What Changed? An Analysis of the 2004 IDEA Amendments and their Impact on Minority Disproportionality in Special Education

Open Access
Kushnir, Caitlin Eileen
Graduate Program:
Educational Theory and Policy
Master of Arts
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
November 14, 2018
Committee Members:
  • Paul Morgan, Thesis Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Special Education
  • Education
  • Education Policy
  • IDEA
  • Disproportionality
  • Overrepresentation
  • NAEP
For the past five decades, education researchers have examined the disproportionate representation of minority students in special education. To address this issue, legislators added amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that require schools to monitor and intervene in instances of minority overrepresentation. This study examines research in the twenty years leading up to the 2004 amendments. Using a specific set of coding criteria, nine studies were identified as a cross section of quantitative research that informed the 2004 amendments. This best evidence synthesis showed that the research examined missed several components, such as the inclusion of achievement data and rigorous quantitative analysis methods. Using these weaknesses, this study examines National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data from 2003, 2005 and 2007 to study the effects of the 2004 amendments. Using two logistic regression models—one that includes only race and one that includes achievement and socioeconomic variables—the study produces odds ratios for the likelihood of having an Individual Education Plan (IEP) as a measure of placement into special education. The study specifically examines to see if southern states with longstanding histories of segregation and racial discrimination differed from national data and the data of one mid-Atlantic state. The results of the models show that when possible confounds were added to Model 2 for all data sets, minority students were significantly less likely to have an IEP than white children of similar backgrounds. Although the odds ratios declined between 2003 and 2007 for minority students descriptively, which suggests that the IDEA amendments reduced the number of minority children in special education, legislators need to take a comprehensive view of the disproportionality issue and shift focus on preventing underrepresentation of students in need to additional support.