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Improving Results for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students
Research Connections
Fall 2000

State and Regional Perspectives


IDEA requires states to prepare annual reports documenting children served. As part of this report, states must determine if significant disproportionality based on race is occurring with respect to the identification of children with disabilities and the placement in particular settings of these children. If disproportionality is determined, a state must provide for a review, and if appropriate, revise its policies, procedures, and practices used in identification or placement.

NASDSE Provides Guidance to States

With OSEP support, the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) created Project Forum, a project that provides information and promotes utilization of research data and other information in improving results for students with disabilities. One area in which Project Forum has been involved is the disproportionate representation of students from racial and ethnic minority groups in special education.

Joy Markowitz and her colleagues at NASDSE have been addressing the topic for some time. One of their products is a resource guide that describes approaches that have potential for effectively preventing and addressing the disproportionate representation of students from racial and ethnic minority groups in special education. "The approaches outlined in the document are intended to serve as a guide," Markowitz cautions. "They were gleaned from extant literature, Project Forum's work in the area over the years, and recommendations and mutually agreed-upon remedies developed as part of resolution agreements between OCR and school districts in several states."

According to Markowitz, the search for more effective solutions requires an integrated and multifaceted approach, involving policy makers, administrators, educators, researchers, parents, advocates, students, and community representatives. "The disproportionate representation of students from racial and ethnic minority groups in special education reinforces the need for strong academic programs that foster success for all students in general and special education, including prevention and problem solving strategies, " Markowitz explains. "It points to the need for implementing appropriate and effective polices and procedures for special education referral, assessment, eligibility, classification, placement, and re-evaluation. It also emphasizes the need for strong home-school-community partnerships to support the educational process, increased use of community resources to implement and enhance educational programs, and effective staff development at the preservice and inservice levels." Efforts should be made at each of these levels to address the problem.

Arkansas: Many Years Collecting and Analyzing Data

In 1988, the state of Arkansas began studying its data for evidence of disproportionality. According to Mike Crowley, administrator for monitoring and technical assistance, the state has always taken a positive approach. "From the very start, we told districts that disproportionality may be problematic, and that once identified, steps could be taken to correct it." In cases where disproportionality is found, districts prepare action plans. "Most district plans include reviews of instructional practices and curriculum, as well as evaluation procedures to ensure they are not culturally biased," Crowley added.

Arkansas uses the most recent December 1 child count for its statistics. The state runs a list of districts and for each, computes the percentage of minority students in general education and the percentage of minority students in special education. The two are compared and if the difference exceeds 8.3 percent, then a determination of disproportionality is made. "When we first started looking at percentages, 98 of the 311 districts had disproportionality issues to address," Crowley comments. "Now, only 51 districts have issues." Crowley points out that numbers can fluctuate in areas where there is high student mobility.

Over the years, Arkansas has refined and expanded its procedures to look at other areas. "We now are considering the placements for students according to gender, race, and disability type," Crowley explains. "We are investigating whether minority students spend more time in particular settings than their non-minority counterparts." For example, the state is asking questions of data such as: Do more African American males receive services in self-contained settings? What is the extent of their movement to less restrictive settings?

Crowley cautions that while Arkansas has had great success with its approach, it may not work in other states. "Investigating disproportionality cannot be done as a cookie cutter approach."

Next: Contacts & Resources

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