Examining the Impact of Student-Level and School-Level Variables on the Disproportionate Representation of Minority Students in Special Education Using Data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Kindergarten Cohort

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Ruedel, Kristin Lee Anderson
McLaughlin, Margaret J.
Burke, Phillip J.
The purpose of this study was two-fold: (a) to examine the influence of student- and school-level demographic, economic, academic, and behavioral variables measured in the third grade on a student's probability of not receiving special education services in the fifth grade and (b) to examine the differences among students who have received special education services and then exit out of special education, students who remain in special education, and students who never received special education services. Variables were selected from kindergarten, third, and fifth grade data from the restricted ECLS-K dataset and the dependent variable was the dichotomous variable of whether or not a student was in receipt of special education services as recorded by the field management supervisor for ECLS-K. Prior to conducting the analyses, the appropriate cross-sectional or panel weight was applied; therefore, all results are nationally representative of students who began kindergarten in the 1998-1999 school year. Descriptive statistics and HGLM analysis were used in this study to address each of the research questions. Results of descriptive analyses indicate that among third graders, minority students were overrepresented in special education programs, were from lower SES backgrounds, had lower reading and mathematics scores, and had lower approaches to learning scores and higher externalizing behavior scores compared to White students. Likewise, a higher percentage of minority students attended poorer schools and schools with lower average academic achievement scores. Further, findings from the HGLM analysis indicate that SES and mathematics achievement measured in the third grade were key predictors to receipt of special education services in the fifth grade. HGLM results suggest that race/ethnicity is not a significant predictor of receipt of special education services in the fifth grade. Results of this study illuminate the need for additional studies that focus on analysis at the individual student- and school-level and the importance of disaggregating data not only by race/ethnicity and disability type but also for SES but also when services were received.