Impact of Occupational Instruction on the Performance and Vocational Identity of Special Education Students

Article excerpt

Abstract

A special education teacher in a small rural high school instructed 23 students with disabilities in the occupational domain of the Life Centered Career Education curriculum. The students increased their Performance Battery scores from pre to post test, achieving both mastery on the competency tests and a skill level comparable to that of regular education students (n=15). Although the instructed students tended to report increased levels of occupational information from pre to post testing, they did not report fewer barriers to employment or increased vocational identity on the My Vocational Situation test.

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA, PL 101-476), secondary special education programs in rural and urban settings are expected to prepare students with disabilities to achieve adult outcomes in such areas as integrated employment, postsecondary education, and vocational training. To enable students to achieve employmentrelated goals, schools must offer courses of study that are broader in nature than content-area academics (DeStefano & Wermuth, 1992, p. 541). Hence, the authors' purpose in this study was to evaluate the impact of an employment-related curriculum, the Occupational Guidance and Preparation Domain of Life Centered Career Education (LCCE; Roessler & Brolin, 1992), on the performance levels and vocational identity of special education students in a rural high school.

Follow-up data from high school special education graduates underscore the need to help students with disabilities increase their level of vocational preparation (Affleck, Edgar, Levine, & Kortering, 1990; Louis Harris & Associates, 1989; Siegel, Avoke, Paul, Robert, & Gaylord-Ross, 1991). In a recent review of the outcome literature, Chadsey-Rusch, Rusch, and O'Reilly (1991) reported that youth with disabilities have about a one in three chance of acquiring full-time competitive employment after leaving school. They also noted that, even if students are employed, many are underemployed and earning less than minimum wage. Moreover, instead of improving over time, their chances for suitable employment decrease as time passes.

Many explanations exist for the failure of students with disabilities to succeed in securing full-time integrated employment. Sitlington, Frank, and Carson (1992) attributed deficiencies in the vocational preparation of students with disabilities to lack of involvement in vocational counseling, vocational training, and postsecondary training programs. When asked to reflect on how well the schools prepared them for the future, students with disabilities rated the quality of their preparation as low (Skovron, 1993). As a consequence of poor vocational preparation, few of the students with disabilities in the Skovron follow-up study, which included rural communities in Colorado, had definite plans for the future, particularly with regard to employment or career goals.

Students with disabilities are not only less likely to acquire vocational skills needed to succeed in employment but they are also less likely to acquire a selfimage conducive to the development and maintenance of vocational aspirations. Fisher and Harnish (1992) identified low expectations for the vocational outcomes of students with disabilities as one of the primary factors negatively influencing the development of a vocational identity. They reported that parents had low expectations for the vocational success of their children with disabilities. Unfortunately, they also found that teachers and counselors communicated even lower expectations to students with disabilities. Consequently, students with disabilities tended to be less hopeful than other students that they could acquire jobs characterized by higher wages, good working conditions, and higher status. These considerations are indicative of the need for schools to provide better transitional programs for students. …