IEPs encompass a wide variety of specific disabilities. Mirroring national figures, the most prevalent disability classifications in NYC are learning disabilities (40% of all students with disabilities) and speech or language impairments (32%). Other relatively common disability classifications include autism (7%); emotional disturbance (6%); and other health impairments (8%). (See the list below for more information about these disability types.)
What Do These Disability Classifications Mean?
- Learning disabilities include dyslexia, congenital brain injuries, disorders that affect how people process and interpret what they see and hear, as well as a variety of other learning problems.
- Speech or language impairments refer to communication disorders (such as stuttering, problems with articulation, and voice impairments) that interfere with a student's performance in school.
- Emotional disturbance includes students with depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive and conduct disorders.
- Other health impairments includes students with "limited strength, vitality or alertness" resulting from chronic or acute health problems, such as a heart condition, asthma, epilepsy, lead poisoning, attention deficit disorder, etc.
In addition, our analyses found that students who live in low-income neighborhoods have slightly lower rates of autism, but slightly higher rates of learning disabilities, emotional disturbance and speech or language impairments, compared with students who live in wealthier parts of the city.
Our findings about the size and composition of the population of NYC students with disabilities raise a number of important questions—some of which the Research Alliance will tackle in forthcoming work.
- How many special education teachers and paraprofessionals are employed in NYC public schools? Are their numbers and training adequate to meet the challenge of educating 200,000-plus students with disabilities in a variety of educational settings?
- What mechanisms are driving disparities in disability rates associated with gender, neighborhood and race? The fact that Black students are more than twice as likely to have an IEP for emotional disturbance was particularly striking. What are the reasons for these high rates (e.g., bias on the part of the evaluators or the criteria used to make the assessment, or higher rates of poverty and exposure to factors known to influence the need for special education, such as emotional stress, poor nutrition, and environmental toxins)?
- What kinds of services are students with disabilities receiving? Do these services differ based on neighborhood, gender, race, and English learner status?
- How many students with disabilities are being served in inclusive educational settings, where they learn alongside peers who do not have disabilities? (For an answer to this question, see our subsequent Spotlight post.)
What else should we be asking about student with disabilities in NYC public schools? Are you exploring any of these topics? Let us know via email.
This post was authored by Cheri Fancsali and Chelsea Farley of the Research Alliance for NYC Schools. Analytical assistance was provided by Patricia Chou.
 Research Alliance calculations based on Special Education Student Information System (SESIS) data provided to the Research Alliance for New York City Schools by the NYC Department of Education. The sample includes all students with an IEP classification who are five years or older and who were not enrolled in a District 88 school or in a grade level below Kindergarten for either June or October of the 2015-2016 school year.
This project has been generously supported by the New York Community Trust.
How to Cite this Spotlight
Fancsali, C., Farley, C. 2018. "What are the Contours of NYC's Special Education Landscape?" Spotlight on NYC Schools. Research Alliance for New York City Schools.