Commentary: Using Mixed Methods to Transform Special Education Research

By Trainor, Audrey A. | Learning Disability Quarterly, August 2011 | Go to article overview

Commentary: Using Mixed Methods to Transform Special Education Research


Trainor, Audrey A., Learning Disability Quarterly


Klingner and Boardman (this issue) offer a cogent and compelling argument for opening the door for the acceptance and use of mixed methods in special education research. Self-identifying as pragmatists, they embody this paradigmatic view by focusing on the utility, efficacy, and accuracy of mixed methods, an argument that should appeal to the values and logic of many special education researchers. In my view, the authors chose a smart rhetorical strategy because utility, efficacy, and accuracy map broadly to reliability and validity. And, in this field, methodologies that are thought to increase a work's reliability and validity are especially valuable in raising the quality and quantity of other highly valued fruits of the labor of research (i.e., results-based processes, outcomes, and evidence). To illustrate their point, Klingner and Boardman discuss the inadequate and overly simplistic conceptualizations of participants' sociodemographic characteristics, contributing to a static view of culture in reading intervention research. Here, the authors argue convincingly that the use of mixed methods can help researchers focus on multiple and multilayered research questions that also include the collection and analysis of data that capture cultural practices, institutional cultures, and context.

In some ways, when it comes to mixed methods, I am a choir member to whom Klingner and Boardman preach. I have used mixed methods and do not need to be convinced of their methodological value. Their "both/and" argument also appeals to me because I find the qual/quant dichotomy mind-numbing and unproductive. I wholeheartedly agree with the underlying argument the authors posit: The overemphasis on randomized control experiments in special education research minimizes our adept use of a variety of research strategies, particularly when we address questions about inequity and cultural and linguistic diversity. Unfortunately, narrow views of what counts as research also have potentially negative and far-reaching consequences in the lives of scholars who value innovation and other ways of knowing as they problematize issues and solutions. If reviewers categorically reject studies with few participants or interpretivist designs and analyses, dissemination of a broad spectrum of research is effectively halted. For researchers, who often work under the demand of high productivity measured by numbers of publications in top-tier journals, such reviewing practices could prevent them from reaching a wide audience, receiving grants, and/or becoming tenured.

Expanding the scope of research approaches, Klingner and Broadman argue, is closely connected to broader issues of diversity. Here I am extending their argument to include scholars who are themselves representative in some way of (dis)ability, racial/ethnic, linguistic, and other dimensions of diversity. Although it is important not to overgeneralize, a plethora of examples from the larger field of education research illustrates the point that for scholars who have experienced marginalization and been academically successful, acknowledging multiple realities and using the tools of interpretivism are essential and defining characteristics of their scholarly contributions (for examples, see Delpit, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Trueba, 1999; Valenzuela, 1999). In no way should my point be interpreted to mean that members of the dominant group are not also drawn to interpretivist methodologies, or that scholars who have experienced marginalization never embrace positivistic methodologies. In fact, the influence of researcher-identities likely waxes and wanes as we pursue opportunities to study our field (Fine, Weis, Weseen, & Wong, 2003). Using mixed methods research allows us to escape the false dichotomy of interpretivism--positivism while simultaneously expanding the community of scholars, and thus the knowledge we generate. Equally important, mixed-methods research provides an opportunity to expand our thinking, too. …

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Commentary: Using Mixed Methods to Transform Special Education Research
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