Disproportionate Representation (DR) of African American students in special education occurs when we find more African American students in special education than we would expect based on their frequency in the general population. I just completed compiling the representation data from Oregon from the December 1st, 2013 child count survey. The child count survey is a federal report that the state governments have to file with the federal department of education every year. Because enrollment fluctuates so much throughout a school year, they have chosen that whatever the count is at the end of the day on December 1st is the number that is the “official count” for that school year.
Before you continue, let me point out that DR is measured as a ratio called the Relative Risk Ratio (RRR). It’s the percent of a target group in special education divided by the percent of kids in all other target groups in special education. A RRR of 1.0 means that it’s just as likely that a student from the target group would be in special education as would a student of any other target group. Above 1.0 means they are more likely to be in special education than other students, and lower than 1.0 means they are less likely to be in special education than a student of any other race. The field has said that 10% (or .1 RRR) above or below 1.0 is not significant.
Here’s what I found:
In Oregon on December 1st, 2013, African American students are underrepresented in Autism. This is the same result that I found in Minnesota’s data.
African American students are slightly overrepresented in the categories of Orthopedic Impairments, Speech and Language Impairments, and Visual Impairments.
The categories that show extreme overrepresentation are Intellectual Disabilities, Hearing Impairments, Other Health Impairments (oftentimes ADD/ADHD, but not exclusively), and Specific Learning Disabilities. Just as in Minnesota, the category of Emotional Disturbance is scandalously out of whack. African American students are 2.5x more likely to be diagnosed with an Emotional Disturbance in Oregon than a student of another race. My research points me toward a reason for that, but do you have any ideas?
For your information I am also including here the graph of the DR in autism:
White students are found to have autism at approximately 1.5x that of students from other races. Any thoughts about why that is?