Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Look at Boston's Special Education Population

Next in the series regarding the special education populations Massachusetts' ten urban districts, we'll look at Boston. In the Boston public school system, special education students currently make up 18.7% of the student population; BPS has an enrollment of 55,414 with 10,373 students identified as 'special education.'


Below is how the special ed population breaks down in terms of demographics.

Black/African American40.5%
Native American0.3%


Low Income74.2%
Limited English Proficiency29.5%
First Lang. Not English36.6%

The disabilities with the highest student counts in Boston are:
  • Specific Learning Disability (3,370)
  • Communication (1,839)
  • Emotional (1,222)
  • Intellectual (1,172)
  • Developmental Delay (1,172)

The age with the highest student count is 11 (788 students) followed by 10 (782).


Special ed students in Boston, a Level 4 district, were among the subgroups not making Adequate Yearly Progress at all grade levels in 2011 similar to the Lynn, Worcester and Fall River public school districts. In 2011, students with disabilities had a 15% proficiency rate in English language arts  (ELA) exam and a 12% proficiency rate in math. The Composite Performance Indices (CPI) for special education students has increased 2.1 points in ELA and  3.3 points in math since 2009. CPIs are a measure of the extent to which students are progressing toward proficiency in ELA and math; the goal is a CPI of 100.  More specifically, each student participating in the MCAS is given a score based on well they perform on the exam which is later averaged to determine the school or subgroup's CPI; possible scores are 0 (Warning/Failing - Low), 25 (Warning/Failing - High), 50 (Needs Improvement - Low), 75 (Needs Improvement - High), and 100 (Proficient or Advanced). In 2011, the ELA CPI for students with disabilities was 57.3 while the math CPI was 49.3.

Educational Outcomes

In terms of educational outcomes, special education students in Boston tend to graduate at a much lower rate than 'general education' students. This is much in line with state trends as well as the trend seen in both Lynn and Worcester as well as in Fall River. See below for the graduation rates from 2006 - 2010.

Special Ed36.2%35.8%36.9%41%40.9%
General Ed64.6%63.3%65.4%66.4%68.7%
All Students59.1%57.9%59.9%61.4%63.2%

The graduation rate for this population in Boston decreased slightly to 40.8% in 2011 for the district as a whole. Nearly 32% of special education students were still in school after four years in 2011 while 25.3% dropped out. The five year graduation rate for special education students in Boston was 48.6% in 2010 with 17% still in school.

Special ed students in Boston also, for the most part, tend to dropout at a higher rate than the general ed population. Below is the annual dropout rate for the years 2006 - 2010.

Special Ed12.3%11.2%9.4%9.6%5.5%
General Ed9.4%8.5%7.2%6.4%7.1%
All Students9.9%8.9%7.6%7%6.8%

One can see here that although the trend is for a higher percentage of special education students to drop out than general education students, in 2010 the opposite was true with a slightly higher percentage of general ed students leaving school compared to special ed students. The four year dropout rate for special ed students was however over 10 percentage points higher than the district rate as a whole in 2011 as 15.1% of all students dropped out of school compared to 25.3% of special ed students. On a positive note, the four year dropout rate for special ed students is down four percentage points from 2006. 

In 2009-10, a little more than half of the special ed students were going to attend a college or university with 57.1% of this group attending a Massachusetts community college; 27.5% of college going special ed students planned to attend a private four year college/university. That year 193 special ed students were reported to have taken the SAT with average scores of 348 in Reading, 337 in Writing, and 346 in Math. In terms of Advanced Placement participation and performance, 44 test takers took 59 tests in 2010 with 32.2% scoring a 3 or better on a 5-point scale on all subjects combined.

*All Data Taken from:

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