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Disaggregate: Disability status


Students who receive special education supports or adults with a disability

Why it matters

Individuals with disabilities may benefit from individualized supports throughout the E-W continuum. For example, in 2017, the national adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) for students with disabilities was approximately 67 percent, an 18-point difference from the overall ACGR of 85 percent. In the workforce, individuals with disabilities tend to earn less than non-disabled workers. In 2017, median earnings for full-time, year-round workers with disabilities were $41,332, compared with $47,279 for full-time, year-round, non-disabled workers. Individuals with disabilities often face higher medical, transportation, and housing costs than those without disabilities, which may present additional obstacles to achieving economic mobility and security. Disaggregating outcomes for students who receive special education services is required for accountability in grades K–12 under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). These data can and should be used to identify both whether students are gaining appropriate access to special education supports and whether some student groups are overrepresented in special education.

What to know about measurement

Disability status is defined and captured differently across systems based on the policy context. In pre-K and K–12, disability status is based on whether students have an individualized education program (IEP) or 504 plan. Students with an IEP or 504 plan, which includes those who do not qualify for an IEP but may benefit from additional accommodations, receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Pre-K and K–12 data systems must capture this information, along with the reason for the student’s disability, which can be grouped into categories (for example, intellectual disabilities; developmental delays and autism spectrum disorder; speech and language impairments; specific learning disabilities; physical disabilities; and other disabilities, which include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). This detailed information should also be used to disaggregate data for students receiving special education services, as additional patterns of disparities may emerge.

In postsecondary and workforce contexts, individuals must self-identify as having a disability to receive certain accommodations. Adult disability status is defined by federal law as “someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more ‘major life activities,’ (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.” Individuals who meet the U.S. Department of Labor’s definition of “frail” would also be included.

Source frameworks

This disaggregate appeared in 10 source frameworks reviewed for this report, including the National Education Association Great Public Schools Indicator Framework, the Council of Great City Schools Academic Key Performance Indicator framework, and multiple publications by the National Academies.


The framework's recommendations are based on syntheses of existing research. Please see the framework report for a list of works cited.

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