Special education classifications varied across the country

The number of children assigned to special education nationwide declined last year for the fourth year in a row, according to a new report released this week by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, but the same wasn’t true in every state. Not only does the percentage of students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) – the marker for special education students – vary greatly, 27 states actually identified a higher percentage of students as needing special education services than they had in the previous year.

Pennsylvania led the way with a more than 3 percentage-point increase in classifications, and Texas was at the bottom of the list with a 3 percentage-point decrease. You can see the full breakdown by state on page 11 of the report.

Texas also has, overall, the smallest proportion of special education students in the country, with just over 9 percent of its students having that classification. Report authors Janie Scull and Amber Winkler offer up several explanations for this: Students with dyslexia are not always given IEPs in Texas (state law allows for them to be served through a different type of education plan); the state doesn’t use the federal “developmental delay” category for young children; and Texas has a strong early reading program which could help prevent some specific learning disorder diagnoses.

The report is the first in a series by the Fordham Institute to delve deeper into special education in the country. It sets the stage for future work, breaking down special education classifications by category and state, and analyzing the ratio of special education students to paraprofessionals.