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New Data Show Kids With Disabilities Shut Out of Gifted Programs, Held Back More Often Than Others

Written by Meghan Casey, NCLD Policy & Advocacy Associate | March 25, 2014

The U.S. Department of Education just released new data showing students with learning and attention issues are shut out of gifted and AP programs, held back in grade level and suspended from school at higher rates than other students. This collection of data is known as the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) and includes information from every single school district across the country—even charter schools and juvenile justice facilities.

As a parent, if you’ve ever wondered if other children face the same challenges as your child, here’s statistical proof that your family is not alone. Within the CRDC data, there are three big takeaways for parents.

Our Kids Are Shut Out of Gifted and AP Programs

The CRDC data show students with learning and attention issues lack access to gifted and talented programs and rigorous AP-level courses:

  • Only 1 percent of students who receive IDEA services are in gifted and talented education programs, compared to 7 percent of general education students.
  • Students who receive IDEA services make up 12 percent of all high school students but are only 2 percent of students enrolled in an AP course.
  • Only 63 percent of students who receive IDEA services attend schools that offer math and science courses (like Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry and physics) compared to 69 percent of students without disabilities.

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As advocates, we know that students with learning and attention issues can be gifted. And they can achieve high standards and succeed in rigorous courses with the right supports and services. These statistics should be an alarm bell to parents, advocates and teachers. We need to work to ensure that our students are asking to be enrolled in high-level courses, are seeking out the right supports, and are asserting their rights when gifted and AP programs are denied to them.

Our Kids Are Frequently Held Back in Grade Level

Here’s what the CRDC data show about how often students with learning and attention issues are being retained or held back:

  • Students receiving services under IDEA make up 12 percent of high school students, but are 19 percent of all students held back or retained a year. (Of the 747,000 students retained in high school, nearly 142,000 of them were students receiving services under IDEA.)
  • Students receiving services under IDEA represent 14 percent of students enrolled and 17 percent of students retained in elementary schools. (This means that, of the more than 450,000 elementary school students held back a year in 2011–12, 76,500 of those students were receiving services under IDEA.)

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The higher rate of retention for students with disabilities is troubling because it means students are not receiving the right supports and services. The CRDC data make clear that we need better advocacy for students who are struggling in school, more effective instruction and support for those students, and more efforts in students’ IEP teams to prevent retention.

Kids With Disabilities Are Suspended at Twice the Rate of Other Students

Recently, we’ve highlighted the fact that students with disabilities get suspended from school much more often than other students. We see more confirmation of this in the CRDC data:

  • Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension (13 percent) than students without disabilities (6 percent).
  • More than one out of four boys of color with disabilities (served by IDEA)—and nearly one in five girls of color with disabilities—receives an out-of-school suspension.
  • Students with disabilities make up only 13 percent of the overall population, but make up 25 percent of those students referred to law enforcement.

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Discipline has been an issue for students with disabilities and students of color for many years. We need to keep supporting the movement away from zero-tolerance policies that punish kids and toward constructive discipline that promotes positive school climates.

Parents Like You Can Make Things Better

The CRDC data, though discouraging, can be a very informative and useful tool. Armed with this information, we can all become better advocates for students with learning and attention issues. On the CRDC website, you can get specific data on how your state or district is doing and compare your school district to others. Let’s use this new data to increase our knowledge and improve our advocacy efforts in our local school districts.


Meghan Casey is the Policy Research & Advocacy Associate at NCLD. She is part of the Public Policy and Advocacy team which implements NCLD’s legislative strategy in Washington, D.C., and advances government policies that support the success of individuals with learning disabilities in school, at work and in life.

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