Special Education Screening System: Group Achievement Test
The purpose of a special education screening system is to identify students who deviate sufficiently from their peers as to require special attention (Salvia & Ysseldyke, 1985). The most common method of identifying students in need of special education services has been teacher-submitted nominations of students who are then individually administered traditional psychological and educational measures by a school psychologist. This method of teacher referral, followed by an individual psychological evaluation, is typical of the Utah procedure (Utah State Office of Education, 1981) and is consistent with federal guidelines (P.L. 94-142). This identification system has been demonstrated to qualify a large majority of those tested for special education, approximating 90% (Algozzine, Christenson, & Ysseldyke, 1982; Galagan, 1985; Utah State Office of Education, 1975). Because school psychologists currently spend half their time in performing assessment activities (Benson & Hughes, 1985), educators have proposed and used alternate systems. (Peterson, Heistad, Peterson, & Reynolds, 1985; Welton & Wedell, 1982). These systems decrease the frequency of standardized individual assessments for special education qualification.
Under the present sytem, a referred student most likely will qualify for special education. Thus the referral decision often determines a student's subsequent educational program (Christenson, Ysseldyke, & Algozzine, 1982). Current individual testing has two functions: (a) diagnosing (or confirming) a suspected handicap and (b) identifying a student's special needs in designing an individual education program (Tucker, 1985; Utah State Office of Education, 1981). Unfortunately, a growing body of literature suggests substantial flaws in both functions. First, regarding diagnostic individual testing, the problem exists in distinguishing between various categories of mildly handicapped children, as well as in determining who is and who is not mildly handicapped (GAO, 1981; Hagerty & Abramson, 1987; Tucker, 1985). Second, many educators have criticized the efficacy of the standardized tests typically used to assess students' individual needs (Galagan, 1985; Gresham, 1986; Ysseldyke et al., 1982). Researchers have argued that these test results do not effectively link assessment with educational intervention, thereby providing teachers with information that is not useful in planning effective instructional programs (Howell, 1986; Tucker, 1985).
An alternate identification system, the Montevideo, Minnesota Individualized Prescriptive Instructional Management System (Peterson et al., 1985), uses a 20th percentile cutoff point on a curriculum-based measure of academic progress over time, below which 100% of the special education students were identified. With this measure, however, approximately 8% of regular education students also fell below the cutoff in reading and math.
In the present study, we used existing standardized achievement test results to determine if group scores on an achievement test would be useful as a preliminary screening device to identify mildly handicapped special education students currently in the system.
The value of individual psychological evaluations at some point in the process of individualizing student programs is not disputed or indeed addressed in the current study. The problem of providing for individual differences is complex, and efforts to help individual children require multifaceted procedures. The possibility that group testing could provide an effective initial screening and identification of the mildly handicapped is an intriguing notion. If effective, it would provide more human resource use at other points in a continuum of educational and personal experiences.
In the first sample, four of eight elementary schools in the Uintah School District in Vernal, Utah, were chosen at random from within the district. …