Indicator 9 | Disproportionate Representation in Special Education as the Result of Inappropriate Identification

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Three African American young men of different ages.Updated, April 2013

Indicator 9 is quite the mouthful, isn’t it? It focuses on a top priority concern of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)—reducing the disproportionate representation of specific minorities in special education because of inappropriate identification as a “child with a disability.”

Indicator 9 dovetails neatly with Indicator 10, which is also concerned with disproportionate representation of minorities–this time, however, into specific disability categories.

Indicator 9 reads as follows:

Percent of districts with disproportionate representation of racial and ethnic groups in special education and related services that is the result of inappropriate identification. (20 U.S.C. 1416(a)(3)(C))


These, then, are the data that States must compile and report to OSEP in keeping with its monitoring and supervision activities regarding disproportionate representation.

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Resources to Support Data Gathering for Indicator 9

Policy memos and guidance related to Indicator 9.
What OSEP has to say.

A technical assistance guide for Indicator 9.

Other tools and resources. 

How are we doing?
What’s the current status on reducing the level of disproportionate representation in special education as a result of inappropriate identification practices? What are the data telling us? Read this summary from 2011.

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Resources to Support Reducing Disproportionate Representation

Learn about disproportionality in special education from the experts.
The National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRESt) provided technical assistance and professional development to close the achievement gap between students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and their peers, and reduce inappropriate referrals to special education. The project has ended, but its materials and tools remain online.

Train others on disproportionality and IDEA’s requirements.
NICHCY offers Module 5, “Disproportionality and Overrepresentation,” in its Building the Legacy training curriculum on IDEA 2004.  The module comes with a slideshow, handouts for participants, and a trainer’s guide to explain in detail what the problem is, what IDEA requires school systems do about it, how “significant disproportionality” is defined, and more.

State definitions of “significant disproportionality.”
This publication compiles states’ definitions of significant disproportionality as described under Section 618 of IDEA.

Visit the Technical Assistance Center on Disproportionality.
This Center serves regions in New York State, but has lots of very useful info on its website, including publications such as these two:

Equity in Education: Addressing Racial/Ethnic Disproportionality in Special Education
This manual is intended to provide school districts with detailed data-driven processes for identifying the root causes of disproportionality in their district and ensure equitable outcomes.

Distinguishing Difference from Disability: The Common Causes of Racial/Ethnic Disproportionality in Special Education
This Equity In Action brief provides educators and researchers with the most comprehensive, praxis-oriented information on identifying and reducing disproportionality in schools. Over the course of developing and piloting a data-driven process (2004-2010) for identifying root causes, the Center gained insight into not only the root causes but also the driving forces (internal and external to district) of these root causes.

Preparing special education providers to avoid inappropriate identification.
The IRIS Center is a national center that serves college and university faculty and professional development providers by providing resources about students with disabilities. IRIS develops free, online, interactive training enhancements that translate research about the education of students with disabilities into practice. Of particular relevance to the issue of disproportionality are these two modules:

Cultural and Linguistic Differences: What Teachers Should Know
This module examines the ways in which culture influences the daily interactions that occur across all classrooms and provides practice for enhancing culturally responsive teaching. Also available in Spanish.

Classroom Diversity: An Introduction to Student Differences
This module offers a broad overview of how diversity (i.e., culture, language, exceptionality, socioeconomic status, and learning style) affects learning and how teachers can better meet the needs of all students in their classes.

Use positive behavior supports to deal with behavior problems.
The National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavior and Intervention Supports was established to address the behavioral and discipline systems needed for successful learning and social development of students. The Center provides capacity-building information and technical support about behavioral systems to assist states and districts in the design of effective schools.

NEA, on disproportionality.
Want the facts quick? Try this 3-pager, called “Disproportionality: Inappropriate Identification of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Children,” from the National Education Association.

A longer resource from NEA.
The National Education Association gives us a veritable primer on disproportionality in special education and discusses local practices that can yield positive results.

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NOTICE: NICHCY is going away, but its resources are not. Find hundreds of legacy NICHCY publications, as well as our training curriculum on IDEA 2004, in the Center for Parent Information and Resources' Library at This website will remain available until September 30, 2014. After that date, web visitors will be automatically redirected to