Significant Disproportionality (2017)

Virtual Event

The OSEP Symposium on Significant Disproportionality explored why this is an important topic for all of us as we work to ensure that children with disabilities, regardless of race or ethnicity, are provided educational services and accommodations that enable and prepare them for post-school education and career opportunities. The Symposium presentations highlighted the key topics from a national perspective, framed the importance of this issue for all OSEP grantees, and provided some examples of practices and strategies that help address significant disproportionality. In addition to the live event, numerous resources related to significant disproportionality have been posted for participants to use as they prepared for the event and as resources to improve services and conditions for children with disabilities in States, districts, schools, and programs. Approximately one week after the live event, there will be additional opportunities for OSEP grantees to engage in further discussion.

Archived Meeting Recording & Resources

Presenter Information


Symposium Prework


You are invited to explore resources that are relevant to your work. These resources were selected based on their broad relevance to the topic and their potential usefulness to stakeholders. It is important to note that most of these resources were developed prior to the release of the Significant Disproportionality regulations on December 19, 2016 and may not be completely aligned to the new regulations.

This document contains resources that are provided for the user’s convenience. The inclusion of these materials is not intended to reflect its importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed, or products or services offered. These materials may contain the views and recommendations of various subject matter experts as well as hypertext links, contact addresses and websites to information created and maintained by other public and private organizations. The opinions expressed in any of these materials do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. Department of Education does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of any outside information included in these materials.


Equity in IDEA

  • Significant Disproportionality 101 Presentation (State Personnel, Data)
    This 30 minute, pre-recorded Significant Disproportionality 101 presentation provides a more detailed description of the significant disproportionality regulation. We encourage you to watch this presentation if you would like to learn about more detailed, foundational information.  You can also view the PowerPoint presentation for this event.
  • Fact Sheet: Equity in IDEA (State Personnel, Researchers) 
    This fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Education provides background on the topic of significant disproportionality and summarizes the new regulations.
  • Dear Colleague Letter: Preventing Racial Discrimination in Special Education (State Personnel, Researchers)
    This letter from the Office for Civil Rights addresses the issue of significant disproportionality and provides guidance to States, districts, and schools regarding this topic.
  • U.S. Department of Education's Rethinking Discipline Webpage (State Personnel, Practitioners, Researchers, Data)
    This webpage links to several federal resources and guidance documents related to the issue of significant disproportionality and equitable discipline practices.

Comprehensive Coordinated Early Intervening Services (CEIS)

Using Data: Success Gaps and Root Cause Analysis

Discipline/Positive School Climate       

  • ECTA's Resources on Reducing Early Childhood Expulsion and Suspension (Early Childhood, Practitioners, State Personnel)
    This page contains links to innovative resources to prevent, reduce, and ultimately eliminate expulsion and suspension practices in early learning settings.
  • PBIS Center's Resources on Equity (Practitioners, State Personnel)
    This page of the PBIS Center gives up-to-date resources on disproportionality and behavior. Included on the page are PBIS Practice Guides, Evaluation Briefs, and Presentations.
  • NCII Resources on Culturally Responsive Teaching (State Personnel, Practitioners, Early Childhood)
    This brief video discuss the importance of culturally and linguistically responsive teaching practices for improving outcomes of diverse students. Access the video here.
  • CEEDAR Innovation Configuration on Culturally Responsive Teaching (State Personnel, Practitioners, Early Childhood)
    This paper features an innovation configuration (IC) matrix that can guide teacher preparation professionals in the development of appropriate culturally responsive teaching (CRT) content.
  • U.S. Department of Education's Rethinking Discipline Webpage (State Personnel, Practitioners, Researchers, Data)
    This webpage links to several federal resources and guidance documents related to the issue of significant disproportionality and equitable discipline practices.

Identification, Eligibility, and Evaluation of Students with Disabilities

  • IRIS Center Module on the Pre-Referral Process  (Practitioners, State Personnel)
    This Module highlights the benefits of the pre-referral process—a preventative approach that can eliminate inappropriate referrals to special education—and outlines the six stages most commonly involved in its implementation
  • NCII Ask the Expert Videos (State Personnel, Practitioners, Early Childhood)
    These two Ask the Expert videos provide background on the identification and eligibility of students with disabilities. Access the videos here and here.

Stakeholder Engagement

Symposium Postwork

Special Needs

Mobile Website

Lodging, Dining, Activities

Call for Proposals

Speaker Bios

Photo of Edward Fergus

Edward Fergus, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy at Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University.  Edward is a former high school teacher, evaluator, and community school program director. Dr. Fergus’ current work is on the intersection of educational policy and outcomes with a specific focus on Black and Latino boys’ academic and social engagement outcomes, disproportionality in special education and suspensions, and school climate conditions. He has published numerous articles and is the author of Skin Color and Identity Formation: Perceptions of Opportunity and Academic Orientation among Mexican and Puerto Rican Youth (Routledge Press, 2004), co-editor of Invisible No More: Disenfranchisement of Latino Men and Boys (Routledge Press, 2011), co-author of Schooling For Resilience: Improving Trajectory of Black and Latino boys (Harvard Education Press, 2014) and author of Solving Disproportionality and Achieving Equity (Corwin Press, 2016).  Fergus serves on various boards such as NY State Governor’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Group (2010-present), appointed in 2011 to the Yonkers Public Schools Board of Education (2011-2013), advisory board member of the NYC Mayor’s Leadership Taskforce on Suspension and School Climate (2015-2016) and Young Men’s Initiative (2016-present), and is an expert consultant for the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division on Educational Opportunities (2014-present). Dr. Fergus received a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Education from Beloit College and a doctorate in Educational Policy and Social Foundations from the University of Michigan.

Photo of Michael Gross

Michael Gross is a Senior Policy Advisor in the OSERS’ Office of Policy and Planning, where he was extensively involved in the development and adoption of the Significant Disproportionality / Equity in IDEA regulations. Prior to joining OSERS two years ago, he practiced law for twenty years. Most recently, he served in the Office of General Counsel as regulatory counsel for the Department. Before joining ED, he was the Assistant General Counsel for General Law at the National Indian Gaming Commission, the federal agency that oversees gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Before moving to Washington D.C., he was a partner at Cooper Levenson in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he had an appellate practice before the state and federal courts in New Jersey and an administrative law practice before the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement and Casino Control Commission. Mr. Gross is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania, and he holds a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from the University of Minnesota and a Juris Doctor from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

Photo of Kent McIntosh

Kent McIntosh, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Special Education and Clinical Sciences at the University of Oregon and Director of Educational and Community Supports, a research unit in the College of Education. He is Co-Investigator on the OSEP National Technical Assistance Center on PBIS and lead of the Center’s Disproportionality Workgroup and has worked as a school psychologist, teacher trainer, and teacher in both general and special education.

Photo of Tom Munk

Tom Munk, Ph.D., is a Senior Study Director and Education Analyst in Westat’s Education Group and co-lead of the IDEA Data Center’s Disproportionality and Equity workgroup. He is a co-author of several technical assistance documents, available on the IDC website, in the areas of racial/ethnic disproportionality in identification, placement, and discipline for students with disabilities. Dr. Munk has worked as a teacher, a TA provider, and a consultant since 1983, always with a focus on equity.

Photo of Nancy O'Hara

Nancy O’Hara currently works for WestEd on both the IDEA Data Center (IDC) and the Center for IDEA Fiscal Reporting (CIFR). On IDC, she serves as a state liaison, TA specialist and a member of work groups on Disproportionality and Equity, Parent Engagement Data others. For CIFR, Nancy coordinates the Communities of Practice and serves as a co-facilitator for Southeast, providing TA to the Southeast states. Prior to working with IDC and CIFR, Nancy was a TA provider with the Mid-South Regional Resource Center. She worked for the Georgia Department of Education as well, serving as specialist for intellectual disabilities, autism and transition, dispute and compliance manager, associate director, state director of special education and an associate superintendent of innovative instruction.  She also worked for Georgia State University managing multiple federal grants on transition and was a classroom teacher of student with severe disabilities.

Photo of Ruth Ryder

Ruth Ryder is Acting Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), U.S. Department of Education. Ms. Ryder has been in a variety of positions in OSEP since 1988, most recently as the OSEP Deputy Director. In this position, she is providing national leadership in moving special education accountability to a more results-oriented focus. In addition, she is focusing attention on ensuring that the needs of children with disabilities are addressed in the major initiatives of the Department, such as ESEA Flexibility, School Improvement Grants and Early Learning. Prior to joining OSEP, Ms. Ryder was a program administrator for a school district in Washington State with responsibility for an OSERS funded special education demonstration project examining integrated service delivery models for including children with disabilities in general education. She also administered the ESEA Title 1 and Title 2 programs, State-remediation, gifted education, outcome-based education, and State-and district-wide testing programs. Additionally, she was also a special education consulting teacher and a general education classroom teacher.

Photo of Phil Strain

Phil Strain, Ph.D., is a Professor of Educational Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Colorado Denver. Dr. Strain is the author of over 300 scientific papers and he serves on the editorial boards of over a dozen professional journals. Dr. Strain has worked in the field of early intervention since 1974 and he serves as a science advisor to the Institute of Medicine, the National Institute of Mental Health and the U.S. Department of Education. His primary research interests include: a) intervention for young children with early onset conduct disorders; b) remediation of social behavior deficits in young children with autism; c) design and delivery of community-based, comprehensive early intervention for children with autism; and d) analysis of individual and systemic variables affecting the adoption and sustained use of evidence-based practices for children with severe behavior disorders.

Perry Williams, Ph.D., is an Education Program Specialist at the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, he currently serves as a Project Officer for the National Center for Systemic Improvement (NCSI) and Parent Centers. Perry has twenty years of experience in the field of Special Education with a particular interest on improving educational opportunities for minority students and students with disabilities that have been affected by the structural and racial inequities that pervade our school systems. Perry has gained a wealth of experience in administering both formula and discretionary grant programs at the Federal level.  Perry received his Master of Arts in Education and Human Development (M.A.) and Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degrees in Special Education at The George Washington University and his Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in Education at The American University.