Academic journal article Exceptional Children

What Is Published in the Field of Special Education? an Analysis of 11 Prominent Journals

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

What Is Published in the Field of Special Education? an Analysis of 11 Prominent Journals

Article excerpt

Professional journals are arguably the most significant resource for special education professionals and exert a profound influence on the field of special education (McLeskey, 2004). Articles in professional journals provide the essential foundation for special education textbooks (Heward, 2009; Kauffman & Landrum, 2009) and are frequently consulted in policy discussions such as those associated with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004). Professional journals also play a significant role in establishing evidence-based practice, an important component of both NCLB and IDEA 2004 (Gersten, Fuchs, Compton, Greenwood, & Innocenti, 2005; Horner et al., 2005).

Because of the unique and significant influence of professional journals on policy and practice, there is a need to carefully examine what has been published in special education's major journals. For example, it is important to know (a) what types of articles are published, (b) how much research is reported in these journals, (c) what type of research is reported, (d) what general topics are investigated, and (e) what age/grade levels are studied. It is also of interest to know whether any trends can be noted over time in any of these areas. Such information could be of interest to editors, policy makers, and other professionals in the field of special education. For example, it may be important to know if elementary and secondary level students are proportionally represented or if research involving social behavior is declining.

An important secondary aspect of this study is if the amount of intervention research reported is relative to other research such as investigating the characteristics of individuals with particular disabilities (Seethaler & Fuchs, 2005). Given the overall applied nature of special education, it is hoped that a substantial amount of reported research involves the study of interventions intended to improve social or academic functioning and to enhance inclusion of students with disabilities into general education environments. Of the intervention research reported, it is also important to know the extent of research addressing the relative proportion of academic learning versus social/emotional behavior. Such considerations could provide information on the type and extent of research that provides the foundation of the field of special education. Resulting information could also provide an impetus for researchers to address areas of research that seem to be relatively underrepresented.

A final consideration involves the potential impact of social or policy influences on identified trends in research over time. For example, the past decades have seen changes in IDEA and in policy positions regarding the Regular Education Initiative (REI), full inclusion, NCLB legislation, Reading First, and the policies regarding Response to Intervention (RTI; Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2007). Because much research in special education is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, it is important to note any particular trends that appear to be associated with legislative events.


Journal content has been previously examined in part to address some of the issues including amount of intervention research and policy decisions previously described. Scruggs and Mastropieri (1985) examined the first decade of the journal Behavioral Disorders (BD) and reported that the types of articles included (a) position papers (25.5%), (b) program descriptions (20.8%), (c) review papers (10.6%), and (d) research articles (43.4%). The 43.4% of research articles included (a) group research design studies (17.5%), (b) single-subject design research (13.9%), (c) survey research (10.2%), and (d) case studies (1.8%). Additionally, of the research studies, approximately 26% (11% of the total number of articles) were intervention research studies including social and classroom behavior and functioning (43%), academic functioning (16%), and self-stimulatory behaviors (6%). …

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