Demographic and School Characteristics of Students Receiving Special Education in the Elementary Grades
This Issue Brief examines the demographic and school characteristics of students receiving special education in the elementary school grades. Prior studies have documented the number of children receiving special education services in each year during the elementary school years by gender, race/ethnicity, and disability (see, e.g., Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) 2003). However, little is known about the grade distribution of students by other demographic and school characteristics (such as the student’s poverty status and the school’s control (private/public), urbanicity, region, and poverty concentration).
Data recently released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998–99 (ECLS-K) allow a study of the demographic and school characteristics of students receiving special education in several grades between kindergarten and grade 5. Through the ECLS-K, NCES has followed a nationally representative sample of school children since the 1998–99 school year, when the children were in kindergarten, through the 2003–04 school year, when most of the children were in fifth grade. Special education data were collected in spring 1999 (kindergarten), spring 2000 (first grade), spring 2002 (third grade), and spring 2004 (fifth grade).
At each time point, ECLS-K’s main school contact, referred to as the School Coordinator, provided information on whether a student received special education services. The School Coordinator also identified the student’s primary service provider (i.e., the person with primary responsibility for providing the student’s special education services), who identified the student’s primary disability. Additional information was collected on the student and the student’s school, including the student’s sex, race/ethnicity, and poverty status (poor or nonpoor) and the school’s control (public or private), urbanicity (central city, urban fringe/large town, or small town/rural), region, and poverty concentration (higher poverty schools are those with 50 percent or more students eligible for the National School Lunch Program; lower poverty schools are those with fewer than 50 percent of students eligible).
This issue brief provides a detailed description of the proportion of elementary school students receiving special education in kindergarten, first grade, third grade, and fifth grade; the primary disabilities of these students; and the variation in these measures across a range of demographic and school characteristics.