Alabama has worked diligently to address disproportionality in special education since 2000 through the initiatives of the Lee v. Macon Special Education Consent Decree. This Consent Decree required special education programs in this state to address the overrepresentation of African-American students identified as having mental retardation (MR) and emotional disturbance (ED) and the underrepresentation of African-American students identified as having a specific learning disability (SLD) and giftedness (GT). Alabama made significant progress in reducing the disparities and, in December 2006, was granted unitary status with the provision that the state would continue to provide training to teachers, administrators, and evaluators with regard to disproportionality.
With the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA), the focus of disproportionality is taken to the next level. IDEA 2004 regulations extend the directives of the Consent Decree mandates to include an analysis of three additional disability areas: autism (AUT), other health impairment (OHI), and speech or language impairment (SLI) in addition to MR, ED, and SLD. It further requires that we also analyze state and local education agency (LEA) data with regard to disproportionate representation by race and ethnicity in least restrictive environment (LRE) and discipline. Congress commissioned the National Academy of Sciences to study disproportionality in 1982 and again in 2002.
As a result of those studies, “congress contends that: (1) greater efforts are needed to prevent the intensification of problems connected with mislabeling minority children with disabilities; (2) more minority children continue to be served in special education than would be expected from the percentage of minority students in the general school population; (3) African-American children are identified as having MR and ED at rates greater than their White counterparts; (4) in the 1998- 1999 school year, African-American children represented 14.8% of the population aged 6 through 21, yet comprised 20.2% of all children with disabilities served in our schools; and (5) studies have found that schools with predominantly white students and teachers have placed disproportionately high numbers of their minority students into special education.” (Williams, Perry. Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004 Training Curriculum). Disproportionality is a complex problem - a symptom - and not a cause.
Click on the link to view the Alabama State Department of Education’s presentation regarding disproportionality, the implications of significant disproportionality, why disproportionality is a priority, and IDEA 2004’s provisions to address disproportionality.