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Academic Achievement and Class Placement in High School: Do Students with Learning Disabilities Achieve More in One Class Placement Than Another?. Steve Smith, ME.d. Richard T. Boon, Ph.D. Department of Communication Sciences & Special Education College of Education

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Academic Achievement and Class Placement in High School: Do Students with Learning Disabilities Achieve More in One Class Placement Than Another?

Steve Smith, ME.d.

Richard T. Boon, Ph.D.

Department of Communication Sciences

& Special Education

College of Education

The University of Georgia

Georgia Council for Exceptional Children Conference

February 27-28, 2009

Athens, GA

abstract
Abstract
  • The purpose of this study was to examine classroom placement, inclusive versus non-inclusive, relative to the academic performance of students with specific learning disabilities in secondary content area classrooms. Fifty-seven high school students with learning disabilities were assessed using the Grade Level Short Form of the Multilevel Academic Survey Test (MAST). Their reading and math scores were examined relative to each student’s grade level, number of general and special education classes attended, and types of placement (i.e., inclusive or non-inclusive setting). The results revealed no statistically significant evidence to indicate that students’ academic achievement varied based on inclusive versus non-inclusive placement. The only statistically significant differences observed regarded participants enrolled in a general education literature class compared to those participants placed in a special education setting for literature. Implications for practice, limitations of the study, and considerations for future research are discussed.
methods participants
Methods - Participants
  • Fifty-seven high school students with SLD were the subjects of this study. The participants represented all students from two suburban high schools in the southeastern United States who met both the federal and state criteria for SLD. Forty-two of the participants were male and 15 were female. Participants received special education services in inclusive and non-inclusive settings, varying in the number of inclusive classes that each was scheduled.
  • Of the participants, 19 were in 9th grade, 18 in 10th grade, 13 in 11th grade, and 7 in 12th grade. The ethnic backgrounds of the students included 50 Caucasian, 5 African-American, and 2 Hispanic-American students. Eighty percent of the participants were reported to have reading disabilities and 20% had math disabilities. There were no instances of comorbidity (i.e., diagnosis of both reading and math disabilities).
  • Approximately 10% of the student participants had an additional diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
settings
Settings
  • Each of the students’ classes was characterized either inclusive or non-inclusive. Inclusive classes were those that were offered to general education students and taught by a general education teacher.
  • Most inclusive classes contained approximately 25 students with no more than 20% identified as having a disability.
  • Some (e.g., mathematics and literature classes), but not all, of the inclusive classes also had a special education teacher.
  • Conversely, classes deemed as non-inclusive were those that were taught by a special education teacher that occurred in settings other than a general education classroom.
  • Non-inclusive classrooms contained no general education students and were only taught by special education teachers.
dependent measures
Dependent Measures
  • The students were asked to complete the Grade Level Test Short Form of the Multilevel Academic Survey Test (Howell, Zucker, & Morehead, 1985). The Multilevel Academic Survey Test (MAST) consists of two 20-item multiple choice maze tasks and 24 math computation items. The MAST is intended for use by school personnel to make decisions about student performance in mathematics and reading. These professionals include school psychologists, special education teachers, educational diagnosticians, and teachers in special programs. Teachers in general classrooms may use the MAST with normally achieving students, but the test is primarily intended for those educators who instruct and assess students exhibiting academic difficulties. The criterion-related validity of the MAST was established with 300 students with the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS). The coefficients in mathematics range from a low of .54 to a high of .85. The coefficients in reading range from a low of .59 to a high of .81. Inspections of the patterns of coefficients for the various measures indicate a high degree of agreement between the MAST and the ITBS in specific content subdomains. The predictive validity of the MAST was studied with 39 students in grades 4th to 12th of the standardization sample for the MAST Grade Level Test that had previously been labeled as learning disabled (LD), were matched with peers who had not been labeled as learning disabled (non-LD).
dependent measures continued
Dependent Measures – (continued)
  • The results showed that 74% of the students classified by the school systems as LD were also classified as LD by the Short Form, while 72% of the students classified as non LD by the school systems were also classified as non LD by the Short Form. The reliability of the MAST Grade Level Test scores was studied in a test-retest study involving 366 students in grades 3 through 8. The same teachers administered the test on both occasions within a two-week period. Raw test scores from the two administrations were correlated and the data suggest that the MAST has good reliability over a period of time. The correlation coefficients reported in the technical manual were moderately high to high in nearly all cases (only 2 of the coefficients were below .60 and only 6 of 24 coefficients were below .70). The median coefficients across grades were .68 in Short Form Reading and .71 on the Short Form Mathematics.
procedures
Procedures
  • Carefully trained graduate students administered all measures to student participants. The graduate students established a testing schedule with participating school and administered the MAST to groups of students in accordance with the test’s guidelines.
  • The protocol provided by the MAST administration manual was followed for both the reading and math subtests.
  • On the reading portion of the MAST, the students are given five minutes to complete the first MAZE task. Students are then instructed to stop and turn to the next MAZE task. Students are then given five minutes to complete the second MAZE task.
  • Students are then instructed to complete the arithmetic problems on their answer sheet. After twelve minutes, they are asked to stop and the administrator collects the test.
results
Results
  • The purpose of this study was to examine classroom placement, inclusive versus non-inclusive, relative to the academic performance of students with SLD in secondary content area classrooms. The Grade Level Short Form of the Multilevel Academic Survey Test (MAST) was administered to 57 high school students. Descriptive statistics and significance levels are reported for gender and grade level (Table 1), number of general education classes attended (Table 2), and type of placement (Table 3). There were no statistically significant differences in the performance for gender on the MAST Reading and Math subtests. In addition, student performance on the MAST subtests did not differ by grade level. As displayed in Table 4, no significant differences were observed for reading across grade levels with a small effect size. In addition, no significant differences were observed for math across grade levels, also with a small effect size. No significant differences were observed for the MAST reading or math across class schedules, with a small effect size observed. For type of class taken, significant differences were observed between those students who were versus were not taking the general education literature class for reading (Table 5). However, the effect size for that difference was small. This was the only significant difference found for type of class taken for reading as well as math (Table 6).
discussion
Discussion
  • Overall, with the exception of one comparison, we found no statistically significant differences in the academic performance of students with SLD for reading or math. Our findings are consistent with previous research reporting that class placement for students with disabilities did not correlate with academic achievement (Affleck et al., 1988; Manset & Semmel, 1997; Waldron & McLeskey, 1998). In this study, it was anticipated that at the very least, students who were included in more general education classes would have had higher reading and math scores than those who were in special education. In this study, the only statistically significant difference we found were those students who placed in a general education literature class and their mean reading scores on the MAST, however, even the effect size was small for this one significant result. In addition, while this finding somewhat aligns with previous research asserting that students placed in more inclusive settings achieve more academically (Baker, et al., 1995; Banerji & Dailey, 1995; Carlberg & Kavale, 1980; Madden & Slavin, 1983; Rea, et al., 2002; Waldron & McLeskey, 1998), given the number of analysis conducted, any significant result is suspect due to the presence of family-wise error.
implications for practice
Implications for Practice
  • It remains important for educators, parents, and administrators to consider the potential benefits and shortcomings of class placement options. Results from this study have three major implications for educators, administrators, local education agency representatives, and other individuals involved in the educational planning of students with learning disabilities. First, educators must carefully consider student outcomes when placement decisions are made. In many cases, the percentage of time a student will spend in general education classes is the primary factor in determining class schedules. Educators also must determine whether students can meet individualized goals and objects in general education classes. Even though this should be standard practice as mandated by IDEA and its reauthorizations, it is easy for IEP committees to lose sight and allow the tail to wag the dog by first determining an optimal percentage of time for general education placement without careful consideration of whether each situation is likely to allow the student to accomplish all the goals and objectives of the IEP. Likewise, if students are being placed in more restrictive settings, the committee should judiciously consider how each student will receive access to the general curriculum. Perhaps the most important implication is that educators must pay closer attention to how placement decisions are made. Individualized planning should include consideration of each learner’s unique needs when determining class placement and should not automatically assume that any student will necessarily learn more or less in a general education class.
limitations of the study
Limitations of the Study
  • Regarding the optimal academic achievement of students with SLD, the results of this study do not provide any statistical support for one class placement over another. However, even before discussing this study’s apparent lack of relation between class placement and performance, several of its limitations must be addressed. First, we should acknowledge that the analyses conducted as part of this study were exploratory in nature. Moreover, there were only 57 student participants. This small sample size impedes our ability to make generalizations to a larger population.
  • Another limitation of this study is the possible heterogeneity of the groups divided by class schedule. One could argue that more capable students tend to be placed in a greater number of general education classes and while lower performing students tend to be placed in a greater number of special education classes. This particular limitation would be difficult to overcome even in the most rigorous efforts of inquiry. It stands to reason that the intent behind Individualized Education Plans would prohibit random placement of students into class schedule groups.
  • The lack of information regarding classroom teachers’ backgrounds, professional experiences and instructional practices is another limitation of this research. Although, when questioned, the school assumed there were no differences between teachers in inclusive versus non-inclusive classes, these data were not collected for examination. In addition to careful analysis of such critical variables, detailed information regarding the type of instruction delivered across classroom settings is needed.
future research
Future Research
  • Results from this study revealed no significant differences between academic achievement and class placement for students with SLD in two Southeastern high schools. Future research should carefully examine variables much more distinct than the dichotomous division of inclusive versus non-inclusive class setting. More care must be taken to query the extent to which students with SLD are achieving optimally regardless of setting.