Disproportionality Researching the Overrepresentation of Minority Students in Special Education

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Introduction This paper focuses on the overrepresentation or over-identification of minority students found in special education in our schools. I chose to research this topic because being an immigrant myself, I can relate to the education experience of a student who is new to the American school system. Debates on the overrepresentation of minority students, particularly African- Americans and Hispanics are not new in special education and have characterized research in this field for over three decades. Regardless of time, legislative debate and a great amount of research theories, this problem remains. “In general, research has supported the public concern but the picture is unclear because studies have varied so much with respect to definitions of minority representation in findings across ethnic groups and technical methods (Coutinho & Oswald, 1999, p. 66). It is on the definition of minorities, the methods used to calculate date and the identification of minority students that most studies focus in an attempt to address this overrepresentation. In other words, there are so many variables that come into play that even the most thorough research cannot possibly address them all.
The main purpose of this paper is to identify the concept of overrepresentation, discuss the factors that cause it and recommend strategies to address it.

The Nature of the Problem

There is an assumption about overrepresentation among all minority groups and that is that when represented accurately, the proportion of different ethnic groups in a category or program should be equal to the proportion of the same group in the general school population. When an ethnic group features two disproportionate groups in the school population, whether it is on a district, state or national scale, overrepresentation occurs. Oswald, Coutinho, Best and Singh (1999) defined overrepresentation as “the extent to which membership in a given ethnic group affects the probability of



References: Artiles, A.J. (1998). The dilemma of difference: Enriching the disproportionality Discourse with theory and context Artiles, A.J. & Trent, S. (1994). Overrepresentation of minority students in special education: A continuing debate Chinn, P.C. & Hughes, S. (1987). Representation of minority students in special education classes Coutinho, M.J. & Oswald, D.P. (1999). Ethnicity and special education research: Identifying questions and methods MacMillan, D.J. & Reschly, D.J. (1998). Overrepresentation of minority students: The case for greater specificity or reconsideration of the variables examined Maker, C.J (1995). Identification of gifted minority students: A national problem, needed changes and a promising solution Naglieri, J.A. & Rojahn, J (2001). Intellectual classifications of Black and White children in special education programs using the WISC III and Cognitive Assessment Oswald, D.P., Coutinho, M.J., Best, A.M & Singh, N. (1999). Ethnic representation in special education: The influence of economic demographic variables Patton, J. (1998). The disproportionate representation of African-Americans in special education: The influence of economic and demographic variables Perkins-Gough,D.(1998). The disproportionate representation of African-Americans in special education: Looking behind the curtain for understanding and solutions Serna, L.A, Forness, S.R. & Nielsen, M.E. (1998). Intervention vs. affirmation: Proposed solutions to the problemn of disproportionate minority representation in special Townsend, B.L (2002). ‘Testing while Black’: Standards based school reform and African American learners Zhang, D. & Katsiyannis, A. (2002). Minority overrepresentation in special education: A persistent challenge

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