Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


School of Education


This dissertation study explored high school administrators' beliefs about why racial disproportionality exists, sought to understand the local practices that contribute to disproportionality, and identified interventions and supports that impact disproportionality in the special education referral, eligibility, and placement process. Research shows that students who are disproportionately represented in special education are negatively affected by factors such as stigmatization, substandard instruction, zero tolerance policies, and isolation from the general education setting (Sullivan, Kozleski, & Smith, 2008). Administrators were invited to participate in this study because they have a significant impact on student achievement and system-wide changes in schools.

This research study focused on three high schools in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. Three administrative leaders participated in a face-to-face semi-structured interview and completed a questionnaire via Opinio (ObjectPlanet, Inc, 2018). The Constant Comparative Method (Olson, McAllister, Grinnell, Walters, & Appunn, 2016) was utilized to perform data analysis and make meaning of administrators' beliefs. Major themes emerged as to why racial disproportionality existed in their schools, which included sociodemographic factors, biases, and perceived student deficits by teachers. Three major themes emerged by administrators regarding the practices that contribute to racial disproportionality, which included absent school-wide systems, hopeless beliefs about student failure, and decisions affected by implicit bias. The heart of this qualitative study was to move beyond the causes, and to hear from local administrators which steps they will implement to address the unjust practices that contribute to disproportionality. Three major themes emerged for eliminating disproportionality, which included developing a systematic plan, collaborating with stakeholder groups, and increasing resources to help school personnel meet the needs of all students.