A Situated Analysis of Special Education Disproportionality for Systemic Transformation in an Urban School District

Aydin Bal, Amanda L. Sullivan, John Harper

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36 Scopus citations


The disproportionate representation of students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in special education programs is a complex issue that has long troubled practitioners, educational leaders, and researchers. This article reports on a mixed-method collaborative case analysis that examined local patterns of disproportionality in an urban school district and the district's systemic transformation effort to address disproportionality. In a close collaboration with the district's special education leadership team, we utilized student-level quantitative data from 2006 through 2010 to examine temporal patterns of disproportionality along with qualitative data on the leadership team's perceptions and actions. Our analyses showed that risk of overidentification was greatest for African American, American Indian, low-income, and male students. The study illustrates a method of collaborative analysis and the importance of such analyses for understanding and addressing variously localized patterns of disproportionality. The findings contribute to the literature on disproportionality and inform systemic change efforts in diverse sociocultural contexts of urban school districts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-14
Number of pages12
JournalRemedial and Special Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The first author acknowledges the support of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction under Disproportionality Demonstration Grant 84.027.


  • disproportionality
  • mixed methodology
  • systemic transformation
  • urban school district


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