Disproportionate Numbers of Minorities and English Learners in Special Education Programs

The overrepresentation and underrepresentation of minority students in special education programs represents a national issue that has pervaded society for the past several decades. Mark Guiberson, author of “Hispanic Representation in Special Education: Patterns and Implications,” explains that “overrepresentation occurs when the percentage of minority students in special education programs is greater than that in the school population as a whole.” Underrepresentation, on the other hand, occurs when schools fail to place students with disabilities in the appropriate programs. While students enrolled in special education programs represent approximately 13.1% of the national student population, the disproportionate enrollment of minority students in special education programs varies state-to-state.

For example, according to Texas A&M University’s Public Policy Research Institute, the minority student population in New York comprises approximately 61.6% of the student population in special education programs, while only an approximate 42.5% of the general student population classifies as minorities. The startling 19% difference between the general population and the population of minority students classified as having disabilities represents an overrepresentation of minority students in special education.

The Public Policy Research Institute found that approximately 14.7% of Oregon’s minority student population classifies as having disabilities while minority children represent 18% of its population, representing a difference of 3.3%. This 3.3% difference between Oregon’s percentage of minority children in the general population and its percentage of minority children in special education represents an underrepresentation of minority students in special education.

While alarming, the respective overrepresentation and underrepresentation of minority students in special education leads to an equally surprising corollary: the overrepresentation and underrepresentation of Limited English Proficiency students (LEPs) in special education programs. The government and most legal agencies tend to use “LEP” to describe students not born in the United States, students whose native language is not English, students who come from an environment where another language represents the dominate language, and students who display difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, and understanding English.

According to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in a statement by Peter Zamora, “nearly 80% of K-12 [LEPs] are Spanish-speaking Latinos,” with researchers predicting that, by 2025, one-quarter of the nation’s student population will identify as LEPs.

Of this large population of LEPs, researchers have estimated that “as many as three-fourths of [LEPs] enrolled in special education programs are improperly placed.” According to Guiberson, misidentification “occurs when students with disabilities are identified as having a disability different from the one they actually have” or when schools classify students without disabilities as having disabilities. Misidentification can easily lead to overrepresentation of LEPs in special education programs.

Trends of LEP overrepresentation and underrepresentation exist across the country, particularly in states with the largest number of LEP students. According to Rose M. Payan and Michael T. Nettles, authors of “Current State of English-Language Learners in the U.S. K-12 Student Population,” California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois respectively represent the top-five states with the largest number of LEPs, while South Carolina, Kentucky, and Indiana represent the states with the fastest growing LEP student population.

According to the Texas Education Agency, in the 2009-2010 school year, LEPs represented 14.7% of Texas’ student population enrolled in special education programs. Compared to the 9% of the general population enrolled in special education programs, the state’s 14.7% represents a disproportionate overrepresentation of LEP students enrolled in special education programs.

The overrepresentation continued throughout the next school year with LEPs representing 14.4% of the student population enrolled in special education programs, while only 8.8% of the general population required special education services. Furthermore, in the 2011-2012 school year, LEPs represented 14.3% of the student population enrolled in special education programs, while only 8.6% of the general student population participated in special education programs.

In contrast, Florida’s population of LEP students faces a severe underrepresentation in special education programs. In 2010, when the special education population represented 19.3% of the general student population, LEPs represented only 5.5% of the special education population.

Similarly, in 2011, while the general education population enrolled in special education programs dropped to 19%, the LEP population enrolled in special education programs rose to 5.9%. The underrepresentation persisted in 2012 when the general education population enrolled in special education programs leveled out at 18.6%, while the LEP population enrolled in special education programs rose to 6%.

The overrepresentation and underrepresentation of LEPs in the special education population can largely be credited to the lack of certified professionals in the areas of both special education and English language acquisition.

For example, during the 2009-2010 school year, there was an average of 33.3 students per English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Texas, compared to an average of 14.5 students for each general education teacher. The trend similarly persisted throughout the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, with the average students-per-ESL-teacher ratio representing 43.5 and 47 per ESL teacher, respectively.

The disparity seems to intensify with the underrepresentation of LEP students in special education programs. In Florida, during the 2009-2010 school year, there was an average of 178.6 students per bilingual teacher, compared to an average of 15.8 students for each general education teacher. The trend similarly persisted throughout the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, with the average students-per-bilingual-teacher ratio representing 219.4 and 241.7 per bilingual teacher, respectively.

Researchers and educational theorists also claim that inadequate assessments and the failure to distinguish between struggles faced by LEP students and struggles caused by learning disabilities also contribute to the misidentification and overrepresentation of LEP students in the special education population.

To better distinguish between the educational struggles exhibited during English language acquisition and struggles exhibited in individuals with learning disabilities, theorists have suggested implementing a three-phase instructional and assessment reform. This three-phase reform includes creating a school environment that encourages the success of LEP students through the use of specific instructional strategies and providing early intervention through supplementary instruction. Early intervention strategies include clinical teaching, the implementation and use of Teacher Assistance Teams, and general education alternatives. The final phase of the three-phase reform includes referring students, who have received the benefits of both a positive school environment and early intervention strategies but still seem to significantly struggle with the educational material, to special education.

While no national standards have been put into place to better serve the overrepresented and underrepresented LEP population in special education programs, the issue presents a societal problem that, if not curtailed, could cause severe and long-lasting intellectual and emotional scars.

New DSM-V Categories May Impact Diagnoses

DSM-VThe fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), the publication’s first major revision in over twenty years, includes changes that have caused a stir in the psychiatric community. Among these changes, the DSM-V now combines the autism spectrum disorders into a single category and includes the newly created disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.

The newly classified autism spectrum disorder now includes autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. According to Autism Speaks, autism spectrum disorder emerges between the ages of 2 and 3 and is often associated with intellectual disability, difficulties with motor coordination and attention, and other health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder can display incredible proficiencies in visual skills, music, math, and art.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 1 in 88 children has been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder, with five times as many boys being identified with autism spectrum disorders as girls: While 1 in 252 girls will be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, 1 in every 54 boys will be diagnosed with some form of autism spectrum disorder.

The changes included in the DSM-V are likely to impact these children in the form of possible diagnoses reclassification and modification through stricter diagnosis criteria. The Autism Research Institute explains that more symptoms must be present in order to meet the new criteria for the area of fixated interests and repetitive behaviors. Furthermore, the DSM-V no longer recognizes a requirement of a delay in language development for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

Because of these changes as many as 75% of individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome could lose their diagnosis, according to Talk About Curing Autism. Additionally, approximately 80% of individuals with PDD-NOS could lose their diagnosis. With the loss of their diagnoses, individuals with Asperger’s syndrome and PDD-NOS could potentially lose their services if programs change their requirements to include re-diagnosis.

Conversely, the changes should not affect the education of children currently diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, PDD-NOS, or childhood disintegrative disorder because schools are required to provide services based on need, not diagnosis, under one of the categories in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The IDEA includes ten categories under which students can receive special education accommodations: mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, and specific learning disabilities.

In order for a child to receive services under IDEA, the child’s educational needs must fall into one of the ten categories and it must be demonstrated that the child requires special education and related services.

In addition to combining the autism spectrum disorders into a single category, the DSM-V eliminated the diagnosis of pediatric bipolar disorder and created, in its place, a new category called disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is marked by intense outbursts, inconsistent with development, and irritability in young children. In order to classify as disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, the temper outbursts must occur, on average, three or more times per week.

The adoption of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder comes in light of the increase in the diagnosis of childhood bipolar disorder, which often results in young children being placed on powerful antipsychotic medication. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, adverse side effects of antipsychotic medication include excessive weight gain, head pain, dizziness, drowsiness, abnormally low blood pressure, trouble breathing, suicidal ideation, depression, kidney failure, and diabetes.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports that hospital stays for children, aged 1 to 17, with bipolar disorder increased 434% between 1997 and 2010.

While the new category attempts to combat the rising issue of sometimes falsely diagnosing children with bipolar disorder, many individuals are concerned that the new category of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder may also be applied overbroadly and may cause the diagnosis of children with a mental disorder simply because they are prone to temper tantrums.

While individuals may have to adjust to the changes contained within the new edition of the DSM, the changes will, hopefully, help better diagnose both children and individuals who experience mental disorders.

Tuesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Japan’s Child Kidnapping Problem, The Daily Beast

Japan has a child-kidnapping problem. It’s not strangers snatching the kids on the playground or at the bus-stop; the problem is that when a Japanese national divorces a foreigner overseas, he or she can abduct their children, bring them back to Japan and the law ensures that the parent left behind has no rights to see the children or take them back home. The U.S. State Department reports that there have been over a hundred such kidnappings since 1994—according to a source, the number is closer to 400. Within Japan itself, divorce often means that one parent may have little or no access to the child. Japan’s inability to deal with child abduction partly stems from archaic family law in Japan that does not recognize joint custody. It’s a winner take all system. The law makes it almost impossible for the other parent to even meet the child, if the Japanese partner objects.

DSM-5 Changes to Autism, ADHD Definitions Could Impact Millions of Children, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

A new edition of the psychiatric “bible” will be released May 17, arriving on a wave of controversy that may have a profound influence on children’s mental health care in the United States, particularly around the diagnosis and treatment of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5) is the first major update of the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) clinical guidebook in almost 20 years. The DSM-5 expands and alters the diagnosis criteria for several disorders, and in some cases, introduces definitions of “new” psychiatric disorders.

The influence the DSM-5 has on children’s services could be extensive, because its diagnostic criteria are the nation’s most commonly used for identifying and treating mental disorders. Changes in diagnostic criteria, and especially mental disorder definitions, may alter the eligibility for some children to receive specialized education in school or limit certain treatments pediatricians may provide for younger patients.

Mental Disorders Affect 1 in 5 U.S. Children Each Year, New Scientist

As many as one in five children aged 3 to 17 years old experiences a mental health disorder each year, according to a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the most comprehensive review of US children’s mental health yet, the CDC analysed data from 11 ongoing federal epidemiological surveys. Some of these are based on doctors’ diagnoses and prescriptions; others rely on telephone interviews with parents.

By analysing data from 2005 to 2011, the CDC calculated that 13 to 20 per cent of children in the US have some type of mental health disorder annually. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) accounted for the highest number of diagnoses, with 6.8 per cent of children diagnosed with it each year. This was followed by behavioural problems, anxiety and depression.

Prenatal Exposure to Traffic is Associated with Respiratory Infection in Young Children, Science Daily

Living near a major roadway during the prenatal period is associated with an increased risk of respiratory infection developing in children by the age of 3, according to a new study from researchers in Boston.