No AccessLanguage, Speech, and Hearing Services in SchoolsResearch Article3 Apr 2023

Identifying Racial and Socioeconomic Biases in New Jersey Special Education Eligibility


    This study aimed to determine if eligibility for special education and related services (SERS) in New Jersey (NJ) is biased based on a child's racial/cultural background or socioeconomic status (SES).


    A Qualtrics survey was administered to NJ child study team personnel including speech-language pathologists, school psychologists, learning disabilities teacher-consultants, and school social workers. Participants were presented with four hypothetical case studies, which differed only in racial/cultural background or SES. Participants were asked to make SERS eligibility recommendations about each case study.


    An aligned rank transform analysis of variance test found a significant effect of race on SERS eligibility decisions, F(2, 272) = 2.391, p = .093. Wilcoxon signed-ranks tests further yielded that Black children had significantly higher levels of SERS ineligibility at the high-SES (z = −2.648, p = .008) and mid-SES (z = −2.660, p = .008) levels compared to White children. When comparing SES levels within race using Wilcoxon signed-ranks tests, White low-SES children had significantly higher levels of ineligibility for SERS compared to White high-SES children (z = −2.008, p = .045). These results suggest that Black children from high/mid SES are treated comparably to White children from low SES; these groups are more likely to be found ineligible for SERS compared to peers.


    Both race and SES play a role in SERS eligibility decisions in NJ. Students who are Black and/or from low-SES households are at risk for facing significant biases in schools that influence their educational placements.

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