The Influence of Special Education Experience and Gender of Juvenile Offenders on Academic Achievement Scores in Reading, Language, and Mathematics

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT Previous research has shown that many juvenile offenders experience academic, as well as social, problems in school. This study was designed to examine the types and extent of academic deficiencies of a large group of juveniles held in a regional detention facility and to determine differences in academic performance on a standardized measure of three key academic areas: reading, language, and mathematics. More specifically, the intent was to examine performance by juvenile offenders in relationship to their current grade levels, whether they had experience in special education, and their gender. Major findings were that (a) most participants' achievement scores in all three areas were below their grade-level placements, (b) students with experience in special education scored significantly lower than other juvenile offenders, and (c) males scored significantly lower than females. Possible explanations for these findings and their implications for further research and for prevention and intervention are discussed.

There is considerable evidence that juvenile offenders, as a group, experience problems in school as well as in the larger community (Pollard, Pollard, & Meers, 1995; Zabel & Nigro, 1999). Not surprisingly, they are more likely to drop out of school before graduating, and youths who drop out are at elevated risk for arrest and incarceration (Brier, 1995; U.S. Department of Education, 1997). In addition, a high proportion of juvenile offenders have disabilities, especially emotional or behavioral disorders (E/BD), learning disabilities (LD), mild to moderate mental retardation (EMR), and attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Kauffman, 2001; Leone, Rutherford, & Nelson, 1991; Moffitt, 1990), although some who might qualify have not been identified formally.

Recent research has established that a large proportion of students with E/BD also have LD. In an analysis of ability and achievement measures for a sample of 233 students between the ages of 12 and 16 who were newly classified as having behavioral disorders (BD), Glassberg, Hooper, and Mattison (1999) determined that over one half also qualified for identification as having LD. Forness, Kavale, King, and Kasari (1994) have noted the comoridity of E/BD and other disabilities, especially LD and ADHD. In a study of personal, family, and school characteristics of a large sample of juvenile offenders, Zabel and Nigro (1999) found that 37% reported they had experience in special education. Of these, 46.2% said their classification was BD, 39.6% said it was LD, and 14.3% reported both BD and LD classifications.

Research concerning academic performance of juvenile delinquents has shown that, as a group, they score lower than age and grade peers on intelligence and achievement measures (Lynam, Moffitt, Stouthamer-Loeber, 1993). Within delinquent samples, deficits in intelligence and academic performance also have been linked to higher rates of recidivism (Katsiyannis & Archwamety, 1999).

One purpose of the study described here was to obtain measures of academic achievement of juvenile offenders as a group and to determine discrepancies between their current grade levels and their academic achievement levels. An additional purpose was to examine the patterns of academic achievement of juvenile offenders who have been in special education compared to juvenile offenders with no experience in special education. The authors believed that such information might help determine prevention and intervention approaches.

Method

Participants

Participants in the study were 130 youths between the ages of 12 and 18 who were confined to a regional juvenile detention facility in Kansas. The facility provides a short-term placement for juvenile offenders pending court disposition of their cases. Most of the youths come from the 14 counties that sponsor the facility. In addition, some who are held at the facility have been transferred from other counties and some are from out of state and have been detained while in the region. …