- Three Maryland school districts will receive about $1 million each to help address the overidentification of students of color who receive special education services, the Maryland State Department of Education announced last week.
- Federal data shows 63% of Maryland districts were identified as significantly disproportionate in both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, up from only 7% or 8% in the four previous school years. Nationally, 5% of districts in 2020-21 were identified as being racially disproportionate in special education student identifications, placements and discipline practices.
- Other states are also trying to reduce overidentifications through training sessions and technical assistance to districts. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education recently announced it is launching a national technical assistance center to help states improve data collection, analyzing and reporting efforts in this area.
The Maryland Education Department first announced the competitive grant program earlier this year. In a statement on the grant winners, the state said the program will specifically address overidentification of students, particularly those in underserved communities, who are classified with intellectual disabilities and/or emotional disturbance.
"The challenge we face is not simply one of overidentification," said State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury, in a statement. "At its core, it’s about ensuring that every child in Maryland has access to a learning environment that recognizes their unique potential and provides them the right support."
The $3 million in grants is coming from federal COVID-19 emergency funding and will help the grantees develop and scale tiered intervention strategies. "These strategies coupled with the critical interrogation of explicit and implicit biases will drive the difficult but necessary change needed to ensure students are not disproportionately identified by race, sex, gender, home language, and income status," the statement said.
In a March letter from Choudhury to educators and others, the state superintendent said students identified with intellectual and emotional disabilities can often be placed in more restrictive and segregated settings at schools. "Students who are misidentified are vulnerable to a less rigorous curriculum and lower expectations in a segregated setting," Choudhury said.
The three grant recipients are:
- Calvert County Public Schools. The district wants to cut by half the number of K-5 African American students identified for special education. It also wants to reduce the gap of African American students with disabilities who receive in-school and out-of-school suspensions. The district plans to use $934,665 to revamp its special education pre-referral process, hold professional development to mitigate staff implicit biases, and narrow academic proficiency gaps for African American students.
- Montgomery County Public Schools. The district's goal for its $1 million award is to significantly reduce the disproportionate identification of emergent multilingual Hispanic/Latino students with intellectual disabilities. Its approach is to include designing a guide for tiered supports for addressing cultural relevancy, understanding the differences between language acquisition and potential educational disabilities, and using evidence-based interventions.
- Prince George's County Public Schools. This system aims to use its $1 million grant to narrow disparities in the identification of African American students labeled with emotional disturbance. The district will focus on 14 schools to help staff use more interventions for the highest-need students. Additionally, the grant will provide parent training sessions so families can learn about and apply intervention techniques at home.