The issue of minority representation in special education came into the forefront for educators, parents and politicians during the mid 1990’s. In 1992, Black students accounted for 16 percent of the total U.S. student population, but represented 32 percent of students in programs for mild mental retardation, 29 percent in programs for moderate mental retardation, and 24 percent in programs for serious emotional disturbance (Robertson, Kushner, Starks, & Dreschler, 1994). This overrepresentation of Black and other minority students in special education is an ongoing national problem. This problem will be addressed according to the following criteria regarding minority representation in special education.
The first issue where minority students in special education are concerned is that minority students may be unserved or receive services that do not meet their needs. Another issue that will be discussed is that some minority students may be misclassified or inappropriately labeled especially in the area of mental retardation and serious emotional disturbance. The final issue that will be discussed is the actual placement of minority students in special education programs may be a form of discrimination.
The purpose of this paper is to inform and expand upon minority overrepresentation and the needs of minority students.
Minority students may be unserved or receive services that do not meet their needs. Testing constraints such as high incidence of ethnic or linguistic minorities and low socio-economic status can lead to minority students not receiving services that meet their needs. Research shows that socio-political factors such as social deviance variables (eg. school suspension and corporal punishment) and school violence also lead to minority students being unserved in special education. Identification and placement practices have caused problems with identification because of the vagueness of the criteria for elegibility (Artiles, Aguirre-Munoz, Abedi, 1998).
Congress has found that although minority students are increasing in number in schools, many minority students are not receiving a free, appropriate public education. Students who are at a high risk of failure are those who live in urban and high poverty environments because they have been in appropriately identified and placed or not placed at all in special education. These students needs are not being met by the educational system. (Oswald, Coutinho, Best, & Singh, 1999).
The next issue that will be discussed is minority students may be misclassified or inapproprately labeled. Agbenyega and Jiggetts found that a minority student is 2.3 times more likely than a white student to be classified as Educable Mentally Retarded, and 1.7 times as likely