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IES Grant

Title: Who Receives and Benefits From Special Education in the U.S.? Analyses of Three Nationally Representative Datasets
Center: NCSER Year: 2020
Principal Investigator: Morgan, Paul Awardee: Pennsylvania State University
Program: Systems, Policy, and Finance      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (07/01/2020 – 06/30/2022) Award Amount: $600,000
Type: Exploration Award Number: R324A200166

Co-Principal Investigator: Farkas, George

Related Projects: ADHD: Population-Based Estimates of Diagnosis, Treatments, and School Outcomes (R324A120331); Risk Factors and Services for Vocabulary Delays in Early Childhood: Population-based Estimates (R324A120046)

Purpose: This Exploration grant will analyze secondary data from three nationally representative databases to examine significant disproportionality in special education, including to what extent disproportionality may be resulting from systemic bias in disability identification. A lack of scientific consensus has emerged regarding racial and ethnic disparities in disability identification. Until recently, over-representation was widely believed to result from U.S. schools inappropriately over-identifying students as having disabilities based on their race or ethnicity. Yet new empirical work repeatedly finds that students who are racial, ethnic, or language minorities are less likely to be identified as having disabilities than observationally similar White or English-speaking students, suggesting inequities in special education resource allocation in the U.S. To advance the current knowledge base, the research team will examine whether and to what extent (a) disparities in disability identification have changed over time in the U.S. including for disabilities generally and for specific conditions, (b) school-, district-, and state-level characteristics relate to these disparities, and (c) receipt of special education services is associated with or predictive of increased academic achievement, behavior, and socio-emotional functioning by students with disabilities including those who are minorities.

Project Activities: Researchers will conduct secondary data analysis with data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–2011 (ECLS-K: 2011), conduct cross-cohort analyses with the ECLS-K Class of 1998–1999 (ECLS-K), and analyze seven cross-sectional surveys from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Products: The primary product of this project will be a set of studies and reports on racial, ethnic, and language disparities in the U.S. special education system as well as on observed associations between special education service receipt and the school functioning of students with disabilities. In addition, the research team will disseminate the project's findings to educational researchers, policymakers, and practitioners.

Structured Abstract

Settings:Three nationally representative and multivariate samples of students attending elementary and middle schools in the United States.

Population/Sample: Two nationally representative cohorts of children entering U.S. kindergarten classrooms in 1998–1999 and 2010–2011. Seven nationally representative cross-sectional surveys of U.S. fourth and eighth grade students. All samples are diverse and include at-risk subpopulations (i.e., students with disabilities, racial/ethnic minorities, low-income students, language minorities). All students were individually assessed.

Malleable Factors: The project will examine factors predictive of or associated with disability identification in U.S. schools including student-level academic achievement and behavior as well as family and school contextual variables. The project will also examine to what extent receipt of special education services is associated with or predictive of the school functioning of students with disabilities.

Research Design and Methods:Secondary data analyses of two longitudinal cohorts and seven very large repeated cross-sectional surveys. The two longitudinal cohorts include repeated student-level assessments of academic achievement, behavior, and socio-emotional functioning. The cross-sectional surveys include student-level assessment of achievement. The three databases include additional measures of student, family, and school contextual variables. The project's methods will leverage these assessments including in analyses that approximate contrasts between observationally similar students.

Key Measures:Student-level measures include: (a) disability status generally as well as specific disability conditions, (b) individually administered reading and mathematics achievement, (c) student and family socio-demographics (e.g., SES, race/ethnicity, language spoken at home), and (d) school and neighborhood characteristics.

Data Analytic Strategy:The researchers will pool the data and use multilevel models to estimate disparities in the rates and processes by which students who are racial, ethnic, or language minorities are identified as having disabilities and receive special education services while attending U.S. schools. The researchers will estimate multilevel logistic, survival, and growth curve models as well as conduct latent class growth analyses. Regression adjustment, propensity score matching, and econometric techniques (i.e., school fixed effects) will be used to help account for selection bias.