Are Hispanic, Asian, Native American, or Language-Minority Children Overrepresented in Special Education?

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Updated: Aug 15, 2023
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Students of different races, ethnicities, religions, and genders should always be identified, evaluated, and placed in their least restrictive environment. In special education, many Hispanic, Asian, Native American, or language-minority children are being overlapped and overrepresented in the special education classrooms.

The purpose of the study was to determine whether Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, ELL, and language minorities are being overlapped and overrepresented. The researchers utilized four electronic databases for their research and data collection. They also incorporated over 77 studies. All of the research used in this study was published from January 1, 1998, to September 30, 2015.

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Research found in the best-evidence studies showed that there was no evidence of overrepresentation attributable to systemic bias based on race or ethnicity. However, the 77 studies did reveal small numbers of overrepresentation of Hispanic, ELL, and Language Minority students.

Furthermore, the disproportionate representation attributable to race, ethnicity, or language use strictly depends on the relative rigor of covariate adjustment that is being used through the studies. Analyses of future research for individual-level data and control for individual confounds and academic achievement should better approximate contrasts between similar children (Morgan et al., 2015, 2017). The U.S. Department of Education OCR believes that these tools are needed to establish whether schools are misidentifying children as having disabilities based on their race, ethnicity, or national origin (2016). By doing this, it would provide a stronger evidence base of whether systemic biases resulting from discriminatory practices are occurring in special education (NRC, 2004).


As a special education teacher in a middle school setting, I found this article enlightening and informative. Students of different races, ethnicities, and language-minority groups are overrepresented in special education all over the United States and throughout other countries. However, there are also individuals placed in special education classes due to their status as English Second Language learners.

Barriers for English Language Learners and English Second Language Learners occur frequently in pre-school and early elementary school settings. This is mainly because schools and teachers struggle to close the gap between the students’ first language and their second language. In most cases, these students only speak their native language at home and practice English solely while at school.

I enjoyed this article because it not only mentions the research and the findings, but it also mentions School-to-Community outreach programs. These programs help address different cultural and language barriers. Assessments such as Universal Screening can help all students, as well as teachers, administrators and communities identify racial disparities in gifted programs and special education, as well as IDEA’s Child Find requirements.

The findings and results of the study indicated that 29 of the 504 regression models showed overrepresentation. More specifically, 6 out of the 91 estimates indicated statistically significant overrepresentation for children who are Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and ELL or language minorities. However, the best evidence from students, which analyzed individual-level data from nationally representative samples, showed no evidence of overrepresentation attributable to systemic bias based on race or ethnicity.

The analysis table diagram is one aspect of the article that I would have done differently. The article displayed the study’s purpose, methods, discussion, and results. The analysis table demonstrated estimates of racial-ethnic or language-minority groups and the types of data analyzed. It was categorized by whether it controlled for individual-level academics or did not control for individual-level academics. However, it was difficult to follow.


Albrecht, S.F., Skiba, R.J., Losen, D.J., Chung, C.G., & Middelberg, L. (2012). Federal policy on disproportionality in special education: Is it moving us forward? Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 23, 14-25. doi:10.11044207311407917
Donovan, S., & Cross, C.T. (Eds.). (2002). Minority students in special and gifted education. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
MacMillan, D.L., & Reschly, D.J. (1998). Overrepresentation of minority students: The case for greater specificity or reconsideration of the variables examined. The Journal of Special Education, 32, 15-24. doi:10.1177/002246699803200103.
Morgan, P.L., Farkas, G., Cook, M., Strassfeld, N.M., Hillemeier, M.M., Pun, W.H., & Schussler, D.L. (2017). Are Black children disproportionately overrepresented in special education? A best-evidence synthesis. Exceptional Children, 83, 181-198. doi:10.1177/001440291666404042.
Morgan, P.L., Farkas, G., Hillemeier, M., Mattison, R., Li, H., & Cook, M. (2015). Minorities are disproportionately underrepresented in special education: Longitudinal evidence across five disability conditions. Educational Researcher, 44, 278-292. doi: 10.3102/0013189X15591157.
National Research Council. (2004). Measuring Racial Discrimination. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. (2016). Prevention racial discrimination in special education. Retrieved from education.pdf

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Are Hispanic, Asian, Native American, or Language-Minority Children Overrepresented in Special Education?. (2022, Aug 18). Retrieved from