Awareness of Disproportionality and Community
Strategies that Address Disproportionality
Results of the Implementation
school district is located in an older suburb near Philadelphia
and comprises families from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. The
district enrolled 7,000 students during the 1992-1993 school year,
which makes it a medium-sized school district in the state of Pennsylvania.
School enrollment has been on the rise over the past several years
and according to the assistant superintendent, the school district
has built a solid reputation for educational excellence and high
academic standards. More than 80 percent of the students matriculate
to some form of higher education. Currently, the school district
has 11 schools (6 elementary, 4 middle schools, and 1 high school)
and approximately 10 percent of the district's school population
receives a free or reduced-price lunch.
percentage of students from minority racial and ethnic groups has
roughly doubled over the past decade. The student population for
1999-2000 school year was 77 percent European-American, 15 percent
African-American, 5 percent Asian-American, and 1 percent Latin-American.
Although two minority community members (one African-American and
one Asian American) currently participate on the nine-person school
board, there is almost no representation of minorities on the teaching
education data from the 1998-1999 school year (the most recent data
available to the public) indicate disproportionality in three major
disability categories-specific learning disability, serious emotional
disturbance, and mental retardation. The percentages of African-American
students in these categories are 20, 25, and 27 percent, respectively,
compared with 15 percent of African-Americans in the total school
of Disproportionality and Community Response
1993 (approximately 5 years before the latest demographic data were
reported), the State Department of Education (SDE) cited the Flowerton
district as being disproportionate in several disability areas.
Since then, principals have voiced concern about this issue and
have discussed it at meetings with the superintendent, the assistant
superintendent, and central administrative staff. However, the administrators
feel at a loss to deal with the situation, because no one is certain
of the best way to determine special education referral. Several
administrators are aware that the assessment tools that Flowerton
currently uses for referral may be biased toward middle-income European-American
students. These administrators have brought up the subject of re-evaluating
current assessment tools, but there is widespread consensus that
developing and implementing new assessment methods would be too
costly because money for support services in both special and regular
education has become increasingly scarce over the years.
addition to the main school board the district has a human relations
board which typically meets four times a year and comprises school
system and community leaders from minority and non-minority groups.
Several African-Americans have been on the board since it was established
in 1989, but in recent years no members from the Asian or Hispanic
communities have been members on the board. To date, this board
has not expressed concern about disproportionality, but has addressed
two related issues: (1) recruitment of African-American staff and
(2) representation of the African-American experience in the K-12
curriculum. As a result of the board's efforts, a revised recruitment
policy has been adopted and a thorough analysis of the curriculum
is currently under way.
parent community has not voiced concern to school district officials
about disproportionality. In fact, school district personnel have
been told that families with children receiving special education
services often move into the district to receive the high-quality
services that Flowerton offers. Although some African-American community
leaders have privately expressed concern about the relatively few
African-American students in programs for the gifted, this concern
has not become a public issue.
That Address Disproportionality
a year ago, pressure to address minority disproportionality mounted
heavily on Flowerton district officials because the SDE issued a
follow-up to the 1993 citation, inquiring about plans to rectify
the situation. Soon after, the superintendent, special education
director, special education teachers, and several school principals
met with SDE officials to discuss strategies for reducing the disproportionate
representation of minority students in special education classes.
During the meeting, everyone brainstormed different approaches to
the complex issue. At the meeting's conclusion, Flowerton officials
focused on two strategies they thought would work best for their
Subscribing to an SDE-maintained listserv that provides information
on disproportionality issues and links individuals from school
districts and educational organizations nationwide,
Implementing a prereferral approach in every school in the district.
prereferral system is designed to support general education teachers
with students who exhibit academic problems, behavior problems,
or both, in class. Mandated by the 1990 State Special Education
Regulations and Standards, the role of the preferral team is to
identify effective instructional approaches for students prior to
referral for special education services with the goal of maximizing
individual success in the general education classroom. When a student
is referred to the prereferral team, data such as school performance,
reading ability, and behavior are collected and individual goals
for the student are defined. The team meets, brainstorms strategies
to meet the goals, and an action plan is developed. The strategies
are in place for 30 school days. The team meets again to assess
the progress that has been made and to determine which strategies
will be continued. A "What Works" form ensures that successful
interventions follow the student to the next grade level. The preferral
process is a compilation of all the support systems available in
the school. The prereferral team adapts the programs to fit the
student's needs instead of placing the student in established programs.
SDE and district officials agreed that it would be most prudent
to phase in TATs over a 4-year period, with a maximum of two schools
beginning the process each school year. The purpose of slowly phasing
the program into the district was to assess progress and the process
of implementation with the goal of refining and adapting the program
and its implementation to maximize success. State funds were provided
to the districts to initiate the TAT and to offset the cost of a
TAT support teacher. (The amended state law mandated such a team
in at least one elementary school in each district by the 1996-1997
careful examination of the options, Flowerton adopted the TAT concept
and sought training. The SDE trained the TATs, including the instructional
support teacher, and then the district trained the school staff
on how to access and use the prereferral intervention. The school
staff underwent four to six training sessions. The training sessions
were mandatory paid sessions in line with the negotiated teacher
months after the first TAT implementation, the assistant superintendent
received information through the listserv about a program called
Corrective Action Plan (CAP), which he presented to the district.
This program was developed by an elementary school with a disproportionately
high number of African American students receiving special education
services. The CAP focuses on general education practices such as
pre-referral intervention. The first part of the CAP profiles the
students currently receiving services in the school by examining
the medical, family and socioeconomic factors contributing to the
need for such services. Taking this information into consideration,
the CAP makes a commitment to the following:
the TAT model
relationships with outside agencies
a parent support network
the Chapter I program to be an early intervention program
the teaching staff to use effective instructional techniques/support
(e.g., curriculum adaptation, curriculum-based assessment, flexible
grouping, cooperative learning)
conflict resolution, and peer mediation
to the implementation of the TATs, CAP, and the efforts of the human
relations board, the superintendent established a district-wide
multicultural sensitivity committee. This committee, in turn, spurred
the establishment of such an entity in all 11 schools. One task
of the school-based committee is to provide quality professional
development on multicultural issues. In the 1996-1997 school year,
the district identified multicultural issues as one of the five
major areas of need. An initiatives committee examined a broad array
of multicultural issues (e.g., curriculum, hiring, training) with
the goal of determining what was appropriate for the school district.
The committee's recommendations will be incorporated into the strategic
plan required by the state. New staff orientation includes training
on working with a multicultural, multiethnic, and multilingual student
special education director reinforced the work of the TATs and CAP
by emphasizing that special education is not a place, but a system
of support services available to students. No student enrolled in
one of the district's 11 schools spends the full school day in a
special education classroom. This is true even for students with
disabilities who have recently returned to the community from out-of-district
Flowerton human relations board issued a recommendation that minority
candidates be actively recruited for teaching positions in the district,
which the superintendent approved and signed into policy. Over the
last two years, about 25 percent of the elementary teaching staff
have retired and are being replaced. During the interview process,
prospective staff are asked to share their views about flexible
grouping, cooperative learning, and TATs to determine whether their
training and experience fit with the mission and orientation of
the school district. In addition, the assistant superintendent and
one African-American teacher now work with a group of community
leaders to establish linkages with historically Black colleges and
universities and other potential sources of teacher applicants.
of TAT Implementation to Date
TAT/CAP effort has been in place in two Flowerton schools for one
year. Thus far, its effects appear auspicious. Although special
education demographic data are not yet available for the current
school year, evidence indicates that the program already shows promise.
In the end-of-the-year teacher's survey, 87 percent of general education
teachers rated the TAT Support Teacher in their school as "helpful"
or "very helpful." Additionally, there was a 60 percent
increase from the previous year in teachers who rated the resources
available to them as "good" or "excellent."
Flowerton officials are encouraged by these early results and hope
the results continue to be promising as they implement the program
in more schools throughout the district. Further, as the first method
of addressing disproportionality is taking hold and meeting success,
several administrators have looked into the idea of using different
methods of assessment for special education and hope to continue
to implement new programs that address their needs.
officials attribute the programs' success to two primary factors.
First, collaboration increased among departments that previously
had little interaction - Special Education, General Education, Curriculum,
Pupil Services, Administration, and the Board of Human Relations.
Second, the district significantly expanded its horizons by linking
with different districts and organizations to learn about new opportunities
for improvement. As one administrator put it, "Without the
Internet and other technological advances, very little of this would
have been possible."
Who are the major stakeholders in this story? How do they react
and reflect on the school system? Are any stakeholders not mentioned
who have a vested interest in the school and the problem of disproportionate
representation of minority children in the special education programs?
Does the district's explanation seem reasonable that the special
education data appears disproportionate because minority racial/ethic
students enter the district with IEPs and are being served in the
district's consortium arrangement? What other factors might explain
the special education data? Why might the district not have realized
these other factors?
The parents in Flowerton have not expressed any concerns about disproportionality.
Do you think that the parents, particularly African American parents
are aware that the problems exist? What strategies might benefit
the district's efforts to collaborate with parents to keep them
informed and involved? What, if anything, can parents do to decrease
the disproportion? Who might be resistant to this effort? Why might
they feel his way?
How might a district-wide multicultural sensitivity committee help
to address the issue of disproportionality in the school district?
In what ways could professional development on multicultural issues
help to reduce the number of minorities in special education programs?
Teacher Assistance Team (TAT) is made up of members from three departments:
Curriculum, Pupil Services, and Special Education.
What do you think the rationale was for including members from these
Are all of these departments necessary?
Were other potentially beneficial departments overlooked?
Would the members be different for elementary and secondary schools?
If so, why would such differences be necessary?
case study was based on a study from a Guide Prepared by Project
Forum at NASDSE: Strategies That Address the Disproportionate Number
of Students from Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups Receiving Special
Education Services: Case Studies of Selected States and School Districts.