Monthly Archives: January 2012

Special Education Over-identification News 2012

At-Risk Black Children

Education Week reporter Nirvi Shah tracks news and trends of interest to the special education community, including administrators, teachers, and parents.”

Ms. Shah points out the need to reduce the over-identification of black school children. “While African Americans make up approximately 17 percent of public school enrollment, they account for 31 percent of students identified as having mental retardation or intellectual disabilities, 28 percent of students labeled as having an emotional disturbance, and 21 percent of students who have learning disabilities. Some of these categories aren’t pure medical diagnoses, calling judgment, and perhaps bias, into play.”

We stress here that this is a well known problem which is recycled over and over again by well-intended journalists who do not know the history and understate the national issue.  The problem has been documented since 1960.


The Federal Education Budget Project Blog writes  to say current IDEA funding is designed to minimize the over-identification of at-risk children for special education placement. “New money is distributed in this manner to avoid encouraging special education over-identification, that is, to prevent schools from wrongly identifying low-performing students as “disabled” in order to secure a greater share of federal funding. Setting a base and adjusting it according to population changes removed any incentive to over-identify students as disabled.”   2012

State Variations

Ben Wieder of the Stateline Organization has presented an excellent summary of current trends on the over-identification reduction front.  Identification rates vary from state to state, although the reasons are somewhat a matter of  opinion.

One possibility is changing service delivery models for teachers and special education personnel:  “Stephen Frank, a director at Education Resource Strategies, a private consulting firm, says that putting too many students in special education is among the most inefficient practices in all of education. His company works with school districts to help them make the best use of their resources. He advocates for larger classes, co-taught by both general and special education teachers, or bringing specialists in to traditional classes to help special education students rather than sending those students out of the class for extra help. He also suggests that districts consider encouraging their traditional teachers to get cross-certified in special education, rather than relying only on additional special education teachers.”

IEP Teams

Ed Law Connect in California publishes an article by Englebrecht and Newman, having the title, “Over-identification and misidentification (April, 2012, to advise school IEP teams about the risks of mis-identification of at risk children:

“It is essential that IEP team members understand how to properly identify students who are eligible for special education and related services. There are times when a referral for an evaluation for special education is made by a parent or teacher for a student who is struggling academically but does not have a true disability or where a student has a medical diagnosis but does not require special education and related services and is consequently also not eligible for special education (and may or may not be eligible for a 504 plan). IEP teams should be sufficiently familiar with the eligibility requirements of federal and state law and avoid the potential harm of wrongly identifying a student as eligible for special education.”

IEP Team Decision Making

Writing in Ed Law Connect, Geneva Englebrecht  and Adam Newman state perfectly  some of the problems involved in IEP decision-making leading to misevaluations of at-risk children.  Lots can go wrong in meetings, especially when school leaders move meetings along at warp speed with inadequate explanation so as not to “waste time.”

“It is essential that IEP team members understand how to properly identify students who are eligible for special education and related services. There are times when a referral for an evaluation for special education is made by a parent or teacher for a student who is struggling academically but does not have a true disability or where a student has a medical diagnosis but does not require special education and related services and is consequently also not eligible for special education (and may or may not be eligible for a 504 plan). IEP teams should be sufficiently familiar with the eligibility requirements of federal and state law and avoid the potential harm of wrongly identifying a student as eligible for special education.”

Great work!


In Over-Identification of Minority Children in Special Education – What Can Be Done? the post makes a key point about the need to study local data of misidentification:

“Better keeping оf data to include increased information abоut race, gender, and race by gender categories. More detailed, systematic, and comprehensive data collections wоuld provide a better sense of demographic representation in special education thаt cоuld bettеr hеlp understand thіs issue.”

Many special education teachers and personnel either have no clue about who makes up their caseloads, or are in deep denial.


U. S. Department of Education

“In 1980, Congress established the Department of Education as a Cabinet level agency. Today, ED operates programs that touch on every area and level of education. The Department’s elementary and secondary programs annually serve nearly 14,000 school districts and some 56 million students attending roughly 99,000 public schools and 34,000 private schools. Department programs also provide grant, loan, and work-study assistance to more than 15 million postsecondary students….”

The Department is a regulatory body, publishing regulations for education practices.  Regulation traces from the president to the secretary and down the line.  Here is a 2012 example:

The Obama administration today released a broad set of rules to strengthen federal student aid programs at for-profit, nonprofit and public institutions by protecting students from aggressive or misleading recruiting practices, providing consumers with better information about the effectiveness of career college and training programs, and ensuring that only eligible students or programs receive aid.

These new rules will help ensure that students are getting from schools what they pay for: solid preparation for a good job,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.”

IDEA 2004

The Department publishes a report on the implementation of IDEA.  “This report was produced under U.S. Department of Education Contract No. ED06CO0062 with New Editions Consulting, Inc. Rosa E. Olmeda served as the contracting officer’s representative.  The current report is the “30th Annual Report to Congress on the  Implementation of the  Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2008.”  The report is distributed by levels of regulatory offices.

Secretary of Education

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)

Director of the Office of Special Education Programs

“Prior to 1975, educational opportunities for handicapped children were haphazard, and, more often, nonexistent. Congress tried to assist the States, but these efforts proved unsatisfactory. To help the States respond more effectively, Congress passed the Education For All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (EHA) to assure that every handicapped child received a “free appropriate public education.”

University of Puget Sound Law Review [Vol. 7:183] 

Superintendents Key to Special Education Over-identification

Progress in the analysis of education over-identification of at-risk American school children suggests that the chief problem is regulatory in nature.  One can make the judgment Congress and the Courts dating back to the 1960s established a clear foundation for regulating proper placements of children in special education. IDEA 2004 added provisions to reduce over-identification.  Regulation has not been a total failure but performance has been impaired.  An underlying factor is indifference all the way from down to the local school level.

If there is one breakdown in the chain of regulation it rests with America’s superintendents of schools.  IDEA established state educational agencies (SEAs) and local agencies (LEAs) so that every inch of America has a school where at-risk children can receive care.  Child find is a plan even to search out children in need.  In charge of every LEA jurisdiction is a school administrator, typically, the superintendent,  who has the legal authority to investigate problems of misidentification, especially for minority children.

In this prior post we suggested grades for folks in the chain of regulation, based on the fact there are only voices in the wilderness addressing the wrongs of over-identification.

Grading the Experts

The more one becomes familiar with the history of special education over-identification (including disproportionality) the more one sees the anemic efforts made by private and public institutions.  The problem should not be regarded as a current “hot topic.”  It is a neglected topic, even ignored.

For example, Edward Fergus, writing for Essential Educator (http://essential, ”Distinguishing Difference from Disability: The Common Causes of Racial/Ethnic Disproportionality in Special Education,” reports:

“Since Lloyd Dunn’s report (1968) on the overrepresentation of Black and Latino students in special education countless federal, state and district reports, as well as research studies exist that document the various facets of educational practice impacting these rates. Most recently the over-representation picture is troubling:  in 2008, the school enrollment of Blacks (15.5%) differed greatly from their representation in special education (20.4%) and among students with an Emotional Disturbance classification (29.1%); while enrollment of Whites (55.5%) was mirrored in special education (55.9%) and among students with an ED classification (56.3%).”

We pay decision makers good money to address these historic problems and make them right.  Let’s give some suggested grades based on what we are seeing in 2011.


College Instructors:  D-.  Classroom instruction comes up short.  After 40 years we should be seeing more leadership from education to sort out misidentification.

Principals:  B-.  Manage an enormous volume of work and will help improve special education when asked.  Often do not have enough authority to make changes. Poor managers of Title 1 programs.

Attorneys:  C+.  Despite public suspicion, attorneys bring rational thinking to special education policies.  They support parents and disseminate legal opinions. Important cases brought to the courts have changed education for the better.

Congress:  B+.  IDEA 97 turned the corner and put in place the equipment needed for equal opportunity in education.  Light on workable solutions, however. For example, recommendations to train teachers seldom work, and money has provided “perverse incentives.”

Related Services Personnel:  F.  Too busy getting to the next appointment.  Failure to take on roles in education.

General Education (SEA):   F.  Dropped the ball on title 1 programs, turning out to be ineffective for providing remedial support, while allowing over-referral to special education programs.

Cabinet:  D.  Our presidents and secretaries of education have jaw boned too little on the subject of over-identification.  The “culture of compliance” has continued without innovation in total special education management.

Parent Groups:  B-.  They keep special education issues in front of the public eye but favor special education as a substitute for general education remediation.  They do not worry enough about stigmas of placement and least restrictive environment nearly enough.

Special Education Directors:  D+.  Do a difficult job efficiently but typically lack adequate knowledge for the complexities at hand.  Fall into the compliance game to satisfy state auditors.  Are over-shadowed by other school administrators in general education.

State Governments (SEAs):  D-.  Wide variation in performance state-to-state but overall not much push for substantive change in special education beyond what is expected of them. Sometimes cause more problems than they are worth.

School Psychology:  D-.  Does try to quantify behaviors, but ends up with invalid instruments for classifying learning disabled children and lending support to the growth of  the emotional disturbance category where misplacement abounds.  Some positive signs for reducing over-identification now.

Local Superintendents:  C-.  They do try to implement laws as they come down to them and this helps at-risk children but they get caught up in money issues and community pressures.

Curriculum Directors:  F.  Failure to  show up.  Leave superintendents twisiting in the wind.

State Legislatures:  F.  Do not seem to know much about education and special education policies.

Advocacy Organizations:  I.  Difficult to separate out their agendas, some of which are tied to political positions.  As non-profit organizations they have built in conflicts of interest, too many masters to serve.

Citizen Tax Payers.  D-.  But how can they know when schools lack transparency? When they care, they are great.  Parents of handicapped children must be admired.

Department of Education:  C.  Yes, they do form the regulations and do some spot reinforcement but put very little force behind curbing misidentification.  Too insular and passive.

Professional Organizations:  D-.  Are in the bind of having to protect jobs for their graduates.  They too suffer from conflicting goals brought on by their non-profit status.

Medical doctors:  B+.  Still a solid link in the system of judgment and placement. They often lack follow up skills to help handicapped children pull through and do not have a clue about education assessment.

Journalists:  D+.  Difficult to generalize because of major news investigations but very little cultural memory for this recurring problems.  The New York Times is an exception, with its excellent archives.   Local news organizations are too caught up in news cycles and fad issues.  Don’t say, “Didn’t this happen last year?”

Teachers:  C+. They have the spirit and the competence but are overly compliant because of heavy work demands.  Their problem is they are all too willing to ship mis-fit kids off to special education, a kind of “get them out of my hair” approach.

Clerical:  I.  Contribute to the compliance problem but are badly needed and often are very helpful.  Lack perspectives on their important jobs in education and can’t see beyond clerical deadlines.

School Boards.  D+.  Have a difficult job given their knowledge, time and community pressures. They rely on the professionals for good advice and often do not get it.

Websites Authors:  D-.  Preoccupied by procedural issues and the “how to.”  Difficult to assess.  Lack follow up and conclusive accomplishments.

Academic / Scholars:  B.  Scholars write helpful papers forming an archive overcoming historical shortsightedness.  Archival research is the only protection we have against political repetition and impulsivity.


“Grading” only serves to pinpoint responsibilities in the chain of decision-makers who can do something about over-placement and over-retention of at-risk American school children but drop the ball.   We rely on the good sense of Linda Schrock Taylor to remind us of the stark facts:

“So, do not underestimate the strength of this black hole, and the power of federal monies – education and Medicaid – to create and sustain the energy force that entraps and holds these children. Do notice how few honest steps are taken to bring about real reform – ones that would actually, and effectively, educate American children in general, and special education students, in particular. The most shocking and inexcusable aspect of the pretense, the mouth-service, given to “accountability,” is the dearth of professionals who actively attempt to get students OUT of Special Education. Few see any value in specifically structuring special education programs towards ‘repairing’ and releasing children; few feel any urge to commend an exiting child; few see the importance of choosing curriculum and methods that would prevent the need for such programs in the first place.“

Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 40 years to pull up our grades to passing marks.

Regulation of Education Disproportionality


Secretary of Education

Director, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)

Director, Office of Special Education Programs

Director of State Educational Agency

“Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), state education agencies (SEAs) bear the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to all children and youth with disabilities. 20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(11)(A). SEAs are required to engage in several administrative activities to fulfill this fundamental responsibility. One of the most significant involves compliance monitoring of local education agencies (LEAs). See, 34 C.F.R. §§ 300.125(b)(3); 300.128(b)(2); 300.556; and 300.600.”



Director of Local Educational Agency

Director of Special Education

IEP Facilitator

“A representative of the local educational agency who is qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, special education, is knowledgeable about the general education curriculum and is knowledgeable about and authorized by the local educational agency to commit the available resources of the local educational agency.  115.78(1m)(d)….A principal, special education director, teacher, or anyone who can be sure the services in the IEP are provided to the child.  This person must know about the regular education curriculum and the school district’s resources.  The LEA representative must have the authority to commit resources.”

Teacher, Parent


Why Do School Speech Pathologists Allow Over-identification?

Our experience posting on special education over-identification of at-risk

children has exposed a deep paradox simple to state.

Lupe Posada, signed. “Day of the Dead Woman.”

Paradox:  Speech-language pathologists complain about teaching overloads but

continue to over-admit non-disabled children.  

Go figure!