, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 24-34
Date: 11 Nov 2010

Eligibility, Assessment, and Educational Placement Issues for Students Classified with Emotional Disturbance: Federal and State-Level Analyses

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The purpose of this paper is to contribute to an understanding of how state education authorities conceptualize and utilize the construct of emotional disturbance (ED) within the special education system. Specifically, this study examined variability across state definitions of ED and the extent to which such differences in definition are associated with ED identification and educational placement rates. Relevant literature and publicly disseminated documentation at the federal and state levels were reviewed. Results indicated that most state definitions of ED did not differ from the federal definition, although 20% of states broadened the federal ED definition to make it more inclusive. States with broader definitions did classify more students with ED, relative to states using either the federal or a more narrow definition, although rates of restrictive and mainstream placements did not differ as a function of definition. Results also suggest that use of a “social maladjustment” exclusion criterion contributes to variation not only in state-level definitions of ED, but also in students’ access to mental health and special education services. Recommendations for future research are provided.