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Students with Learning Differences

NaYoung Hwang.

This study examines the impact of special education on academic and behavioral outcomes for students with learning disabilities (LD) by using statewide Indiana data covering kindergarten through eighth grade. The results from student fixed effects models show that special education services improve achievement in math and English Language Arts, but they also increase suspensions and absences for students with LD. These effects vary across student subgroups, including gender, race/ethnicity, eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch, and English language learner status. The findings reveal both the significant benefits and unintended consequences of special education services for students with LD, highlighting the complex dynamics and varying effects of special education.

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Anthony Yim.

Using a natural experiment which randomized class times to students, this study reveals that enrolling in early morning classes lowers students' course grades and the likelihood of future STEM course enrollment. There is a 79% reduction in pursuing the corresponding major and a 26% rise in choosing a lower-earning major, predominantly influenced by early morning STEM classes. To understand the mechanism, I conducted a survey of undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory course, some of whom were assigned to a 7:30 AM section. I find evidence of a decrease in human capital accumulation and learning quality for early morning sections.

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Jo Al Khafaji-King.

This study evaluates the unintended consequences of the 2012 suspension ban in New York City. I find that the ban induced a substitution towards classification for students at high risk for suspension—Black students, male students, and those in schools with a high reliance on suspension. I find that disabilities that carry greater stigma and experience greater exclusion from the general education classroom drive the increases in classification. This substitution may benefit students if they are now receiving needed services. Simultaneously, ban-induced classifications may simply serve as a partial substitute for suspension.

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Christopher Cleveland, Ethan Scherer.

A growing body of research shows that students benefit when they demographically match their teachers. However, little is known about how matching affects social-emotional development. We use student-fixed effects to exploit changes over time in the proportion of teachers within a school grade who demographically match a student to estimate matching's effect on social-emotional measures, test scores, and behavioral outcomes. We find improvements for students in grit and interpersonal self-management when matched to teachers of their race and gender. Black female students drive these effects. We also find that matching reduces absences, especially for Black students. Our findings add to the emerging teacher diversity literature by showing its benefits for Black and female students during a critical stage of development.

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Kalena E. Cortes, Karen Kortecamp, Susanna Loeb, Carly D. Robinson.

This paper presents the results from a randomized controlled trial of Chapter One, an early elementary reading tutoring program that embeds part-time tutors into the classroom to provide short bursts of 1:1 instruction. Eligible kindergarten students were randomly assigned to receive supplementary tutoring during the 2021-22 school year (N=818). The study occurred in a large Southeastern district serving predominantly Black and Hispanic students. Students assigned to the program were over two times more likely to reach the program’s target reading level by the end of kindergarten (70% vs. 32%). The results were largely homogenous across student populations and extended to district-administered assessments. These findings provide promising evidence of an affordable and sustainable approach for delivering personalized reading tutoring at scale.

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Arzana Myderrizi.

Ample research investigates returns to teacher preparation and other instructional inputs for the general student population, yet evidence is lacking for students with disabilities (SWDs). This study uses North Carolina data to estimate achievement returns to teacher preparation by classroom type and level of classroom support for SWDs. I find that SWDs perform better when placed in inclusive classrooms and when these classrooms have co-teachers. Regardless of classroom type, SWDs benefit from more experienced teachers, but only gain from special education certified teachers in certain classroom configurations. These results indicate that education leaders can optimize resource allocation by minimizing separate classrooms for SWDs, relaxing special education certification requirements, and investing in an experienced teacher workforce with support from co-teachers.

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Leanna Stiefel, Syeda Sana Fatima, Joseph R. Cimpian, Kaitlyn G. O'Hagan.

There has been an explosion of research on racial disproportionality in special education. Some recent research shifts the focus from the role of student characteristics alone to inquire whether school context moderates findings (e.g., is a Black student less likely than a White student to receive special education services as the proportion of a school’s Black students increases?). We significantly extend this emerging literature using eight years of elementary student-and school-level data from NYC public schools, examining more school contextual moderators, expanding racial categories, and distinguishing between cross-sectional and over-time differences. We find many more moderators than previous research has identified and these school context factors appear to be particularly salient for the classification of Black students.

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Kaitlyn G. O'Hagan, Leanna Stiefel, Amy Ellen Schwartz.

Middle school transitions are increasingly required, despite documented negative effects on general education students (GENs). We explore if and how the move to middle school differentially affects students with disabilities (SWDs), a large and low-performing group of students. Using an instrumental variables strategy and NYC data on nine cohorts of students, we find the middle school transition causes a 0.29 standard deviation decline in SWD math performance, a 0.16 standard deviation decline in ELA performance, and a one percentage point increase in grade retention. However, after accounting for potential mediators (e.g. peer cohort stability) effects are similar for SWDs and GENs, suggesting the need to ease the middle school transition for all students.

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Scott J. Peters, Angela Johnson.

Prior research has documented substantial inequity across, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines within the population of students identified as gifted. Less attention has paid to the equity of gifted identification for student learning English or those with disabilities and what effect state policies toward gifted education might have on these rates. This paper attempted to fill that void by analyzing data from the Office of Civil Rights Data Collection and Stanford Education Data Archive along with original coding of state gifted education policies. Our findings show that while both groups are substantially underrepresented, state mandates for schools to offer services, requirements for formal gifted education plans, and regular audits for compliance are correlated with much higher rates of gifted service availability and equity for English learners and students with disabilities. We also describe the location and characteristics of the top 5% most equitable schools for English learners and students with disabilities.

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Robert C. Carr, Margaret Burchinal, Lynne Vernon-Feagans.

A systematic review of the literature (1965–2022) and meta-analysis were undertaken to compare the school readiness skills of children participating in public pre-kindergarten (pre-K) or Head Start. Seven quasi-experimental studies met the inclusion criteria for the meta-analysis and 38 effect sizes were analyzed. Results indicated no reliable meta-analytic effect in relation to children’s school readiness skills overall nor in relation to language, mathematics, or social-behavioral skills specifically. A small, positive meta-analytic effect favoring public pre-K compared to Head Start participation was found in relation to children’s emergent literacy skills (Hedges’ g = 0.17). Strategies are discussed to further equate the benefits of public pre-K and Head Start programming by facilitating greater cross-sector collaboration.

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