Date of Award



© 2022 Jessica Ann Marshall

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Ella Benson

Second Advisor

Mitchell Henke

Third Advisor

Kristy LaPorte


Racial disproportionality in special education has been a problem of practice since Dunn called attention to it in 1968. Research has demonstrated the adverse effects on students including stigma, labeling, reduced access to high-quality educational opportunities, restrictive settings, and lower expectations and educational outcomes. Little research on disproportionality has examined how individual characteristics and societal factors intersect with specific school variables and contexts. Using disability critical race theory as a lens for exploration, this qualitative phenomenological study examined the phenomenon of disproportionality situated within a specific context to uncover how local factors may contribute to the incidence of disproportionality. Seven school psychologists from a suburban school district cited by the state for racial disproportionality in special education were interviewed to capture their lived experiences with the phenomenon. This study found five themes and eleven subthemes. Themes included lack of consistent pre-referral policies and practices; disparity patterns in the identification of students in the Open Choice population; staff perceptions in their low sense of self-efficacy to support students and perceived benefits of special education; bias; and disparity patterns in student externalizing behaviors and teacher response. Findings indicate the need for further allocation of resources to strengthen the pre-referral process and data collection, increased professional learning in the areas of intervention strategies and culturally responsive teaching practices, and leveraging of protective factors for struggling students.


Ed.D. Dissertation