Published Online: January 15, 1997

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Special Education

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Although black students are sometimes overrepresented in special education programs, Hispanics are both under- and overrepresented in certain categories, and Asian-Americans are generally enrolled at a rate lower than their proportion in the total student population, a new report shows.

As part of its yearly report on how the primary federal special education law is implemented, the U.S. Education Department in its latest edition paid particular attention to special education in the inner city.

Explanations for the disproportionate enrollment of some racial and ethnic minorities are incomplete, but the report does offer a few possibilities: high poverty rates; the use of evaluation instruments with alleged cultural biases, such as IQ tests; or a misreading of behaviors common in students with limited English proficiency, such as limited vocabulary or poor comprehension.

After accounting for income differences, the disproportionate representation of black students in some categories drops significantly. Yet, minority overrepresentation occurs not only in disability categories that require more so-called subjective professional judgments about placement, such as mental retardation, but in categories with more objective criteria, such as deafness, blindness, and orthopedic impairments.

Overall, roughly 5.4 million children and youths from ages 3 to 21 were served under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act during the 1994-95 school year--a 3.2 percent increase from the previous year.

The data show the continuation of several trends. Just over half of the school-age students served by the law have learning disabilities. And more children are being educated in regular classrooms with their nondisabled peers; 43 percent of special education students ages 6 to 21 spent most of the day in regular classrooms in 1993-94 compared with 39.8 percent in 1992-93.

The fastest-growing disability category for school-age children is "other health impairments." Its 89 percent growth from 1990 to 1995 was due in large part to students with attention deficit disorder.

Parts of the "18th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act" are posted on the World Wide Web at http://www.ed.gov/pubs/OSEP96AnlRpt/. Limited copies are available from the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, Switzer Building, 330 C St. S.W., Room 3530, Washington, D.C. 20202.

--LYNN SCHNAIBERGlschnaib@epe.org

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