Academic journal article Exceptional Children

High- and Average-Achieving Students' Perceptions of Disabilities and of Students with Disabilities in Inclusive Classrooms

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

High- and Average-Achieving Students' Perceptions of Disabilities and of Students with Disabilities in Inclusive Classrooms

Article excerpt

Empirical data, a lot of it 20 or more years old, has examined impacts of grouping from undifferentiated to ability-determined. Kulik and Kulik (1992) conducted an extensive meta-analysis examining impact on academic grades, but did not address interpersonal outcomes. Students of all ability levels benefited from grouping, but Kulik and Kulik carefully pointed out that the critical variable was the curricular adaptation that took place within different kinds of grouping, not the grouping itself. Self-esteem is enhanced for gifted students in separate classes (Coleman & Fults, 1982), but such studies have looked at between-group comparisons, not interactions.

Krasner (n.d.) identified nearly 300 articles on attitudes toward inclusion and persons with disabilities from 1981 to 2000; he and his colleagues have cataloged hundreds more since, but none focused on gifted students. Leyser and Price (1985) examined the effectiveness of intervention aimed at modifying the attitudes of gifted students toward people with disabilities. Although gifted students who participated in the training (n = 22) expressed somewhat more favorable attitudes toward disabilities than gifted students who did not (n = 38), this difference was not statistically significant. Leyser and Price did not use a control group, so could not draw conclusions regarding whether attitudes differed between gifted and nongifted students, and did not conduct pretesting, so could not determine if the attitudes of the gifted needed altering in the first place.

Studies have indicated that gifted populations have heightened interpersonal sensitivity and sense of fairness and social justice (e.g., Mendaglio, 1995; Ritchie, Bernard, & Shemer, 1982). If these are important qualities in their lives, then gifted students should have positive attitudes about fellow students with disabilities. A negative alternative is that gifted students can become bored and disenchanted in any classroom that does not provide them with adequate challenge (Gallagher & Harradine, 1997; Kanevsky & Keighly, 2003); this could lower their regard for classmates who might be perceived as taking up an unfair proportion of instructional time or causing frequent disruption. The first goal of the present study was to measure these attitudes and the second goal to understand if one of these explanations for any difference was more useful. We tested the two hypotheses in functioning inclusive classrooms.

LITERATURE REVIEW

TEACHERS' ATTITUDES

Avramidis and Norwich (2002) reviewed the literature about teachers' attitudes towards inclusion. Although most teachers supported the idea of inclusion, their primary concern was the lack of support and resources required to have a positive attitude about teaching in inclusive classrooms. The primary methodology for collecting data on teachers' attitudes has been paper-and-pencil questionnaires; very few studies have used interviews or observations to contextualize or elaborate teachers' attitudes. The focus of teachers' perspectives is primarily on teacher education and needed resources, not understanding of the benefits or challenges of inclusion on students' social or academic outcomes.

The primary methodology for collecting data on teachers' attitudes has been paper-and-pencil questionnaires; very few studies have used interviews or observations to contextualize or elaborate teachers' attitudes.

PARENTS' ATTITUDES

Like teachers, parents of children with mild, moderate, or severe disabilities had positive legal and philosophical views, but concerns about the practical impact on their own children (Leyser & Kirk, 2004). Parents expected positive social implications for other students in the classroom in preparing them for "the real world" (p. 278) and enhancing awareness of individual differences. Prime concerns of 437 parents on the Opinions Relative to Mainstreaming Scale (Antonak & Larrivee, 1995) were social isolation, negative attitudes, quality of instruction, teacher readiness, and parental support. …

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