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5.1: Disability and Inequality- Overrepresentation in Special Education

  • Page ID
    194458
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    Overrepresentation in special education refers to the ways in which students of color are labeled with disabilities at higher rates than their peers. Artiles and Trent (1994) explain that “even though 25 years have passed, many of the problems [of overrepresentation] still plague the field today.” Twenty-six years after Artiles and Trent (1994) wrote about 25 years of similar structural problems, educational researchers, such as Cavendish et al. (2020), continue to address the issue of overrepresentation and argue for the need for a different approach to overrepresentation. It is important for professionals working with children and families to understand overrepresentation. As an example, students of color are more likely to be identified as having a disability within our society due to many factors, including individual level implicit and explicit bias and structural bias, such as the bias found within the standardized assessments used to identify a disability in children.

    Every year, schools across the country have to report data to the U.S. Department of Education concerning their special education delivery. Some examples of disability categories where overrepresentation occurs include developmental delay, emotional disturbance, intellectual disability and specific learning disability (U.S. Department of Education, 2021, p. 51). For example, the data shows American Indian or Alaskan Native students are over four times as likely to be identified as having a developmental delay, over two times as likely to be labeled with an intellectual disability, and more than two times as likely to be identified as having a specific learning disability as their white peers. Black or African students are over 1.5 times more likely to be labeled with an emotional disturbance, over three times as likely to be labeled as having an intellectual disability, and two times as likely to be identified as having a specific learning disability as their white peers (U.S. Department of Education, 2021, p. 51). When working with children with disabilities and their families, it is important to understand that overrepresentation means that students of color are more likely to be seen as having a disability than white students.

    Pause to Reflect!

    Discuss the following questions.

    1. Re-read the data presented in this section from the U.S. Department of Education regarding the overrepresentation of students of color labeled as having a disability.
    2. Describe the implicit and explicit bias and structural bias, including standardized assessments, that lead toward overrepresentation.

    This page titled 5.1: Disability and Inequality- Overrepresentation in Special Education is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Joan Giovannini (Remixing Open Textbooks with an Equity Lens (ROTEL)) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.