MTSS as a Solution to Special Education Disproportionality

·       North Carolina is moving towards implementation of  a multi tiered system of support (MTSS) where students who have academic difficulty are required to go through targeted intervention before being referred to special education. MTSS as a framework is designed to provide students with high-quality instruction and intervention that match their needs. MTSS considers several factors that may impact a student’s ability to learn in order to ensure that we are not inappropriately referring students to special education. 

       Referring a child to special education services without proper investigation of environmental factors is not an effective solution. Special education is not mutually beneficial and misclassification could lead to expectations that are not consistent with the learner’s true ability (Flannagan, IASP 2015: Sheperd, 1975). In other words, telling a child and their family that they have a disability when they don’t, leads to them internalizing this message and impacts their motivation and confidence. For decades and presently there is a nationwide epidemic of special education disproportionality. Special education disproportionality is the over-representation of students from marginalized identities within special education. For example, the U.S. Office of Civil Rights reported that since 1968 African-American students have been over-represented in the intellectual disability and emotional disturbance category (NEA Report on Special Education Disproportionality, 2008). 

        Educational and psychological researchers are finding that children from marginalized identities are more likely to be placed in special education than their white peers. The reason for this is the pressure teachers feel to refer children to special education who are struggling academically. It is important to note that children from marginalized identities may face immense challenges due to systemic barriers which may be the underlying cause of academic failure and behavioral disruption. MTSS is an attempt at resolving this issue by allowing teachers and staff to make data informed and holistic decisions about a child’s ability, paying particular attention to environmental factors. 

        Disproportionate numbers of students with marginalized identities in special education contributes to systemic oppression. Minority children who are mis-identified lose out on access to a rigorous curriculum which perpetuates the achievement gap. 


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