Disproportionality

Kathleen King ThoriusKathleen King Thorius, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Special Education in Indiana University’s School of Education in Indianapolis. She received her doctorate in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis on special education from Arizona State University. Previously, Dr. Thorius was an urban school psychologist, and worked for the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRESt), which was funded by the US Office of Special Education Programs to address disproportionality in special education. Dr. Thorius is the Principal Investigator for the Great Lakes Equity Center, one of ten federally-funded educational equity assistance centers, and has published and presented nationally and internationally on response to intervention, inclusive education, and higher education access. Her research is concerned with the ways in which multiple levels of educational policy are appropriated in the everyday practice of local educators and mediated by local socio-historical contexts to shape experiences of historically underserved students, particularly those identified with disabilities.

As a school psychologist during the late 1990s and early 2000s, I spent lots of time carrying out various parts of the process of determining students’ eligibility for special education. I also spent considerable, but not nearly enough, time reflecting on the ways that IDEA eligibility assessments of students of color did or did not contribute to their over- or under-representation in special education: a phenomenon referred to as “disproportionality”.  In relation to my professional role, I considered ways in which assessments, including IQ tests, may have unfairly disadvantaged Black and Latino students in the evaluation process, and noted and tried to address weaknesses in the validity of bi-lingual evaluations with students who were learning English as a new language. I thought about how crucial it was to account for the quality of the opportunities to learn of students referred for special education eligibility evaluations, and wondered if I had given this ample consideration in my practice. Yet it wasn’t until my doctoral program in special education that I really began to think about how my whiteness contributed to disproportionality. Read more

Fergus picDr. Edward Fergus is Deputy Director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University. A former high school teacher, he has and continues to provide technical assistance and analysis on education policy and research to school districts. He has published various articles on disproportionality in special education, race/ethnicity in schools, and author of Skin Color and Identity Formation: Perceptions of Opportunity and Academic Orientation among Mexican and Puerto Rican Youth (Routledge Press, 2004).  He is currently the Co-Principal Investigator of a study of single-sex schools for boys of color (funded by the Gates Foundation), the New York State Technical Assistance Center on Disproportionality, and various other research and programmatic endeavors focused on disproportionality and educational opportunity.

The disproportionate representation of Black and Latino students in special education is not new. Disproportionality in special education since 1968, is a critical federal concern. In 2004, the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education was founded with funding support from New York State Education Department – VESID the Technical Assistance Center on Disproportionality – www.steinhardt.nyu.edu/metrocenter/tacd). Read more