Over-identification in special education has two potential meanings. First, it may mean that there are too many students identified as needing special education in a school or district. Estimates of students in need of special education services ranged from 3% to 8% of total students. Central office personnel typically try to stay within the 10% range, however they sometimes reach highs of 13% or more. Second, it may mean that a certain group of students is over-represented in the special education population relative to their composition in the general student population. Ideally, the proportion of the student subset in the special education population should be identical to that of the general population.
Over-identification of students in need of special education services results in a number of negative outcomes for students, the school district and, to a greater extent, society. Students identified as in need of special education services often do not receive the same rigorous curriculum as those who do not receive services. Therefore, they are not as prepared for the demands of the next grade level as unidentified students. They often have lower expectations of themselves, may be socially stigmatized, may display more behavioral problems requiring disciplinary action, and are more likely to fail school or complete school with fewer abilities than other students.
Overidentified students place an unnecessary burden on already limited school resources and take away existing resources from those students who really need them. Staff time is spent further preparing for day-to-day needs, attending extraordinary meetings and completing assessments. If discipline becomes an issue, the administrator’s time is taken away from other duties.
In terms of potential societal impacts, the reduced demands of overidentification, watered-down curriculum and potential social stigma leave students unprepared to continue their education or lacking the skills needed to assume a productive role in the workplace and support themselves. . When these students are unable to become productive members of society after school, then their educational institution has failed them.
Some of the reasons for overidentification include:
- Poverty and income inequality
- Inequalities in school funding
- Inability to access early interventions
- Lack of training regarding appropriate special education referrals and placements
- Lack of understanding of different populations
Research has found that students from poor backgrounds are more likely to be unprepared for the rigors of education and lack the basic knowledge and experience of their more affluent peers. The Head Start program was developed in 1965 to address this need and to provide comprehensive services to low-income families during the preschool years. However, while progress has been made, a gap still exists and many families are unable to access these services for a variety of reasons.
Schools are not always appropriately funded with many schools requiring students to bring their own work materials, lack resources for paraprofessional support, or lack the funds to run full-time kindergarten or hire enough teachers to have larger classes. small. When schools are funded appropriately, the district often determines where and when the money is spent, which may not always be for the greatest needs or those that will make the greatest difference in the long run.
Unfortunately, some schools don’t always make the proper referral or placement decisions. Sometimes they wait too long before making a referral and sometimes they make one too soon. The advent of response to intervention (RTI) can help in this area as schools should have data on how students respond to interventions before making a referral.
Lack of understanding of different cultures and how children learn can also lead to over-identifying students, especially for behavior problems. Not all children are able to sit in a chair for six hours a day learning. There are many ways to learn and students need to be exposed to as many of them as possible before they are identified as having a disability.
Parents and educators need to be aware that over-identifying students for special education services has short- and long-term consequences. These consequences affect the student, the school and, potentially, society. It is the school’s responsibility to keep an open mind, examine individual differences and all possibilities before identifying a student as in need of special education services.