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Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities
NCES 2010-015
July 2010

Indicator 8. Special Needs

Students with special needs are protected by federal laws that are aimed at improving their educational outcomes. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) supports state and local education systems' efforts to protect the rights and meet the needs of children with disabilities. Indicator 8.1 profiles the students served by IDEA. Students with limited English proficiency, or English Language Learners (ELL), 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 the number and percentage of elementary and secondary students who spoke another language at home and who spoke English with difficulty in 2007.

8.1. Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities may require services to provide them access to the same learning opportunities as students without disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA,12 supports states and localities in their efforts to aid infants, toddlers, children, and the families of youth with disabilities by protecting their rights, meeting their individual needs, and improving their educational outcomes13 (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, n.d.; Individuals with Disabilities Education  Act of 2004). This indicator examines trend data for racial/ethnic groups in percentages of the resident population served by IDEA and the 2007 prevalence rates of different disabilities.

The percentage of all preschoolers (children 3 to 5 years old) served under IDEA increased 1 percentage point from 1998 to 2007. Six percent of 3- to 5-year-olds, or 700,000 children, received services under IDEA in 2007. Nine percent of American Indian/Alaska Native preschoolers in this age group were served under IDEA, compared with 6 percent each of White and Black preschoolers and 4 percent each of Hispanic and Asian preschoolers. In 2007, three percent of all preschoolers were identified as having a speech or language impairment; 4 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native preschoolers had this disability, compared with 3 percent of Whites and 2 percent each of Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians/Pacific Islanders in this age group. Though percentages varied by race, all other disabilities shown were identified in less than 1 percent of all preschoolers.

From 1998 to 2007, the percentage of 6- to 21-year-olds served under IDEA increased by less than 1 percentage point; increases in this percentage were seen for all races/ethnicities shown, with the exception of Whites. Nine percent of all 6- to 21-year-olds, or 5.9 million people in this age group, were served in 2007. Fourteen percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives in this age group were served under IDEA, compared with 12 percent of Blacks, 9 percent of Hispanics, 8 percent of Whites, and 5 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders. Four percent of all 6- to 21-year-olds were identified as having a specific learning disability; 7 percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives in this age group had this type of disability, compared with 5 percent of Blacks and Hispanics, 3 percent of Whites, and 2 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders. Two percent of 6- to 21-year-olds were identified as having a speech or language impairment. In addition, 2 percent of Black 6- to 21-year-olds were identified as having mental retardation, while 1 percent or less of 6- to 21-year-olds in other racial/ethnic groups had this disability. All other disabilities shown had a prevalence rate of 1 percent or less of the population in this age group, though percentages varied by race/ethnicity.

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

8.2. English Language Learner Students

Providing equal educational opportunities to students who may not be proficient in English presents a growing challenge to schools. Students who are English language learners (ELL) must be evaluated by school officials to determine if they are eligible for special services.14

Students who speak a language other than English at home and speak English with difficulty15 may be in need of special services. In 2007, an estimated 11 million elementary and secondary students, or 21 percent of all such students, spoke a language other than English at home. According to a survey of parents, about one-quarter of these students had difficulty speaking English; this means that approximately 5 percent of all elementary and secondary students spoke another language at home and had difficulty speaking English.

View Table View Table 8.2a

Among the races/ethnicities, higher percentages of Hispanic (69 percent) and Asian (64 percent) elementary and secondary students spoke a language other than English at home than students of other racial/ethnic groups. The percentage of Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander students (37 percent) and American Indian/Alaska Native students (16 percent) who spoke languages other than English at home were also higher than the percentages of White and Black students (both 6 percent) who did so. About 18 percent of Hispanic and 17 percent of Asian students spoke English with difficulty; these percentages were higher than those for Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander students (7 percent) and American Indian/Alaska Native (3 percent) students. Whites, Blacks, and students of students of two or more races (1 percent each) had the lowest percentages of students who spoke English with difficulty. Comparisons were similar among students in kindergarten through grade 8 and among students in grades 9 through 12. 

View Table View Figure 8.2

Snapshot of Hispanic and Asian Subgroups: English Language Learners

In 2007, about 7.2 million Hispanic elementary and secondary school students spoke a language other than English at home. Higher percentages of Dominican and Salvadoran students (88 and 87 percent, respectively) spoke a language other than English at home when compared with South American (79 percent), other Central American (78 percent), Mexican (72 percent), and Cuban (70 percent) students. Of those of Hispanic ethnicity, Puerto Ricans (50 percent) and Other Hispanics or Latinos (43 percent) had the lowest percentages of students who spoke a language other than English at home. In addition, the percentages of Mexican, Dominican, Salvadoran, and other Central American students (ranging from 18 to 20 percent) who had difficulty speaking English were higher than the percentages of Cuban (13 percent), South American (14 percent), Puerto Rican (8 percent), and Other Hispanic or Latino (8 percent) students who had difficulty speaking English.

In 2007, an estimated 1.3 million Asian students spoke a language other than English at home. A higher percentage of Vietnamese students (80 percent) spoke a language other than English at home than was the case for Korean (75 percent), Chinese (71 percent), Other Asian (69 percent), and Asian Indian (66 percent) students. Of those of Asian race, Japanese (51 percent) and Filipinos (34 percent) had the lowest percentages of students who spoke a language other than English at home. In addition, 18 to 25 percent of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and other Asian students spoke English with difficulty, compared with 8 percent of Filipino students and 10 percent of Asian Indian students. 

View Table View Table 8.2b

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12 Previously the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, and amended in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 (P.L. 94-142).
13 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 A: Guide to Sources for more information about IDEA history and requirements.
14 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.
15 "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