Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Validity of Categorical Learning Disabilities Services: The Consumer's View

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Validity of Categorical Learning Disabilities Services: The Consumer's View

Article excerpt

Today, researchers and educators are making significant efforts to change American public education (Gardner, 1991; Goodlad, 1990; Sizer, 1992; Toch, 1991) . Reformers call schools to task for accepting minimal student performance and graduating unskilled workers and uninformed citizens. Although most attention has focused on general education, a movement to restructure special education has arisen as well (Feldman, 1991; Gartner & Lipsky, 1987; Will, 1986). Critics of separate educational programs contend that services for students classified as "learning disabled" have typically been academically ineffective and socially harmful (Algozzine, Morsink, & Algozzine, 1988; Epps & Tindal, 1987; Sleeter, 1987; Vaughn & Bos, 1987). They attribute many of the problems special education students face after high school to the overuse of categorical, pullout, and self-contained delivery systems (Aune, 1991; Edgar, 1987).

As a response to these criticisms, many school systems are joining what has become known as the inclusion movement. Special education services are being provided to some children directly within the context of general education classrooms (Feldman, 1991; McEvoy & Vandercook, 1991; Reynolds, 1989). More and more commonly, pullout programs are being abandoned. Special education teachers who formerly taught in separate settings are being assigned to integrated classrooms as consultants or as co teachers sharing responsibility with general education teachers for both general and special education students (Rogers, 1993).

Yet, despite concern that special placement harms students, researchers have given scant consideration to the views of the direct consumers of the services. Instead, investigators have inferred students, perceptions (Tymitz-Wolf, 1984), especially for youngsters in secondary education. Because researchers have viewed secondary programs as extensions of elementary ones, they have paid little attention to either the uniqueness of secondary school or its students (Schumaker & Deshler, 1988). The present qualitative case study was undertaken to fill that gap in the research.

This study investigated the effects of learning disabilities placement from the perspectives of one group of consumers, midwestern high school students placed for some part of the day in separate learning disabilities classrooms. The study examined three primary topics: (a) peer acceptance, (b) impact on perceptions of self, and (c) perceived efficacy of special education programs. The naturalistic paradigm, a qualitative approach to research described by Lincoln and Guba (1985), provided the research framework. Naturalistic methodology was most appropriate because of its multiple definitions of reality and its consequent sensitivity IO individual experiences (Stainback & Stainback, 1984).

METHOD

Setting

The research took place at Hunter Eastman High School (HEHS), the only high school in a midwestern city of about 60,000. Approximately 1,800 students attend HEHS. The student body of the school district is 96.7% Caucasian, 0.98% African American, 0.41 % Hispanic, 1.7% Asian, and .05% Native American. The median income of the community is $32,000.

At the time of the study, special education programs were available at HEHS for students identified as "learning disabled," "developmentally disabled," or "multihandicapped." A dual service model existed for students classified as learning disabled. Students received services in tutorial or separate learning disabilities classroom settings; the latter were referred to as "learning centers" on individualized education programs (IEPs). (In this article, the terms learning center and learning disabilities classrooms are used interchangeably.) During the period of the investigation, 59 students at HEHS were classified as learning disabled. Seventeen received only tutorial support, 29 were served only in the learning center classroom, and 13 received services in both. …

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