Category Archives: Over-identification Groups

26. Special Education Overidentification: “Struggling Children”

From 2009 to 2011 we see articles making reference to “struggling children” in American public schools.  Renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act has brought out discussion of this group of children who have academic difficulties according to test norms.  The common denominator is academic difficulty and history says these are Title I children.  

Many were non-disabled children put in special education for remedial support rather than intervention.  Referrals from general education to special education started the process of overidentification.  RTI is proposed as a new applied program to prevent premature placements in special education.


25. Special Education Overidentification: Poor Children

IDEA 2004 strengthened requirements for LEAs to quickly transfer special education documents between schools, especially for migrant children.  Poor record keeping can lead to recurring misidentification.

Being poor does not necessarily predict school performance.  Poor Asian children statistically reportedly out-perform other ethnic groups, having higher graduation rates.

Poverty is a macro-variable which includes clusters of smaller factors:  Poverty — > neglected health problems –> otitis media — classroom hearing problems.

There is the braod sense poor children are more likely sent to special education.  Data are needed.

13. Special Education Overidentification 2011: Technology

The availability of technology in support of IEP goals for many special education children becomes an over-identification problem when least restrictive environments are considered and dismissals comes up.  A child who can make progress but lacks tech support confronts a FAPE issue.  And if progress isn’t made, how does master IEP goals to meet exit criteria.

Hence, as we argue, over-identification is a much broader subject than whether non-disabled minority children are incorrectly taken into special education.

11. Special Education Overidentification 2011: Gifted

Gifted children are frequently classroom management problems.  They appear to have behavioral issues.  Some end up in special education because they are evaluated as ADHD children.  Awareness is growing on this topic and more must be said.  The irony is striking, though; our brightest children in special education.

“Frequently, bright children have been referred to psychologists or pediatricians because they exhibited certain behaviors (e.g., restlessness, inattention, impulsivity, high activity level, daydreaming) commonly associated with a diagnosis of ADHD…Almost all of these behaviors, however, might be found in bright, talented, creative, gifted children. Until now, little attention has been given to the similarities and differences between the two groups, thus raising the potential for misidentification in both areas – giftedness and ADHD” (Teacher Vision).

9. Special Education Overidentification 2011: Hispanics

The National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials has published a paper with the title, “Limited English Proficient Students and Special Education” which addresses special education misidentification.  Hispanic school children are among the children misidentified: 

“Specialists assume that approximately the same proportion of students with disabilities will be found in any population.[3] Based upon this assumption, statistically, about 12% of the language minority population in the United States should require special education.[4] But generally, language minorities are over-represented in programs for the learning disabled.[5] For instance, in California, where students with limited English proficiency make up 22.2% of the student population[6] , LEP students (also known as English language learners or ELL students) are significantly over-represented in special education, particularly in specific learning disabilities and speech impairment classes.[7]

There are countless other groups of non-English speaking school children who need to learn basic language skills.  They are placed in special education for remediation when locals schools do not have adequate second-language programs for them.

Limited English Proficient Students and Special Education   

Britton Loftin, writing for Politics365 (“African Americans Falsely Tagged Special Ed in Houston,” 2011), reports on patterns of disproportionality in Houston, Texas.  Superintendent Terry Grier has directed attention to the problem: “An audit done by a Boston firm, along with research conducted by Grier’s administration, made statistical comparisons to other school districts.   The report done by Thomas Hehir and Associates of Boston studied HISD in the fall of 2010….”  The study found Hispanic pupils with English language needs were categorized as special education pupils.   “He believes that too many Hispanic students are not being helped with the English language at the elementary level, such that when they reach the middle and high school levels the school is unable to work with them and, consequently, moves them to special education.”

8. Special Education Overidentification 2011: Black Americans

In May of 2002, The Alliance for Excellent Education announced the beginning of plans to re-authorize IDEA. One heading said, “MINORITY OVER-IDENTIFICATION: IDEA Reauthorization Underway on Capitol Hill.” At the same time President George W. Bush “created a special Commission on Excellence in Special Education,” partly to study the problem over over-identification.”

Alliance reported: “The reauthorization bill will undoubtedly attempt to reform a system in which race often plays a role in whether a child is labeled learning disabled. Currently, African-American students account for 16 percent of the U.S. student population, but represent 32 percent of the student in programs for mild mental retardation.” Congress wanted to reduce the number of special education pupils.

“In a recent editorial for The Detroit News, Matt Ladner directs Washington, D.C., to “thoroughly investigate every possible cause of this over-identification problem, from perverse financial incentives to outright racial bias.” He points to medical research that demonstrates a “strong link between ineffective reading instruction and later learning disabilities.” Referring to a 2001 Progressive Policy Institute/Fordham Foundation collection of studies on special education, Ladner writes that a team of medical doctors estimated that “nearly 2 million children have learning disabilities that could have been prevented with proper, rigorous and early reading instruction.”

For the renewal, Congress published a summary report in 2003, which covered testimony before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (naspon). The body wanted a “performance-driven” instead of a “compliance-driven” model, and to strengthen FAPE protections by “reducing misidentification of students.” The Commission on Excellence in Special Education was critical of the high emphasis on school paperwork and compliance without regard for over-identification.


Nuclear Education (February 2011) provides more detail:

 “About 9% of all school age children are diagnosed with a disability and receive special education services. But African-American children receive special education services at a rate about 40% higher than the national average across racial and ethnic groups at about 12.4%. Studies have shown that schools that have mostly white students and teachers, place a disproportionately high number of minority children in special education.”

Over-Identification of Minority Children in Special Education  

Britton Loftin, writing for Politics365 (“African Americans Falsely Tagged Special Ed in Houston,”, 2011), reports on patterns of disproportionality in Houston, Texas.  Superintendent Terry Grier has directed attention to the problem:

“An audit done by a Boston firm, along with research conducted by Grier’s administration, made statistical comparisons to other school districts.   The report done by Thomas Hehir and Associates of Boston studied HISD in the fall of 2010.   The study found that, “African American students in HISD are dramatically over-represented in the categories of mental retardation and emotional disturbance.”

7. Special Education Overidentification 2011: Native Americans

“Over-identification of Native children as needing special education, including speech-language treatment, was a key concern identified in a recently completed study of Native American students in Washington state public schools” (Inglebret et al., Infusing Tribal Culture in Washington Schools, The ASHA Leader, 15, 24-25, 2010).

In Washington state, there is an “achievement gap” between Native and non-Native children.

Overidentification of Native children was traced to a “lack of visibility of Native culture in the regular curriculum..,” resource distribution, personnel preparation, and misuse of standardized testing procedures.

Standard testing procedures rely on formats involving pictures and written words having limited Native content.

“As a consequence, standardized testing procedures may be unfamiliar to a child and disconnected from daily life and may not, therefore, accurately reflect a child’s full potential.” Thus misevaluation leads to overidentification to say nothing about the problems of exiting Native children from speech and language services.

SLPs often do not have enough information to interpret cultural and linguistic differences: “For example, a boy who speaks White Mountain Apache may seem to be lisping to the ear of the referring teacher. A science approach is to point out that his native language contains a lateral stop fricative that sounds exactly like a lisp. Therefore, there is no diagnosis of disability. The boy simply has an accent carried over from his first language” (cf. 5. SLP Caseloads).

Arizona’s Goldwater Institute summarized a 2000 civil rights report on disproportionality.  Arizona has a large Native American population:

The OCR’s data for Arizona public schools confirms the pattern established in previous research conducted with more limited data: minority students attending predominantly white public schools in Arizona are significantly more likely to be placed in special education programs than their peers. Overall, when comparing the combined rates of children with Emotionally Disturbed, Mentally Retarded, and Specific Learning Disability labels, both American Indian and Hispanic males are labeled at a rate 64 percent higher in schools that are 75 percent or more white than in schools that are 25 percent or less white. The same figure for white male students shows an almost 50 percent decline in disability rates. These results come about despite the fact that minority students attending predominantly white schools are less likely on average to grow up in poverty than minority students attending predominantly minority schools.

Race to the Bottom: Minority Children and Special Education in Arizona Public Schools

6. Special Education Overidentification 2011: Girls

We know boys are over-represented in America’s special education departments. 


There is some contributions of biological differences (cerebral dominance), or that is what is supposed.  But the argument doesn’t hold water.  The patterns of disproportionality in special education nationally are so distorted one has to think it is a systems problem only.

A recurring explanation is the majority of teachers and therapists are women.  Compliant girls are favored.  It is pleasant having a nice quiet girl in your room who does everything right.  A quiet hearing-impaired girl might go completely undetected because she is easy to teach.

Perhaps the one reason eccentric Truman Capote became a famous author was that he was accidentally identified as super bright during the field testing of an IQ test.  In today’s schools he would have a problem.  Gifted boys are sometimes put in special education because they don’t fit in.

Few school speech-language pathologists are men. Do SLPs favor girls?


5. Special Education Overidentification 2011: Boys

Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Times (2010), puts his finger on a problem concerning the lowered school achievement of boys:

“A new report just issued by the Center on Education Policy, an independent research organization, confirms that boys have fallen behind in reading in every single state. It found, for example, that in elementary schools, about 79 percent of girls could read at a level deemed “proficient,” compared with 72 percent of boys. Similar gaps were found in middle school and high school.”

A new book by Richard Whitmire, “Why Boys Fail,” confirms the picture we have of failing boys:

“Boys are twice as likely to get suspended as girls, and three times as likely to be expelled. Estimates of dropouts vary, but it seems that about one-quarter more boys drop out than girls.”

In our posts here we make it clear boys are at-risk for needless special education placement, especially when they are minority boys. We make it clear that boys are among the “hard to teach” pupils whose fate is special education because there is no other program to put them in. They are not wanted in the classroom and their sagging school status is reinforced by special education classification. They are among the “struggling students” who are lost between the domains of general and special education confounded by requirements of No Child Left Behind and IDEA 2004.

Another way of addressing the issue is the under-representation of girls in special education programs.  WHY?

Amazon Review

The book is available for sale at, used and new.  Here is a review by one customer for your convenience:


E. Jones


.  Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That’s Leaving Them Behind (Hardcover)

In this book, the author provides an excellent and very interesting study of the modern day educational gender gap. This gap is the considerable disadvantage that boys now face compared to girls in educational outcomes. The author points out that not only are college students and those receiving degrees almost 60% female, but that preceding the college years is a record of poor educational performance by boys going back to pre-Kindergarten.

In 10 well-organized chapters, the book develops a number of important concepts. Not only does it provide the thesis of why boys are doing so poorly (not only relative to girls but also overall), but it also provides indications of what the solutions are. These proposed solutions include improved teaching techniques to address the problems, as well as necessary policy initiatives. The 10 chapters provide a logical flow through the subject area of the book.

The first chapter looks into how the basic issue presents itself, using examples such as an awards presentation at a school where almost all of the award recipients are girls. This leads to the question, what happened to the boys?

The second chapter then points to the ultimate underlying factor, poor literacy among boys, pointing out that strong literacy is absolutely necessary not only for success in college, but in many other areas, such as being able to read manuals.

The third chapter then explores some of the reasons why reading is taught so poorly; pointing out that good teaching methods are especially important when students are doing poorly.

The fourth chapter then looks at the deficiencies of boys with regard to writing ability.

In the fifth chapter, the book now moves on to a new emphasis, starting with an examination of many of the reasons that are given for the poor educational performance of boys. This starts with video games, discusses the lack of male teachers, and covers a number of other proposed explanations. For each one, the author examines whether there is credible evidence that the factor is a valid or partial explanation for the problems that boys are having.

The sixth chapter is the most hopeful in the book. In this chapter, the author examines three schools that are succeeding in teaching all of their students, including the boys, at an equal level, particularly in reading. Here the techniques that are being used so successfully are described and the key point is made that it is possible to teach virtually all boys to read successfully.

Having established that the methods exist, the author moves on in the seventh chapter to examine the ideological stalemate, particularly from those who have been fighting for equality for girls, that has caused this problem to largely be ignored in this country.

Since the problem has not been addressed at the highest levels in the United States, the author then uses the eighth chapter to look at how the problems of poor educational performance by boys has been addressed in other countries, particularly in Australia.

The ninth chapter then discusses societal trends that show why these gender gaps matter.

And the tenth chapter then looks at recommendations that the author has towards the alleviation of the problem, particularly advocating that the Secretary of Education sponsor a formal study into the issue of poor educational performance by boys.

Overall, this provides an excellent journey, both for those who are mostly unfamiliar with the issue as well as for those who have been aware of it for some time, into the latest problems, developments, and solutions that have been taking place in this important area. The style is fun to read. It is full of little stories that are interesting in their own right and also provide excellent illustrations of the points that are being made. No matter where one stands on this issue, they will be both entertained and well informed.

3. Special Education Overidentification 2011: Limited Language

Too many American school children are referred to special education because of inadequate knowledge of English. Inappropriate teacher referrals send many LEP (Limited English Proficiency) pupils to special education. “For instance, in California, where students with limited English proficiency make up 22.2% of the student population, LEP students (also known as English language learners or ELL students) are significantly over-represented in special education, particularly in specific learning disabilities and speech impairment classes” (Cast, Minow, 2001).

IEP teams have difficulty sorting out LEP from disabled pupils, and misdiagnosis occurs. SLPs and psychologists play key roles in evaluating cognitive-linguistic abilities, essential to non-placement decisions: “There are a number of possible causes for the disproportionate representation of LEP students in special needs categories. One possible cause is that some school systems are continuing to assign students to special education programs on the basis of criteria that essentially measure and evaluate the English skills of students. Other causes may include inadequacy of reading instruction, ineffective assessment and placement procedures, or even racial or ethnic bias” (Cast, Minow, 2001).

Ladner (2006), writing for the Goldwater Institute: “Overhauling the special education labeling system makes a good deal of sense. Determining which students will actually benefit from special education services should be scientifically established and then parents should be given the ability to choose the provider of those services.”

“To achieve equality of access to special needs services and to ensure that all students are being educated adequately and effectively, both under-identification and over-identification of LEP students regarding special education status must be examined, thoroughly monitored, and eventually remedied. One study concludes that “[it is] imperative to monitor the quality of educational programs offered to linguistic minority students in general, bilingual, and special education as well as the long-term consequences of placement decisions for these students.”[14]”  (Cast)