times referred to as the “judgmental” categories because the children so classified typically do not exhibit readily observable distinguishing features, and the authoritative diagnosis of medical professionals, which is common in assessment of many of the low-incidence disabilities, is absent. Categories like visual or auditory impairment may also involve judgment in more marginal cases regarding when the impairment becomes a disability, but the diagnosis of impairment by medical professionals is not called into question.
The potential importance of judgment is suggested in the wide variation in placement rates in the judgemental categories across states—variation that is substantially greater than in the low-incidence disability categories. MacMillan and Reschly (1998) found that the ranges of identification rates across states for LD, SLI, MR, and ED were considerable, far greater than one would expect for a given disability. For example, Massachusetts identified 3 times as many children as LD than did Georgia; New Jersey identified 3 times as many children with SLI than did Georgia; Alabama identified 10 times as many children with MR as did New Jersey; and Connecticut identified 41 times as many children with ED as did Mississippi.
At present, a considerable amount is spent on the data collection efforts of OSEP and OCR, yet the data reported are inadequate for informing policy. While the most fundamental limitation is the absence of data on incidence with which to compare placement rates, the placement numbers by race are themselves problematic. Neither disability status nor ethnicity is measured very precisely (MacMillan and Reschly, 1998).
Race/Ethnicity. The imprecision inherent in specifying a child’s race/ ethnicity in these datasets is apparent when one considers that the data are aggregated from the school building to the district to the state to the national level in the OSEP process. For OCR, race/ethnicity is recorded from district records. Any variation in practices for determining race/ethnicity at the school building or district level is obscured when considering state or national figures. One and only one box is checked on the school form, and the person making the decision varies from school district personnel to the child’s parent. The Office of Management and Budget’s Statistical Directive 15 urges that racial and ethnic categories should not be interpreted as scientific or anthropological in nature—yet the datasets summarized here are used in just this way (Hodgkinson, 1995). Phinney (1996) explains that “even within an ethnic group whose members share a relatively precise ethnic label there is tremendous heterogeneity” (p. 919). Variability in