Anyone who has ever taught at both a suburban school and an inner-city school has probably noticed the difference in the number of students that are identified as needing special education services. Many have long suspected that students of color seem to be disproportionately classified with a learning disability.
According to a new study, that suspicion is indeed accurate.
A study from Portland State University has found that black and brown students are more likely to be identified as having a learning disability:
Findings suggest the overclassification of racial minorities is largely consistent with (clinically relevant) differences in educational performance. Classifications may occur inconsistently or subjectively, with clinically irrelevant qualities like school characteristics and linguistic-immigration history independently predictive of disability classification.
In simple terms, black and brown students may be classified with a learning disability for reasons that are not relevant to the actual disability being assessed.
Researcher and author of the study, Dara Shifrer, interprets the findings as proof of the role socioeconomic status plays in special education identification. Shifrer contends that socioeconomic status is a huge factor in academic performance, and academic performance is often used, incorrectly, to diagnose learning disabilities. Being that black and Hispanic children are more likely to come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds than their white peers, they are by extension, more likely to be funneled into the special education system.
The problem with this is the fact that classifying students from a poor socioeconomic background with a learning disability simply because of poor performance, may not actually address the underlying social causes of the poor performance.
Read the full study here.