- There are disparities in the ways states identify and address services for students with special needs, according to a new report by the Frontline Research and Learning Institute, titled “Crossing the Line: Exploring Equity in Special Education Across the United States,” District Administration reports.
- Though identification practices varied widely, about 56% of educators feel that the number of students classified for special education was correct, though the states with the highest numbers of students classified with special needs — New York, Massachusetts, Maine and Pennsylvania — were less likely to agree with the number of students classified in their states.
- Many survey respondents cited the Response to Intervention (RTI) program as one reason fewer students are classified for special education in their states.
According to the report, 13% of the public school enrollment, or 6.6 million students ages 3-21, were being served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in the 2014-15 school year. However, the report also notes that “IDEA allows districts significant flexibility at the local level in determining the methods they use to identify and classify special education students. It is therefore acknowledged that the students who meet the requirements of an eligible category in one state may not meet the requirement in another state.”
Without a universal standard established, this disparity can create issues for students who move from one state to another. Though some general guidelines exist, the issue can be confusing because methods of identification seem to be somewhat arbitrary and dependent on the perspective of the educator. For instance, the report notes that a “greater percentage of special education teachers and principals believed more students should be classified compared to the number that currently is in their school system. On the other hand, a greater percentage of administrators/directors of special education believed fewer students should be classified than are currently in their school systems.”
One of the best ways for administrators to be sure that special education designations are appropriate is to make sure English learner specialists are in place. The report notes that EL are often misclassified as special education students because of the lack of specialists who can provide proper support for language instruction. The inclusion of EL specialists in the process can help ensure that students are not labeled improperly and receive adequate instruction.