What is Disproportionality in Special Education?

Disproportionality exists when a specific group is over or under represented in a specific category or area. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires states to monitor schools across 17 results and compliance indicators. The law is meant to guarantee that all students, regardless of their disabilities, receive a free appropriate public education and ensure that they receive services related to their disability. In the law, Congress wrote: “Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.”


Results Driven Accountability and Differentiated Support System

The Indiana DOE/Office of Special Education, has begun a “Results Driven Accountability and Differentiated Support” (RDA) system (from November 2018 going forward). This system includes the following three elements: Compliance, Results, and Data Timeliness. These will result in technical assistance and a professional development system that will support the individual districts based on their determination. There are six federal compliance indicators. All are used as part of Results Driven Accountability. In Indiana, multiple groups are responsible for monitoring indicators; the IDRC tracks Indicators 4A, 4B, 9, and 10, which address discipline and identification of special education students.

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All Indicators

IDOEs Determinations based on the Results Driven Accountability and Differentiated Support System


IDRC Analytical Process for Compliance Determination

Each year, school corporations submit data to the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), who then disseminates it to the Indiana Disproportionality Resource Center (IDRC) for analysis. The IDRC statistician cleans and analyzes the data, then submits the findings to IDOE. For Indicators 4A and 4B, there is a one-year lag in the data submitted; for example, in 2019, the data results included the years 2015-2016, 2016-2017, and 2017-2018. This is to ensure that a full school year is completed prior to the data being submitted to both the state and IDRC Project staff. For Indicators 9 and 10, the data results include the most recent school year; in 2019, the results included the 2016-2017, 2017-2018, and 2018-2019 school years.

For your most recent school corporation's data, please contact IDOE's Special Education Specialist, or IDRC Coordinator.

There are three possible findings IDOE can issue to schools within indicators 4A, 4B, 9, and 10:

Significant Discrepancy

When the risk ratio for Indicators 4A & 4B exceeds 2.0 for three consecutive years in a given category related to school discipline

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Disproportionate Representation

When the risk ratio for indicators 9 &10 relating to one of the identification categories exceeds 2.0 for three consecutive years

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Significant Disproportionality

When the risk ratio for one category relating to Indicators 4A, 4B (Discipline), 9 (Identification), or 10 (Identification in a-specific disability category) exceeds 2.5 for three consecutive years. The risk ratio is meant to answer the question: “How much more likely is it that students in [Group x] will be subject to a given outcome (e.g. suspensions greater than 10 days)?”

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Some schools may find their risk ratio meets or exceeds the cut offs for determinations, but there are two other important pieces of information that are taken into consideration by IDOE: the Cell size and the N size. 

The Cell size refers to the number of children in the racial/ethnic group(s) experiencing a particular outcome. It is the Numerator in the risk calculation.

The N size refers to the number of children in the racial/ethnic group(s) enrolled in a district with respect to identification of a disability, and the number of children with disabilities enrolled in an LEA with respect to placement and discipline. It is the Denominator in the risk calculation.

In Indiana the minimum cell size for both Significant Discrepency and Disproportionate representation is 15. The Minimum **N size is 15. Cell size and N size are not only for the risk index for the target group (racial/ethnic group) but are also for the comparison group (other racial/ethnic group).

So when we say the minimum Cell size is 15, that means:

  • The number of XY group identified must be at least 15
  • The number of non-XY group identified myst be at least 15

Likewise, when we say that minimum N size is 15, that means:

  • The number of XY group enrolled must be at least 15
  • The number of non-XY group enrolled myst be at least 15

The document below provides an explaination of Significant Disproportionality in Discipline. In the document example, the N size for the 2013-2014 school year is 1,020, because it is the total number of African American students with disabilities in that district.

The Cell size, however, refers to the number of African American students who recieved In-School-Suspensions (ISS) totaling more than 10 days; in this case, the number is 63 for the 2013-2014 school year.

These two numbers are important because they play a role in making determinations. If the N size is below 15 OR the Cell size is below 15, a determination cannot be made by IDOE, even if the risk ratio is 2.0 or above for three consecutive years.

Explanation of Significant Disproportionality in Discipline

All final determinations regarding Indicators 4A, 4B, 9, and 10 are made by IDOE, typically by May of each year.