Despite broad concern that minorities are overrepresented in special education, new research suggests that the opposite may in fact be the case.

Across elementary, middle and high school, students from minority backgrounds are less likely than white children to be identified as having disabilities, according to a new analysis published in the journal Educational Researcher.

That’s been the case since at least 2003, the study found.

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The research is based on data from nearly 400,000 students across the country who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress known as the Nation’s Report Card.

“Among children who were otherwise similar in their academic achievement, poverty exposure, gender and English language learner status, racial or ethnic minority children were consistently less likely than white children to be identified as having disabilities,” concluded researchers from Penn State University and the University of California, Irvine.

The findings come even as federal regulations aimed at preventing overrepresentation of minorities in special education are set to take effect next year.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires states to flag school districts with “significant disproportionality,” or unreasonably high rates of students from particular racial or ethnic groups that are placed in restrictive settings or experiencing particular discipline.

However, in finalizing the regulations late last year, the U.S. Department of Education said that states were using inconsistent criteria to assess schools and few were called out. The new rule will hold all of the nation’s school districts to the same standard.