first to examine how Hispanics fare in the nation's special-education system. The data for the report were drawn from the National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students, a federally funded research effort being conducted by SRI.

That project is tracking the progress of 8,000 secondary-school special-education students, of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, as they begin to leave school. The new study, not part of the federal research contract, was released last month during a national meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

More Isolated

According to the study, most Hispanic special-education students attend large urban schools. They come from families that tend to be poorer and less educated than those of the black and white special-education students in the study sample. And more than one-quarter of the Hispanic students speak a language other than English at home.

At the time of the interviews, nearly 75 percent of those students attended schools where more than half of the students were minorities, compared with 60 percent of the black students and 6 percent of the white students.

And, within those schools, they tended to spend their time in special resource rooms or "pull out'' programs. They spent only 38 percent of their time in regular classrooms; black students spent 43 percent of their time, and white pupils 56 percent of their time, in regular classes.

Moreover, 84 percent of the Hispanic students had never received the vocational services, counseling, or job-skills training considered important to disabled students' school success. In contrast, 67 percent of the black students and 64 percent of the white students in the study reported never having received such services.

"These findings are particularly disturbing because earlier N.L.T.S. analyses suggest that students who had received vocational education were significantly more likely to ... [have had] lower absenteeism from school and a significantly lower probability of dropping out of school, when demographic and disability differences between students were controlled,'' Ms. Newman wrote.

And, although 40 percent of the Hispanic students had been employed in the 12 months preceding the survey, that percentage was far smaller than the 66 percent of white students who had been employed over the same period.

Similarly, Hispanic students were less likely to have participated in any extracurricular activities in school. According to their parents, only 23 percent of the Hispanic youths took part in such activities, compared with 39 percent of the black students and 45 percent of the white students.

The Hispanic students also missed school more frequently, averaging 22 absences a year. The absenteeism rates for black and white students in the study were 17 and 13 days a year, respectively.

The study follows the release of another SRI study, using the same data base, that revealed differences in the life patterns of male and female special-education students.

Like Hispanics, that study found, young disabled women also had fewer vocational opportunities in high school, and afterward had more trouble than their male counterparts finding well-paying jobs. They were also more likely to be parents. (See Education Week, April 29, 1992.)

These new efforts to look beyond disability categories at how special populations are faring in school handicapped programs may be "a sign of progress'' in the field, said Beatrice F. Birman, who reviewed the study on gender differences at the researchers' meeting.

"For so long in special education we've focused on issues of compliance and access, and people didn't pay that much attention to some of these other issues that would point up flaws or raise concerns about some specific group,'' said Ms. Birman, the assistant director of cross-cutting issues in education at the U.S. General Accounting Office. "The field is more mature'' now.

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