By: Joy Ndamukunda
Modern-Day Segregation? African American Students are labeled as intellectually disabled more frequently than their Non-Minority Peers in the Houston Independent School District.
In special education, in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), labeling is a phrase used to describe the process of enrolling a student in special education and designating an eligibility category for that student. I would define “False Labels” in disabilities as labeling someone as being disabled or having a learning disability when they do not. You wouldn’t be able to label someone as being in a wheelchair for example. However, when it comes to intellectual disabilities that is where it becomes tricky.
• “Children of color with disabilities are overrepresented within the special education population.”
- The United States Department of Education (USED)
Rates of special education designation in HISD vary significantly for students from different racial backgrounds
• African American students in HISD tend to be more likely to be over-identified as having emotional disturbance or mental impairment at schools where they make up a smaller proportion of the student body. In addition, Limited English Proficient (LEP) Hispanic students are under-represented in special education throughout elementary school while being over-represented in middle and high school.
The Disproportionate Labeling of African American Students with Learning Disabilities in HISD
The level of African American student over-representation in special education is larger at schools with a low African American enrolment (schools where African Americans represent a relatively small proportion of the total student population). An examination of the HISD school system indicated that the racial mix of a student's school determines whether or not he or she will be categorized as intellectually disabled. An African American student's chances of being diagnosed with intellectual disabilities are roughly 1.5 times higher than that of a non-African American counterpart. The odds ratio is sharply higher in elementary schools with relatively low African American enrollment, in this case, the odds that an African American student will be identified as having an intellectual disability are approximately 2.7 times the odds that a non-African American peer.
Now if you look here on this table displaying the odd ratios of African American students being labeled as having learning disabilities in comparison to Non-African American students you can see how all of the odd ratios are greater than 1. If the value of an odds ratio is larger than one, the event is more likely than the comparative event. All of the odd ratios on this table are greater than 1, proving that African American students are more likely than there Non-African American peers to be labeled as having learning disabilities in elementary, middle, and high school.
Additionally, here is a pie chart displaying the percentage of African American students being labeled as having a learning disability in schools where they make up a higher percentage of the student body in comparison to schools where they make up a lower percentage of the population. Orange represents schools with a high amount of African American students and fuchsia represents schools with a low amount of African American students. As we can see the percent of schools where African American students make up a smaller percentage of the student body and are labeled as having learning disabilities is 63%. While the percentage of schools where African American students make up a higher portion of the student body and are labeled as having learning disabilities is 37%. This clearly reveals that the percentage of African American students to be labeled as having learning disabilities is about twice as high in schools where they are the minority of the population.