Characterizing Disparities in Special Education Classroom Quality for Students with Autism

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
S. F. Vejnoska1, K. S. Dickson2, S. R. Rieth2,3, J. Suhrheinrich3 and A. C. Stahmer4, (1)University of California, Davis, Sacramento, CA, (2)Child and Adolescent Services Research Center, San Diego, CA, (3)San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, (4)Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of California at Davis MIND Institute, Sacramento, CA
Background: Schools provide the majority of services for children with ASD (Brookman-Frazee et al., 2009). Despite known special education disparities in identification and placement for minority and low-resource students with autism (Hibel et al., 2010; Travers et al., 2014), very few studies have looked at the quality of special education program that children receive. Some data suggest that students with autism from racial/ethnic minority and low-resource backgrounds may not be receiving high quality programs or recommended evidence-based practices due to teacher training constraints (McLeskey & Billingsley, 2008; Odom, Cox, & Brock, 2013). However, few studies have examined the impact of district and school level factors (e.g., racial/ethnic minority enrollment, percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch) on special education classroom quality, which may affect implementation of effective practices. Additional research is needed to understand potential disparities in classroom quality in order to best direct resources and professional development efforts.

Objectives: To characterize differences in classroom quality for students with autism in a large urban sample based on school and district level factors (enrollment, % White, % Hispanic/Latino).

Methods: Data from a four-year study of 113 teachers from 17 school districts serving children under the educational classification of autism in public schools were examined. An expert assessor conducted an observational assessment of classroom quality (based on the Professional Development Assessment; Hume et al., 2009) in each student’s classroom at intake to the larger study (Fall of the school year). The PDA includes 54 individual items across 7 domains. Student race/ethnicity and other demographics were collected via parents report upon intake. School and district level factors were collected from data from the California Department of Education, retrieved from Ed-Data.org in August 2017. Factors examined included school overall enrollment, district and school percent enrollment of White students, district and school percent enrollment of Hispanic/Latino students, percent of students at the school receiving free and reduced-price lunch, and school Title 1 status.

Results: Analyses indicate that both district and school level factors are significantly related to aspects of classroom quality. Specifically, a higher percentage of Non-Hispanic/Latino-White students at the district level (B=.01, p=.06), lower percentage of Hispanic/Latino students at both the district (B=-.01, p<.05) and school level (B=-.01, p=.06), and lower percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch within the district (B=-.01, p<.05) were associated with higher quality ratings related to opportunities for peer interaction. Higher school enrollment was also associated with decreased use of strategies to promote peer relationships (p’s<.05). Additionally, a higher percentage of Non-Hispanic/Latino-White students at the district (B=.01, p=.085) and school (B=.01, p<.05) levels as well as a smaller proportion of schools classified as Title 1 (B=-.47, p=.08) were associated with higher quality ratings of teachers’ instructional planning.

Conclusions: Disparities in the promotion of peer relationships and teachers’ instructional planning exist in special education classrooms based on school and district level factors. Targeting these areas with professional development and additional resources may help address disparities in classroom quality.