Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Vocational Technical Programs: Follow-Up of Students with Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Vocational Technical Programs: Follow-Up of Students with Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Over the past several years, special educators have examined the needs of students with disabilities as they move from the public school environment to the world of employment (e.g., Clark & Knowlton, 1987). This effort to facilitate the transition from school to work has been identified as a major priority by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (Will, 1984) and has resulted in a significant increase in research efforts examining issues and procedures in transition for youth with both mild and severe disabilities.

Many of the studies that have concentrated on transition issues among students with learning disabilities and other mild handicapping conditions, have examined the impact of special education programs by collecting follow-up data on students who have graduated. White, Schumaker, Warner, Alley, and Deshler (1980) reported that although young adults with learning disabilities were employed equally as those without, the youth with disabilities were found to have lower occupational status and job satisfaction than were individuals without disabilities. Results were very limited, however, because of sample size and other methodological problems.

Hasazi, Gordon, and Roe (1985) reported the results of a follow-up survey of 462 students identified as having received special services and exiting high school between 1979 and 1983 in Vermont. Their survey found employment rates over 50%, with the employment level for those students who attended resource room programs (in contrast to self-contained programs), to be 61.5%. Most of the students found jobs reportedly through the "self-family-friend" network (85.2%). In addition, having a part-time or summer job while in high school was the best predictor for postsecondary employment. Hasazi, Gordon, Roe, Finck, Hull, and Salembier (1985) examined post-high-school status of students identified as mentally retarded in Vermont and found results similar to those of Hasazi, Gordon, and Roe. Of importance was that having vocational classes and work experiences in high school best predicted the highest wage earners.

Other follow-up studies of youth with disabilities who were exiting schools have reported similar results (e.g., Mithaug, Horiuchi, & Fanning, 1985; Neel, Meadows, Levine, & Edgar, 1988; Schalock et al., 1986). Full-time employment rates tended to be around 60%-70% for students with learning disabilities, up to 5 years after graduation. One variable that seemed to emerge across studies, however, was the importance of vocational courses and experiences before graduation. Indeed, Okolo and Sitlington (1986), in a review of special education practices for adolescents with learning disabilities, found that while there is a compelling rationale for inclusion of vocational programming in the special education programs of adolescents, available data suggest that such efforts are not typically a part of many secondary school special education programs. Moreover, Okolo and Sitlington have noted several methodological weaknesses in the existing literature, such as the failure to include sufficient comparison groups of youth without disabilities, criteria for specifying the group with disabilities, and providing follow-up data for 1 year or less. In addition, Okolo (1988) reported that the learning environment of secondary vocational programs puts behavioral demands on youth with learning disabilitie--demands for which they may have poor skills.

Given the strong endorsement that appears to be given to vocational programs is assisting the transition of youth with learning disabilities to the work environment (e.g., Okolo & Sitlington, 1986), it is surprising that no studies have specifically examined the impact of attending vocational-technical schools on such youth's transition to the postsecondary period. The present study offered a unique opportunity to examine a subgroup of these youths. All students in the present study attended the vocational-technical programs in their respective school districts. …

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