Sociometric Status and Self-Image of Children with Specific and General Learning Disabilities in Dutch General and Special Education Classes

Article excerpt

This study focused on the relationship between both achievement level and diagnostic label and sociometric status and self-image of students in Dutch elementary education. In particular, differences between students with specific learning disabilities (SLD) and students with general learning disabilities (GLD) were studied, in regular as well as in special education. A total of 1,300 students participated, 861 in general and 439 in (separate) special education schools. Students with GLD were more often rejected and had a lower self-image than students with SLD. These results seemed to hold mainly for girls and for students with GLD in general education. No argument in favor of or against inclusive education can be advanced based on the results of this study, but the findings highlight the potential role of low achievement in peers' dislike of girls. Moreover, the results suggest the importance of investigating subgroups of students with LD in future research.

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Fifteen years ago the Dutch government released the publication Going to School Together Again (Weer samen naar school; Ministerie van Onderwijs & Wetenschappen, 1990), which constituted the first step toward inclusive education in the Netherlands. The direct inspiration for this policy change was increasing costs due to growing numbers of students referred to special education (Ministerie van Onderwijs & Wetenschappen, 1990). The goal of the new policy was twofold: (a) to make an effort to refer as few students as possible to (expensive) special education services by transferring available expertise from special to general education; and (b) to encourage the integration of as many students as possible from special education back into general education through effective intervention (Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur & Wetenschappen, 2003; Smeets, 2003).

Although the main motivation behind this policy was to stabilize or even reduce the number of students in special education (cf. Meijer, Peschar, & Scheerens, 1995; Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschappen, 2000), it was also in line with new developments recommended by international organizations such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 1986) and UNESCO (1988, 1990), which had already taken place in the early 1980s in countries such as the United States (Crockett & Kauffman, 1999), Italy (Fillipini-Gaudiano, 1991), Australia and New Zeeland (Forlin & Forlin, 1996, 1998a, 1998b). According to a number of international conventions (e.g., Rights of the Child; United Nations, 1989), placement of children in (separate) special education schools began to be viewed as an infringement on the right to equal educational opportunities (Alston, Parker, & Seymour, 1992; Baehr & Gordenker, 1992).

The right to inclusive education was inspired by research based on the contact hypothesis (Allport, 1954; Maras & Brown, 2000). This hypothesis states that children who experience difficulties in learning will benefit both cognitively and social-emotionally by receiving their education among functionally unimpaired peers, because contact per se between able and disabled children has positive effects on their attitudes toward and opinions of each other.

With regard to cognitive development, several studies support this view (Baker, Wang, & Walberg, 1995; Cole, Waldron, & Majd, 2004; Peetsma, Vergeer, Roeleveld, & Karsten, 2001). However, with regard to social-emotional well-being (as indicated by sociometric status and self-image), a number of studies have raised questions concerning the benefits of inclusive education for children with learning disabilities (LD). Since the landmark sociometric study of Bryan (1974), it has repeatedly been shown that children with LD in general education are not well liked by their peers. For example, when children are asked to categorize their classmates as either rejected, ignored, or popular, children with LD are overrepresented in the ignored and rejected groups and underrepresented in the popular group (Bakker & Bosman, 2003; Bakker & van de Griendt, 1999; Frederickson & Furnham, 1998; Kuhne & Wiener, 2000; Le Mare & De la Ronde, 2000; Ochoa & Olivarez, 1995; Stone & La Greca, 1990; Vaughn, Elbaum, & Schumm, 1996; Wiener, Harris, & Shirer, 1990). …