Disproportionate Representation in Special Education: A Synthesis and Recommendations

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Disproportionate representation of minority students in special education remains a very controversial, unresolved issue. This synthesis summarizes historical perspectives and current knowledge about disproportionate representation with respect to: (a) definitions of disproportionate representation and related issues of interpretation; (b) national and state-level estimates of disproportionality for four ethnic groups; (c) legal, policy, research and teacher education responses to disproportionality; and (d) hypothesized causes and predictors of disproportionality. Authors stress the need for: coherent and well-articulated conceptual frameworks, responsible use and representation of data, research dialog that is informed by appreciation of the complex sociopolitical history and current context, and the need for effective advocacy to improve the educational success of minority students.