Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Psychology and Special Education

First Advisor

Peggy A. Gallagher, Ph.D. - Chair

Second Advisor

Nicole Patton-Terry, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Miles A. Irving, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Paul A. Alberto, Ph.D.

Fifth Advisor

Wendy F. Hensel, J.D.


Historically, students from ethnically diverse backgrounds in grades K-12 have been over-represented in special education, yet little research on disproportionate representation has been conducted with preschool-aged children. This study examined if 72,525 preschool-aged children with disabilities from ethnically diverse backgrounds were disproportionately represented in special education within and across five southern states. Data were gathered from the 2006 December 1st Child Count reported by each State Department of Education to the U.S. Department of Education. Chosen states offered state-funded pre-kindergarten programs, which should have provided equal opportunities for inclusion across states. Analyses compared children with disabilities for disproportionate representation across state of residence, across special education eligibilities, across educational placements, and amount of inclusion provided. Data were analyzed for child and placement characteristics. Due to data suppression by individual states, analyses were conducted using children from Black and White backgrounds, and children from Hispanic backgrounds were used when reported by individual states. Child characteristics considered included the child’s: (a) type of disability eligibility category, (b) age, and (c) ethnicity. Placement characteristics included: (a) type of educational placement, (b) state in which child resided, and (c) amount of inclusion received. Indices of disproportionate representation were calculated using: (a) composition index, (b) risk index, (c) odds ratio, and (d) relative risk ratio. A 3 x 5 ANOVA was used to calculate placement differences between states. Factorial analysis was used to calculate determinants of placement status for preschool-aged children with disabilities. Results revealed disproportionate representation does occur at the preschool level, although between state variability was great, and patterns differed from the K-12 literature. Children from American Indian backgrounds were over-represented due to high proportions in states of Alabama and North Carolina, while children from Asian and Hispanic backgrounds were under-represented. Children from Black and White backgrounds were represented in special education at expected rates. The most common eligibility categories were speech/language impairments and developmental delay. Placement results revealed over-representation for White preschoolers and males, although type of state-funded pre-k program was a non-significant factor. Inclusion analyses favored Whites and males. Child demographic factors explained the majority of variability in inclusion status.