Timing and Duration of Student Participation in Special Education in the Primary Grades
More than 250,000 U.S. students (7 percent) receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) at age 5, the kindergarten year for most students (Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services [OSERS] 2003). By age 9, when most U.S. students are completing third grade, more than 500,000 students (12 percent) are receiving special education. However, relatively little is known about how these changes in the characteristics of the special education population occur over the first years of school. For example, it has been shown that 17 percent of special education students across the later elementary grades receive special education services for only 2 years (Walker et al. 1988), but these figures are not available specifically for the primary grades.
A first step in understanding more about students receiving special education in the primary grades (kindergarten through third grade) is a basic description of the timing and duration of special education services provided over these grades, including when students first receive special education, for how long, and how the timing and duration of special education may differ by the demographics of students and the school settings in which students are served: In what grades or combinations of grades do students receive special education in the primary grades? Are there differences in the timing and duration of special education for girls and boys? Students of different racial/ethnic backgrounds? Poor and nonpoor students? Students in public and private schools? Students in different regions of the country or in urban and rural schools? Students in schools that serve higher and lower percentages of poor students?
Recent data 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 provision of special education services in U.S. public and private schools over the years between kindergarten and third grade. Through the ECLS-K, NCES has followed a nationally representative sample of school children who were in kindergarten in the 1998–99 school year through 2003–04, when most children in the sample were in fifth grade. This Issue Brief focuses on the primary grades and uses special education data collected in spring 1999 (kindergarten), 2000 (first grade), and 2002 (third grade).
Data for the Issue Brief were drawn from surveys of the children’s parents and school administrators. At each time point, a school administrator provided information on whether a student received special education services. The school administrator also reported information on characteristics of the school, such as school sector, the proportion of students in the school eligible for free or reduced-price lunch through the National School Lunch Program, and the setting of the school neighborhood. Parents were asked about the student’s sex and race/ethnicity, as well as questions about household size and income that could then be used to determine the student’s poverty status.
The Issue Brief presents the percentage of students receiving special education in at least one of the three grades (kindergarten, first grade, and third grade). Then, among students who received special education in at least one of the grades, the Issue Brief presents information on which of the three grades students first received services and the combinations of grades in which students received them. Results are reported separately by sex, race/ethnicity, student’s poverty status, school sector (public or private), the urbanicity and region of the school, and the poverty concentration of the school (schools were coded “high poverty” if at least 50 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch through the National School Lunch Program).