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Monday, June 13, 2022

Inequality in Special Ed

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the civil rights of people with autism and other disabilities

Students with disabilities (SWD) who are Black or Hispanic have been reported to be more likely to be placed primarily outside of general education classrooms while attending U.S. schools. Federal law and regulation require monitoring of special education placement based on race or ethnicity. Yet whether and to what extent racial or ethnic disparities in placement are explained by bias or by other explanatory factors is currently unclear. We evaluated for racial and ethnic bias in special education placement by analyzing longitudinal data from two independent samples of SWD (N values range 590–1,130) attending U.S. elementary schools. We statistically controlled for plausibly exogenous sociodemographic, academic, and behavioral risk factors measured in kindergarten in analyses of the students as they attended first, third, and fifth grade between the 1999–2000 and 2015–2016 school years. Of the resulting 12 Black or Hispanic grade-year–specific tests, 11 (i.e., 92%) indicated that controls for kindergarten explanatory factors—particularly significant academic difficulties—fully explained the risk initially attributable to race or ethnicity. We observed little evidence that bias explains racial or ethnic disparities in special education placement in U.S. elementary schools.
From the article:
Our analyses also suggest that societal inequalities that negatively impact development before school entry, instead of racial or ethnic bias by special educators and other school personnel after school entry, largely explain racial and ethnic disparities in special educational placement in U.S. elementary schools. To avoid spurious inferences that may misinform policy and practice, future research designed to assess for systemic bias in special education placement should be designed to account for the individual educational needs of SWD as well as other explanatory factors. A particularly important explanatory factor of special education placement is whether SWD were already experiencing significant academic difficulties when they began school.