The process of identifying students with disabilities eligible for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has proven difficult for local multidisciplinary teams and so, it appears, is the process of declassifying youth from special education. Because declassification from special education in secondary school is a relatively rare event and little is known about the process, this investigation used in-depth case studies to explore the circumstances fostering declassification and factors related to outcomes for five declassified youth. A variety of circumstances led to the declassification of the case study youth. Some youth did not believe they ever had disabilities and saw declassification as a process for correcting an initial error in eligibility. In other cases, declassification was apparently fostered by movement across educational levels or changes in eligibility criteria. In one instance, the student was responsible for initiating declassification on her own behalf. Outcomes for most of the youth in the study were quite positive in terms of high school completion, participation in post-secondary education, and social adjustment. There were exceptions, however. The variation in outcomes for declassified youth appeared to relate to individual and family characteristics as well as the circumstances surrounding declassification.
Decisions about eligibility for special education services inevitably lead to dichotomies (e.g., those who are eligible and those who are not eligible). For example, to receive services to address mental retardation, a student must have an IQ score of 70 or lower and deficits in adaptive behavior. A student with an IQ score in the low or mid 70s is as ineligible for services for mental retardation as a student with an IQ score of 125. Braden and Algina (1989) compared the process of determining who has a disability to pointing "... to an exact spot in a sunset where red changes to orange (p. 5)." Disability is widely accepted as being a social construct, meaning that members of the society determine at what point physical, mental, or emotional characteristics fall outside the norm (Arokiasamy, Rubin, & Roessler, 1987; Hahn, 1985; Skrtic, 1991; Speece & Harry, 1997; Wright, 1983).
Furthermore, the meaning of disability may vary across cultural groups within the United States. Research suggests that parents from some racial and ethnic minority groups have a broader view of what is within the normal range of ability. Harry (1992) found that Puerto Rican families did not share educator's construct of disability. They reserved the terms retardation, for example, for characterizing individuals with serious impairments in daily mental functioning and did not view difficulties in learning as a disability.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA) (Section 300.5) defines students with disabilities as those children who, because of their impairments, need special education and related services. The process of deciding who has a disability, as defined under State and Federal special education regulations, has proven difficult for local multidisciplinary teams. Research suggests that socioeconomic factors, demographic factors, and the nature of teacher referrals may all contribute to eligibility decisions (Barona & Faykus, 1992; O'Reilly, Northcraft, & Sabers, 1989; Algozzine & Ysseldyke, 1981). For example, when given identical descriptions of individual children, teachers were more likely to refer boys for special education evaluation than girls (Gregory, 1977).
Students of interest in this study are those who were eligible for special education services at one time but either due to improved educational performance, changes in eligibility criteria, or enhanced general education services were later found ineligible for services. Through declassification from special education, these students returned to full-time general education programs that did not include special education support or services. …