Disproportionality of Race in Special Ed Programs

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Disproportionality is the over-representation of minority students identified with a learning disability or other type of disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). When a minority group's numbers in special education are statistically higher than they should be, they are considered disproportionate.

Why Is Disproportionality a Problem?

When schools have higher numbers of certain ethnic or minority students enrolled in special education that they should have by statistical standards, it signals the possibility that some of the students may not be truly disabled and may have been incorrectly identified. There may also be under-representation of minorities in gifted education.

Disproportionality is a problem because it can:

  • Prevent children from reaching their academic potential
  • Fuel negative stereotypes regarding minority groups
  • Result in a type of racial profiling that places minority students at a disadvantage throughout their school year
  • Result in lowered expectations among teachers, parents, and the students themselves
  • Prevent schools from recognizing the need to adjust curriculum and teaching methods to reach a broad range of instructional needs of a diverse student body


Disproportionality may be caused by:

2 Sources
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  1. Cooc N, Kiru EW. Disproportionality in Special Education: A Synthesis of International Research and Trends. J Spec Educ. 2018;52(3):163-173. doi:10.1177/0022466918772300

  2. Bruce SM, Venkatesh K. Special education disproportionality in the United States, Germany, Kenya, and IndiaDisabil Soc. 2014;29(6):908-921. doi:10.1080/09687599.2014.880330

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.