Significant Disproportionality in Special Education

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Significant disproportionality (SD) is the overrepresentation of students of any racial or ethnic group identified for special education, placed in more restrictive settings, or disciplined at higher rates than their peers in other racial and ethnic groups.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has requirements for both states and local education agencies (LEAs). States are obligated to hold districts accountable to the legal obligations outlined by IDEA and listed below. LEAs are required to monitor significant disproportionality in special education by racial and ethnic category: 

  • Review (and, if appropriate) revise policies, procedures, and practices;
  • Reserve the maximum amount of funds (15%) to be used for early intervening services; and
  • Report on the revision of policies, procedures, and practices.

There is no single cause or event that results in SD. Rather, many contributing factors must be examined to help identify strategies and action steps that could reduce SD in a school or LEA, including: 

  • Lack of access to scientifically based instruction;
  • Economic, cultural or linguistic barriers to appropriate identification or placement settings;
  • Inappropriate use of disciplinary removals;
  • Lack of access to appropriate diagnostic screenings; and/or
  • Other similar policies, practices, or procedures that contribute to disproportionality.

Why choose to partner with AIR’s significant disproportionality team?

To learn more about how our team can support your work, please contact

  • Our approach is grounded in data, evidence-based practice, and the IDEA equity regulations.
  • We tailor our approach to specific client needs.
  • We use a collaborative approach, bridging across general and special education.
  • Our team includes former administrators, teachers, faculty, and state education agency employees, enabling us to make actionable recommendations.
  • LEAs required to spend part of their IDEA Part B grant on addressing SD can use these funds to receive support from the SD team at AIR.

Related Projects

Texas Leaders and Educators Addressing Disproportionality in Special Education (LEADS)

The LEADS Initiative, funded by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), aims to build the capacity of education service centers (ESCs) and local education agencies (LEAs) in the state of Texas to identify and address issues of significant disproportionality (SD). We provide intensive training and coaching in close partnership with LEAs, targeted workshops and communities of practice, and universal resources to address SD. Districts working with LEADS have experienced significant reductions in SD, and our partners have emphasized the value-add of the LEADS support as instrumental through providing an important outside perspective and a strong vision, supporting development of a long-term plan, helping to expand capacity and buy-in, and supporting implementation of an action plan that leads to real and sustainable change.

Learn more about LEADS