Skip to main content Homepage

Significant Disproportionality

Disproportionality of racial/ethnic groups in special education is a longstanding national issue. IDEA 2004 requires states to define significant disproportionality of racial/ethnic groups with regards to identification in special education, identification in specific disability categories, placement, and discipline. In 2013 the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on Significant Disproportionality saying that few districts were identified, that no consistent methodology was found across states, and the flexibility states had in defining Significant Disproportionality hampered the ability to monitor. In 2016, the Education Department updated the regulations (34 CFR § 300.646-300.647) to address the issues found in the GAO report. These new regulations require a standardized methodology, clearly define multiple terms, including minimum cell size and n-size, and also allow some flexibility for states. Finally, they introduce Comprehensive Coordinated Early Intervening Services (CCEIS).

This page was updated in March of 2020. An archived version can be made available for those interested in the changes.


In 2011, the ODE published a revision to the procedures governing Significant Disproportionality. In November and December of 2017, the ODE solicited stakeholder input on how to bring those procedures in line with the new regulations. States were charged with determining:

  • Standards for measuring reasonable progress;
  • Reasonable Risk Ratio threshold;
  • Minimum cell size; and
  • Minimum n-size

Based on feedback from stakeholders the ODE determined the following methodology. Please note: a previous version of this information implied that the ODE altered prior year determinations and data. This is not the case and no prior year determinations nor data were ever altered.

Standards for Reasonable Progress

The ODE uses a three-part assessment of reasonable progress. For any given monitoring category and race/ethnicity combination:

  1. The most recent school year data available is run through the calculations to create an initial list of districts that must be identified unless removed via the flexibilities outlined in 34 CFR § 300.647(d);
  2. The ODE then gathers the data for the two school years prior;
  3. Of the districts identified in the initial list:
    • If their Risk Ratio does not exceed the calculated threshold in each year, then the district is removed from the list. Remaining districts are checked for the next flexibility;
    • If their Risk Ratio is reducing from year-to-year, then the district is removed from the list.
  4. Districts not removed from the initial list by the flexibilities above are identified with Significant Disproportionality

Previously, the ODE only analyzed the current year, which did not allow for finding patterns and meant that population fluctuations were more likely to impact a district. Under the new regulations, the ODE is allowed to review prior year data using the new standard methodology to prevent identification of districts.

Reasonable Risk Ratio Threshold

The threshold was determined to be five (5) deviations from the statewide Median Risk Ratio for that category. Think of a bell curve of grades. Grades of C are the scores clustered in the middle. Grades of A are the few of the highest scores. A B grade is typically considered to be 1 deviation. A grade of A is considered 2 deviations. Five deviations would be the equivalent of looking for only those students who achieve a grade of A+++.

Previously, Oregon used a fixed value of 4.0 for the threshold. This policy treated each Disability, Placement, and Discipline category as equally at risk of misidentification. This policy also unintentionally led to identifying only those districts with large population fluctuations.

The ODE now uses a three-step process to determine the target threshold for a category. The ODE calculates a variable threshold per category based on that category’s statewide median RR or ARR value. A Median Absolute Deviation is then calculated to determine a step or deviation for each category. The step or deviation for each category is then multiplied by 5 and added to the original Median to reach the threshold for each category. The number of deviations chosen was due to a good mix of impact and identification.

Minimum Cell and Minimum N-size

The new regulations specify that a Cell size of 10 and N-size of 30 are presumptively reasonable minimums. Stakeholders and the ODE agreed and use these minimums of 10 and 30. The Cell and N-size can be considered the same as the Numerator and Denominator of a fraction. Take, for example, 2/3: 2 is the Cell and 3 is the N. The 2011 procedures used 10 as the minimum cutoff for both numbers.

Major Changes from 2011 Revision

Weighted Risk Ratio

The 2011 procedures used Weighted Risk Ratio (WRR) to determine if Significant Disproportionality occurred. The new regulations do away with using a WRR and instead relies on Risk Ratio (RR) or Alternate Risk Ratio (ARR). Further the new regulations go on to specify when either RR or ARR can be used. Instead of using a weighted measurement to limit unduly impacting districts based on their population size, the ODE uses a Median measurement of statewide Risk Ratios (RR or ARR) for each category monitored.
Using a Median value not only controls for swings in population, but overall district size is less of a factor in whether a district will be impacted. Further, the new regulations allow for reasonable progress, which include looking at the current and up to three prior consecutive years, and evaluating whether the district’s RR or ARR is making reasonable progress in lowering the RR or ARR in the category identified. This means that a district will have to exceed the threshold for a specific category for three years in a row and the category’s RR or ARR will have to not show any improvement in the prior two years in order to be identified with Significant Disproportionality. These three things will help balance accountability and limit impact.

Monitoring Changes

The pre-2016 regulations monitored, by Race/Ethnicity, the following categories:

  • Identification for Special Education (Indicator B9)
  • Identification for Special Education by Disability Type (Indicator B10)
  • Federal Placement distribution by setting (Indicator B5)
  • Long-term Discipline (Indicator B4)

The 2016 regulations altered the monitoring categories to the following:

  • Identification of children as children with disabilities generally and with specific impairments:
    • All children identified with a disability;
    • Intellectual Disabilities;
    • Specific Learning Disabilities;
    • Emotional Disturbance;
    • Speech or Language Impairments;
    • Other health impairments; and
    • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Placements into particular educational settings, including disciplinary removals:
    • For children with disabilities ages 6 through 21, inside a regular class less than 40 percent of the day;
    • For children with disabilities ages 6 through 21, inside separate schools and residential facilities, not including homebound or hospital settings, correctional facilities, or private schools;
    • For children with disabilities ages 3 through 21, out-of-school suspensions and expulsions of 10 days or fewer;
    • For children with disabilities ages 3 through 21, out-of-school suspensions and expulsions of more than 10 days;
    • For children with disabilities ages 3 through 21, in-school suspensions of 10 days or fewer;
    • For children with disabilities ages 3 through 21, in-school suspensions of more than 10 days; and 
    • For children with disabilities ages 3 through 21, disciplinary removals in total, including in-school and out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, removals by school personnel to an interim alternative education setting, and removals by a hearing officer.
Comprehensive Coordinated Early Intervening Services (CCEIS)

This is the mandatory version of voluntary Coordinated Early Intervening Services (CEIS). Among other changes, it expands the age range from Kindergarten through 12 to Age 3 through grade 12 and allows for funding of services to students with disabilities. More information about CCEIS can be found at the ODE’s Coordinated Early Intervening Services (CEIS & CCEIS) web page.

Helpful Concepts

Risk Ratio and Alternate Risk Ratio

The difference between the Risk Ratio (RR) and Alternate Risk Ratio (ARR) is the comparison group. For RR, the comparison group is the district. For the ARR the comparison group is the state.

For example:

African American Students identified with Specific Learning Disability

Risk Ratio

District Risk for selected Race/Ethnicity and Disability

divided by

District Risk for all other Race Ethnicities for the selected Disability

Alternate Risk Ratio

District Risk for selected Race/Ethnicity and Disability

divided by

State Risk for all other Race Ethnicities for the selected Disability

Your browser is out-of-date! It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how