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Article NASSP Bulletin . . - 2018, Vol. 102(1) 5-21 Culturally and Linguistically © 2018 SAGE Publicacions . . . Reprints and permissions: Diverse Learners in Special sagepub comijournalsPermissions.nav DOL: 10.1177/0192636518755945 Education: English Learners journals ®SAGE Jennifer Counts', Antonis Katsiyannis/', and Denise K. Whitford? Abstract The multidimensionalissue of the representation of diverse students in special education has been a persistent and challenging concern for decades. Overwhelmingly, research outlining racial and ethnic disproportionality data have historically demonstrated stability in the overrepresentation of students of color in special education. However, the growing number of culturally and linguistically diverse learners also requires an examination of the representation of English learners in special education as well. This article provides an overview of trends and issues in both underrepresentation and overrepresentation of English learners in special education. Contributing factors for variability, as well as recommendations for future research and improved practice are provided. Keywords English learners, special education, disproportionality The number of culturally and linguistically diverse students has grown significantly in recent years, with English learners (EL) representing the fastest growing population within culturally and linguistically diverse students (Genesee, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian, 2005), increasing more than 50% over the past decade, a trend expected to continue into the next decade (Migration Policy Institute, 2016). The dis- proportionate representation of culturally and linguistically diverse students in special education, however, has been a persistent and often controversial issue (see National 'Clemson University, Clemson, SC, USA 2Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA Corresponding Author: Antonis Katsiyannis, School of Education, Clemson University, 102 Tillman Hall, Clemson, SC 29634, USA. Email: [email protected]
6 NASSP Bulletin 102(1) Education Association and National Association of School Psychologists [NEA/ NASP], 2007). EL are students, born in the United States or abroad, whose native language is not English or their proficiency in the English language has been affected by bilingualism or multilingualism at home or in their communities, and they are working toward English proficiency (National Center on Educational Outcomes, 2017). The percent- age of EL who receive special education services vary greatly from one state to the next; from 0% reported in some states, to 17% in others in 2003 (Zehler, Fleischman, Hopstock, Pendzick, & Stephenson, 2003) and from less than 1% in states like Tennessee, Vermont, and West Virginia to 42% in states like California, Maine, and Oregon a decade later (U.S. Department of Education [USDOE], 2017). Representation in special education is the extent to which a group is identified for special education placement and services in general and in a disability category in par- ticular, in comparison with their overall representation in the general school population (Bal, Sullivan, & Harper, 2014; Zhang, Katsiyannis, Ju, & Roberts, 2014). Students can either be proportionally represented in the data, underrepresented, or overrepresented. Underrepresentation occurs when a sample of students have a lower proportion of iden- tification and placement than their proportion within the population. For example, White students are often identified for special education services at lower rates than their pro- portion within the population; roughly 50% of students are White across the United States, however, they comprise only 13% of special education students (Office for Civil Rights [OCR], 2016). Overrepresentation occurs when a sample of students have a higher proportion of identification and placement than their proportion within the popu- lation. For example, American Indian/Alaska Native students are often identified for special education services at higher rates than their proportion within the population; roughly 1% of students are American Indian/Alaska Native across the United States, however, they comprise 17% of special education students (OCR, 2016). When groups of students with similar characteristics are significantly underrepresented or overrepre- sented in the data, it is commonly referred to as disproportionality. Determining Disproportionality A common method for calculating representation and determining disproportionality is the composition index (Donovan & Cross, 2002; Skiba et al., 2011) which is calcu- lated by comparing the proportion of students identified for special education in one demographic group with the proportion of students of the same demographic group within the entire student population (Wald & Kurlaender, 2003). For example, to determine the composition index of American Indian students, researchers calculate the percentage of American Indian students in the sample and compare it with the percentage of American Indian students who were identified for special education ser- vices in that same sample. Composition indices are used with caution as students with small proportions within the population have previously shown to provide lower com- position indices than students with higher proportions within the population (Donovan & Cross, 2002). Furthermore, as the proportion of a group of students within a
Counts et al. 7 population increases, their accompanying rates of overrepresentation typically also increase (Parrish, 2002). There is no universally accepted percentage that indicates underrepresentation or overrepresentation (Wald & Kurlaender, 2003), in fact, underidentification and overi- dentification criteria are determined by individual states and as a result may vary widely from one state to the next and may change annually (NEA/NASP, 2007, USDOE, 2007). For example, schools in the districts of Louisiana are considered to have overrepresentation if students in a particular group are identified at twice the rate of other students in an academic year, while schools in the districts of Nebraska are considered to have overrepresentation if students in a particular group are identified at three times the rate of other student in two consecutive academic years (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2013). Consequently, this inconsistency across states makes comparison of nationwide results unreliable. Assessment Tools. One weakness has been the process by which students are assessed, identified, and reported as both EL and students eligible for special education services (Ford, 2012; Hibel & Jasper, 2012; MacSwan & Rolstad, 2006; Morgan et al., 2015; Rueda & Windmueller, 2006; Shifrer, Muller, & Callahan, 2011; Sullivan, 2011). The identification of EL are left to state and local education agencies. State education agen- cies have the option to develop their own Home Language Survey, a survey to deter- mine level of English language use at home, or use the common Home Language Survey and then further assess students' English language proficiency using a tool of their choosing; leaving some states more rigorous than others (Bailey & Kelly, 2010; National Center for English Language Acquisition, 2016). In fact, students who qualify as EL in one state, such as Montana, may not necessarily qualify in another state, such as California (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2011). Nationally, EL in special education are often identified as having a specific learning disability (12%), a speech or language impairment (12%), a hearing impairment (12%), or an orthopedic impairment (12%); followed by an intellectual disability (9%) and a developmental delay (9%; National Center on Educational Outcomes, 2017); with 59% served in general education settings 80% of more of the day (USDOE, 2016a). Special education identification varies by disability and can be objective or subjective. For example, identification of a student with a visual impairment is gener- ally objective and is determined by visual acuity, while identification of a student with a specific learning disability is open to subjective judgement and is determined by either academic performance (e.g., via response to intervention) or by academic per- formance compared with cognitive ability (e.g., via the discrepancy model). Furthermore, there are not enough valid and reliable instruments for special educa- tion service eligibility which have been normed to specific EL populations (Artiles, Rueda, Salazar, & Higareda, 2005; Ford, 2012; Morgan et al,, 2015; Rueda & Windmueller, 2006; Sullivan, 2011). Many teachers and other evaluators have access to the Bateria 111 Woodcock-Munoz, the Spanish adaptation of the Woodcock-Johnson I (Woodcock, Munoz-Sandoval, McGrew, & Mather, 2007), but these tests are not enough for evaluation of EL. who speak a language other than Spanish.
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