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Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities
NCES 2007-039
September 2007

Indicator 8: Special Needs

Students with special needs are protected by two federal laws that are aimed at improving their educational outcomes. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) supports state and local education systems in protecting the rights and meeting the needs of children with disabilities. Indicator 8.1 looks at the students served by IDEA. Students with limited English proficiency are protected by the Civil Rights Act, which requires schools to improve language deficiencies of students so that they may fully participate in the education system. Indicator 8.2 presents data on language minority students.

Indicator 8.1. Special Needs

Students with special needs may require services to provide them access to the same learning opportunities as students without disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA,14 supports states and localities in aiding infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities and their families by protecting their rights, meeting their individual needs, and improving their educational outcomes15 (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services n.d.; Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004). This indicator examines trend data in percentages of the resident population served by IDEA and the 2004 prevalence rates of different student disabilities.

The percentage of all preschoolers (3 to 5 years old) served under IDEA increased by 1 percentage point from 1998 to 2004. In 2004, some 700,000 3- to 5-year-olds, or 6 percent of children in this age group, received services under IDEA. Nine percent of American Indian/Alaska Native preschoolers were served under IDEA, while 6 percent of Whites and Blacks and 4 percent of Hispanics and Asians/Pacific Islanders were served. About 3 percent of all preschoolers were identified as having speech or language impairment, compared to 4 percent of all American Indian/Alaska Native preschoolers and 1 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander preschoolers.

Overall, the percentage of 6- to 21-year-olds served under IDEA increased less than 1 percentage point from 1998 to 2004. The percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native students served, however, increased 4 percentage points (10 percent to 14 percent). Six million 6- to 21-year-olds were served in 2004, accounting for 9 percent of the total population in this age group. Fourteen percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives and 13 percent of Blacks in this age group were served, compared to 9 percent of Whites, 8 percent of Hispanics, and 5 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders. Four percent of all 6- to 21-year-olds, or about half of all children in this age group served under IDEA, were identified as having a specific learning disability.16 Eight percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives and 6 percent of Blacks in this age group had this disability, compared to 4 percent of Whites and 2 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders. Two percent of 6- to 21-year-olds, or about one-fifth of people in this age group served under IDEA, were identified as having speech or language impairment.

View Table View Table 8.1a
View Table View Table 8.1b
View Table View Figure 8.1

Indicator 8.2. Language Minority Students

Providing equal educational opportunities to students who may not be proficient in English presents a growing challenge to schools. Students with limited English proficiency (LEP) must be evaluated by school officials to determine if they are eligible for special services. 17 By law, if the inability to speak and understand the English language excludes students from effective participation in an educational program offered by a school district, the district must take affirmative steps to rectify the language deficiency in order to open its instructional program to these students (U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights 2005).

Students who speak a language other than English at home and speak English with difficulty18 may be in need of special services. Approximately 10.8 million elementary and secondary students, or 20 percent of all such students, spoke a language other than English at home in 2005. About one-quarter of these students who spoke a language other than English at home had difficulty speaking English (data not shown). Students who spoke another language at home and spoke English with difficulty accounted for 5 percent of all students.

View Table View Table 8.2a

Overall, higher percentages of Hispanic (70 percent) and Asian (65 percent) elementary and secondary students spoke a language other than English at home, compared to students of other racial/ethnic groups. The percentages of Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander students (33 percent) and American Indian/Alaska Native students (17 percent) who spoke non-English languages at home were also higher than the percentages of White and Black students (both 6 percent). Similarly, Hispanic (19 percent) and Asian (18 percent) students had the highest percentages of students who spoke English with difficulty, followed by Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (6 percent) and American Indian/Alaska Native students (3 percent). White (1 percent) and Black students (1 percent) had the lowest percentages who spoke English with difficulty.

Among students in kindergarten through 4th grade, Hispanics were the most likely to speak a language other than English at home (69 percent), followed by Asians (63 percent), Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders (32 percent), and American Indians/Alaska Natives (15 percent). Comparisons among 9th- through 12th-graders were similar. For both kindergarten through 4th-graders and 9th- through 12th-graders, Black (5 and 7 percent, respectively) and White (5 and 7 percent, respectively) students had the lowest percentages who spoke a language other than English at home.

Also, among students in kindergarten through 4th grade, Hispanics (20 percent) and Asians (18 percent) had the highest percentages of students who spoke English with difficulty. Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander students had the next highest percentage who had difficulty speaking English in this grade group (7 percent), followed by American Indian/Alaska Native students (3 percent), and White and Black students (both 1 percent). Among students in 9th through 12th grade, higher percentages of Hispanic (17 percent) and Asian students (18 percent) had difficulty speaking English than did students of any other race/ethnicity shown. There were no measurable differences in the percentages of White, Black, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, or American Indian/Alaska Native students in this grade group who spoke English with difficulty.

View Table View Figure 8.2

Snapshot of Hispanic and Asian Subgroups: Language Minority Students

In 2005, 6.9 million Hispanic elementary and secondary students spoke a language other than English at home. A higher percentage of Dominican (88 percent) and Central American students (86 percent) spoke a language other than English at home than did South American (80 percent), Mexican (72 percent), Puerto Rican (52 percent) and Other Hispanic or Latino students (51 percent). The percentage of South American students who spoke a language other than English at home was also higher than the percentage of Mexican students, which was in turn higher than the percentage of Puerto Rican and Other Hispanic or Latino students. In addition, 24 percent of Central American students, 23 percent of Dominican students, and 21 percent of Mexican students had difficulty speaking English, all higher percentages than those for South American (16 percent), Puerto Rican, or Other Hispanic or Latino students (both 10 percent). The percentage of South American students who had difficulty speaking English was also higher than the percentages of Puerto Rican or Other Hispanic or Latino.

Approximately 1.3 million Asian students spoke a language other than English at home in 2005. A higher percentage of Vietnamese (80 percent) than Korean (73 percent), Asian Indian (65 percent), Japanese (47 percent), and Filipino students (36 percent) spoke a language other than English at home. The percentages of Chinese (74 percent), Korean, and Asian Indian students who spoke a language other than English at home were also higher than the percentages of Japanese and Filipino students. Additionally, 21 to 26 percent of Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean students spoke English with difficulty, compared to 10 percent of Filipino and 11 percent of Asian Indian students.

View Table View Table 8.2b

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14 Previously the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, and amended in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (P.L. 94-142).
15 Under IDEA, each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to address the student's unique needs. See Appendix C: Guide to Sources for more information about IDEA history and requirements.
16 A disorder of one or more of the many psychological processes involved in learning, but not including learning problems that are primarily caused by visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage. See Appendix C: Guide to Sources for complete definition.
17 Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. This law requires school districts to help limited-English-proficient (LEP) students overcome language barriers and to ensure that they can participate meaningfully in the district's educational programs.
18 "Speaking English with difficulty" was defined by responses to a survey. Respondents were asked if each child in the household spoke a language other than English at home. If they answered "yes," they were asked how well each child could speak English. Categories used for reporting were "very well," "well," "not well," and "not at all." All those who reported speaking English less than "very well" were considered to have difficulty speaking English.

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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education