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Infographic: Exploring Equity in Special Education

Special Education

Equity is a large topic in education – one that requires not only dialogue, but also data upon which to base that dialogue. Regarding one particular area of equity, over- and under-classification rates, the Institute has covered a great deal of research and data on contributing factors in our Crossing the Line report series. The fourth issue of The Line is also dedicated to the conversation on Equity and Opportunity.

So what do we do with all of this information, research and data? To start the conversation, we propose a roadmap. Below you’ll find some questions to prompt reflection and further conversation around key data points related to this important conversation.

Prefer a simpler view? Here’s the full text of the infographic above.

An Equity Roadmap: Contributing Factors of Over- and Under-Classification

Examining Classification

  • How do your local and state classification rates compare to national classification rates for special education?
  • What evidence supports the number of students classified in your system is appropriate?
  • What do the perceptions of educators related to whether students are appropriately classified, over-classified, or under-classified tell you about your classification practices?
  • How do you know if students classified for special education services are achieving success based on high standards set for all students or a standard of “de minimus” acceptable for some?
  • How are student needs identified in your system to adjust instructional methods?
  • What are the processes you have defined around determining the criteria for who and how students are serviced?

Examining Policy

  • How do you identify the impact of intended and unintended consequences resulting from policies?
  • Is policy implementation preoccupied with compliance versus supporting a high bar of educational excellence?
  • Are local policies regarding students with disabilities maintaining minimal standards of progress? Where is the evidence showing that policies are rooted in providing meaningful, challenging objectives that support the success of students with disabilities in comparison to their non-classified peers?

Examining Resources

  • How does the placement of personnel reflect the identified needs of students? What evidence shows these placements are positively impacting student outcomes?
  • How do the resources provided in the district or state provide a cohesive support system to serve all students at any given time and/or over time without usurping needed resources? What evidence shows you have the right resources and combination of resources in place?
  • Within the context of diminishing resources, how are stakeholders and coalitions coming together to share resources and/or to engage in a system re-design process that transcends the traditional model of instruction?

Examining Support & Services

  • What data is used to determine support/services provided to students?
  • How do you know if the supports/services provided are furthering students’ learning potential? What do you do if students are not making progress? What do you do when students are making progress?
  • What evidence shows high standards are the target for all students?
  • What evidence shows the impact of the multi-tiered system of support implemented in your state or district? What data is still needed? What gaps are evident and how will they be addressed?

Examining Teacher Professional Development

  • How does data support professional learning decision-making?
  • What professional learning activities connect special educators and general educators in collaboration and conversation?
  • What evidence is used to assess the application and impact of educator professional learning on student outcomes?
  • How does the system professional learning strategy align the needs of students and the needs of educators? How do you know this alignment exists?
  • How does the professional learning strategy align to district and building initiatives?

Additional Resources

Special Education Paperwork: How Much Time Does It Really Take?
Get the Data Sheet


Elizabeth Combs

Elizabeth Combs began her career as an elementary school teacher and Director of Administrative and Instructional Technology at Patchogue-Medford School District before moving to Imperial Software Systems, a professional learning services company, where she eventually served as President. She then held positions at My Learning Plan Inc. as President and Chief Strategy Officer. With degrees from the State University of New York at Geneseo and Teachers College, Columbia University, Ms. Combs has a passion for leveraging technology to support educator growth and over two decades of experience developing solutions rooted in best practices for professional development.