Black students and Hispanic students are less likely than their white and non-Hispanic peers to be labeled with a disability, when factors such as household income, low birth weight, and parents’ marital status are taken into account, according to a new study.
The findings challenge the notion that overt or unconscious bias has funneled a disproportionate number of minority students into special education. The study was published online June 24 by the journal Educational Researcher.
Researchers analyzed a national sample of students from five of the 13 federal disability categories—emotional disturbance, intellectual disability, “other health impairment,” specific learning disability, and speech and language impairment. They looked at not only race but at other variables that correlate with educational outcomes: English-language status, birth weight, insurance status, household income, and mother’s marital status. They also controlled for the child’s achievement and behavior. After accounting for such factors, the probability of being identified for special education was lower in every category for minority students.
Lead author Paul L. Morgan of Pennsylvania State University said just reporting the share of black children identified with a disability is not enough: Risk factors seem to make a difference. For example, black children may be more likely to be born at a low birth weight, or in low-income households.
A version of this article appeared in the July 08, 2015 edition of Education Week as Study: Minorities Less Likely to Be in Spec. Ed.