Special Education Students¹
Special education students are a diverse group of students nationally and within states, districts, and schools. The descriptions of special education students presented here come with several cautions.
It is inappropriate to assume that the labels of "special education" or groups within special education describe the characteristics of individual students. It is important to look beyond the group name (special education students) to develop appropriate mechanisms to accurately understand the characteristics of these students in greater detail.
It should be recognized that almost all special education students receive the majority of their instruction in the general education classroom and are participants in regular statewide assessments.
Special education students comprise 13% of the population of all public school students. Individual states vary in their percentages of special education students.2 Figure 1 shows the percentages of students receiving special education services in the 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2008-09.
Figure 1. Percentage of Students Receiving Special Education Services in 2008-09
Data were adapted from National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "State Non-fiscal Survey of Public Elementary/Secondary Education," 2008-09 representing children ages 3-21 via http://nces.ed.gov » Data from Vermont were not included in the CCD data set. The information on state membership in this figure was accurate as of June, 2011.
Across the states, the population of public school students in special education ranged from less than 10% to 19%. One way to describe the characteristics of special education students is by their disability category, even though students within a single category have diverse needs. Most of the 6.5 million special education students (except for a portion with the most significant cognitive disabilities who may fall in such categories as intellectual disabilities, autism, and multiple disabilities) participate in the general state assessment. They do not participate in an alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards.
Nationally, there are 13 special education disability categories. Figure 2 shows these categories, along with their prevalence nationally.
Figure 2. Percentage of Students in Special Education Disability Categories Nationally in Fall 2008
Data were adapted from Table 1-3 (Students ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, by disability category and state: Fall 2008) via www.IDEAdata.org » for the 50 states.
*Developmental delay is applicable to children ages 3 through 9.
The percentages of students in each category vary tremendously across states. For example, the percentages of special education students with specific learning disabilities (LD) varied from 15% of the special education population in one state to 60% in another. The percentage of students with intellectual disabilities varied from 3% to 19%. Other categories of disability also show considerable variation.
Special education students receive their instruction in the general education setting for varying amounts of their instructional time.
Figure 3 shows the percentage of special education students who spend more than 80% of this time in the general education classroom. In most states, more that 50% of special education students spend more than 80% of their instructional time in general education classrooms.
Figure 3. Percentage of Students Receiving Special Education Services who Spend More than 80% of Instructional Time in General Education Classrooms by State in 2008-09.
Data were adapted from Table 2-2 (Students ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, by disability category and state: Fall 2008) via www.IDEAdata.org » for the 50 states and DC. Data from Vermont was not available within this data set.
¹ This information was taken from Understanding Subgroups in Common State Assessments: Special Education Students and (ELLs) English Language Learners (NCEO, 2011).
² This and other general percentages are based on children ages 3-21. This age range is the most common one for which data are available across data sets used to describe students with disabilities and (ELLs) English Language Learners.