The Influence of Categories of Cumulative Folder Information on Teacher Referrals of Low-achieving Children for Special Educational Services

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1 American Educational Research Journal Spring 1979, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp The Influence of Categories of Cumulative Folder Information on Teacher Referrals of Low-achieving Children for Special Educational Services MARGARET L. GIESBRECHT University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill DONALD K. ROUTH University of Iowa Artificial cumulative folders were constructed, each purporting to reference a fourth grade boy with average ability but low academic achievement. The eight folders fact or ially varied three categories of information: presence or absence of comments concerning previous misbehavior, race (black or white), and parents' educational level (some high school or postsecondary). A random sample of 104 central North Carolina elementary teachers examined the folders and recorded various recommendations regarding the kind of outsideclass educational help that would be appropriate for a child. The most influential category information was comments concerning misbehavior. With negative behavioral comments, teachers judged a child more likely to need special educational help, more time in a resource room, and special forms of help. Although complicated by interactions, the general pattern was to expect more favorable educational progress and less need for special help for blacks and for children of less educated parents than for whites or children of well educated parents. This study attempted to simulate realistically a common educational decision making situation. Early in each school year systems are required to make decisions about providing special services for low-achieving students. Specialists, paraprofes- This report is based on a Ph.D. dissertation done at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill by the first author, who presently is a faculty member at Peace College, Raleigh, North Carolina. The authors acknowledge the helpful advice and comments of the dissertation committee, which included R. Coop, S. Hennis, W. Palmer, and W. Pryswansky, and also the comments of I. Levin. 181

2 GlESBRECHT AND ROUTH sionals, and supplies must be included in the budget, and space must be alloted for resource rooms. Referrals for special services must be made as early as possible if children are to receive maximum benefit from a special program. Often such decisions about special services are made on the basis of minimal information such as that included in a child's cumulative record folder. In the elementary school, referral of such low-achieving children for special educational services is usually initiated by the teacher (Patton, 1976). Not enough is known, however, about the considerations that influence such referrals. The present study exercised three likely categories of influence: previous teacher's comments on the child's behavior, the race attributed to the child, and the educational level ascribed to the child's parents. METHOD Sample Participants were 104 teachers from elementary schools in six different counties in the Piedmont (central) region of North Carolina. This sample included 88 females and 16 males; 86 were white, 17 black, and one an American Indian. The sample of schools was obtained by subsampling a much larger probability sample of intermediate-size elementary schools in the Piedmont region of North Carolina (Bengston, Note 1). The superintendent of each school district involved was contacted for permission to conduct the study in exchange for a workshop to be presented by the experimenter afterwards. No superintendent refused. The schools and principals were either visited in advance, or arrangements were made by telephone and mail. All teachers who normally attended faculty meetings in each school took part in the study, but not those who had in-service or graduate classes conflicting with the regular faculty meetings, or those physical education or music teachers who had no experience or training in the use of cumulative records. The number of teachers per school taking part in the study ranged from 11 to 28. Cumulative Record Folders Eight artificial cumulative record folders were constructed conforming to the 1975 guidelines for student records of the North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction. Each consisted of a half-cut file folder with a file label, the elementary standardized test form (for recording achievement and ability test scores), the elementary scholastic record (for records of marks from grades 1, 2, and 3), and a plain piece of paper in folders which included teacher comments. The records were constructed for the eight combinations in a factorial design arrangement, i.e., all possible combinations of the following three variables: (1) teacher comments (negative vs. no comments), (2) race (black vs. white), and (3) parent education (some high school vs. post high school education). All of the children described in the folders were boys, nine years old and in the fourth grade. Each child had an intelligence test score supposedly based on the Slosson Intelligence Test; these scores ranged from 96 to 105, with small variations to create realism determined with the aid of a random number table. All children had scholastic records suggesting low achievement: It was indicated that they needed to improve their performance in reading, language arts, mathematics, and spelling. 182

3 TEACHER REFERRALS Marks in science and social studies ranged from "satisfactory" to "needs improvement," while performance in health and physical education was "satisfactory." Test scores supposedly taken from the Stanford Achievement Test were simulated with a computer program to vary from one to two years below grade level for test dates at the beginning of second, third, and fourth grades. Folders representing the lower level of parent education described at least one of the parents as having some education beyond eighth grade but indicated neither parent to be a high school graduate. For folders representing the higher parent education level, at least one parent was described as having some education beyond high school. These levels correspond to categories in the General Information Yearbook of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (1974). The handwritten negative teacher comments, dated and signed by two teachers, were present in half the folders. These were adapted from the comments used by Hendren and Routh (Note 2) which had been rated by college students as describing behaviors which were detrimental to learning. An example is the following: Andy's work is considerably below fourth grade level. I'd describe Andy as being "sneaky." He won't do anything directly but tries to get others to disrupt the class or does something when my back is turned. Procedure The participants were asked to evaluate the cumulative record folders for all eight children described. The teachers at each school were seated in groups of eight with those remaining forming an additional group. The teachers read each record, entered their judgments about it on a rating sheet, and passed it to the teacher on the right. This procedure, which took about 30 minutes, was designed to control for sequence of presentation and to insure that each teacher rated the record independently in about the same amount of time. The teachers were instructed orally to imagine that they were teaching fourth grade and that their principal had just announced that their school would receive 86 new students next fall. They were to act as members of a committee to examine the cumulative records of some of these students so the principal could get some idea of the special resources that would be needed next year. The rating sheet to be completed for each student had four parts. The first question was, "In your opinion, how likely is it that this child will need special educational help?" The teacher circled a number ranging from 1, "extremely likely," through 4, "neither likely nor unlikely," to 7, "extremely unlikely." The second question asked the teacher to check the one schedule likely to be most helpful: regular classroom placement with no special help in a resource room; most of the time in the regular classroom, with one hour a day in the resource room; half time in the regular class, half time in the resource room; or full time special resource center placement. The third part of the rating sheet included several questions: (a) "Which one of the following professionals do you think would be most helpful to this child? (Check one)." The possible choices were: Learning disabilities teacher, Reading teacher, Behavioral adjustment teacher (specialist dealing with emotional problems), and School psychologist, (b) "Which of the following nonprofessionals do you think would be most helpful to this child? (Check one)" The choices were: Volunteer tutor 183

4 GlESBRECHT AND ROUTH (adult), Volunteer tutor (student), and Teacher aide, (c) "Which of the following materials do you think would be most helpful to this child? (Check one)." The choices were: high interest/low readability books, programmed materials, modified basal texts, and criterion referenced tests and materials. The fourth question was: "At the time this child would normally be completing the eighth grade, assuming that he is not retained at any point, what would you predict his reading grade equivalent to be on a standardized reading test? (Circle one number)." The numbers typed below represented the grades from 2 to 12. RESULTS Likelihood of Need for Special Educational Help Children with negative teacher comments in their cumulative records were judged more likely to need special educational help (mean = 2.22) than children without such comments (mean = 2.44, MS = 9.64,/? <.01). Children of less educated parents were judged more likely to need special help (mean = 2.27) than children of well educated parents (mean = 2.39, MS = 2.53, p <.05). However, this finding was qualified by two interactions: For children with negative comments, the ratings of those with poorly educated and well educated parents were practically identical (means of 2.21 and 2.22 respectively). For children without any comments, however, there was a clear effect of parent education, with children of less educated parents being judged more likely to need special educational help (mean = 2.33) than children of well educated parents (mean = 2.55, interaction MS = 2.20, p <.05). For white children, low versus high parent education made essentially no difference (means of 2.32 and 2.33 respectively). However, for black children, those with less educated parents were judged more likely to need special help (mean = 2.22) than those with well educated parents (mean = 2.44, interaction MS = 2.44, p <.05). The three-factor interaction was nonsignificant (MS = 1.01). The standard deviation for Likelihood of Need for Special Educational Help was Recommended Time in Resource Room At least some time in the resource room tended to be recommended for all of these low-achieving children. Negative comments in the child's folder produced teacher recommendations of a mean of one hour and 58 minutes per day in the resource room, as compared to only one hour and 38 minutes per day for children with no comments in their folders. This main effect was statistically significant (MS = 25.47, p <.01). All other main effects and interactions concerning recommended time in the resource room were nonsignificant. Type of Professional Help Recommended For children with negative comments in their records, 38% of the teachers recommended the behavioral adjustment teacher, 28% the reading teacher, 22% the learning disabilities teacher, and 12% the school psychologist as the most helpful professional. For children without comments in their records, on the other hand, 60% recommended the reading teacher and 31% the learning disabilities teacher as most helpful, whereas only 5% recommended the behavioral adjustment teacher and 184

5 TEACHER REFERRALS only 4% the school psychologist. A x 2 test indicated that the only significant effect was that of presence or absence of teacher comments, p <.01. Type of Nonprofessional Help Recommended For all children, the teachers were most likely to recommend the teacher aide, then the adult volunteer tutor, then the student volunteer tutor as being the most helpful. A x 2 test showed the only variable to have a statistically significant effect on this recommendation was the child's race, p <.05. For black children the student volunteer was recommended by 14% of the teachers, as compared to only 8% for white children. For black children the teacher aide was recommended by 53%, as compared to 57% for white children. And the adult volunteer was recommended by 33% of teachers for black children, versus 35% for white children. Type of Materials Recommended For all children the materials recommended as most helpful were the high interest/ low reading difficulty books (47%). Programmed materials were recommended by 24%, modified basal texts by 18%, and criterion-referenced tests and materials by 10%. These recommendations were not affected significantly by any of the independent variables in the study. Predicted Reading Levels Impaired future reading performance with an overall mean of 5.60 grade level when the child would normally be in the eighth grade was predicted for all of these low-achieving children. However, the detailed results for this variable were quite complicated. Table 1 summarizes the analysis of variance, and Table 2 gives the means for each of the eight cells. Examination of Table 2 shows that a consistent pattern is displayed by seven of the eight means, with black children generally receiving higher predicted reading levels than white children at the corresponding TABLE 1 Analysis of Variance for Teachers* Predictions of the Eighth Grade Reading Level of Low Achievers Source 4f Sum of Squares F School Teachers Race Education Race x Education Comments Race x comments Education x comments Race x education x comments Error ** 12.46** ** 13.38** * 5.56* */><.05 **/><

6 GlESBRECHT AND ROUTH TABLE 2 Mean Reading Levels Predicted in Grade Eight for Low Achieving Children as a Function of Comments, Race, and Parent Education Race of Child White Black Negative Comments High Low No Comments High Low levels of parent education, and children of parents with low education receiving higher predicted reading levels than children of well educated parents. The one deviant cell mean (the one presumably responsible for the triple interaction) is that for black children with no behavioral comments in their folders and low parent education. These children, unlike other black children, were predicted to have a lower reading level than their white counterparts, rather than a higher one. The overall standard deviation for Predicted Reading Levels was DISCUSSION The adverse behavioral comments in the students' folders had a pervasive effect on teacher judgments, confirming the results of LaVoie and Adams (1974) and Robbins, Mercer, and Meyers (1967). The results provide support for the rationale underlying PL , a legislative mandate which helps provide balance between stigmatizing a child and a teacher's need for information about a child in order to make appropriate plans for special educational help. Teachers' recommendations concerning low-achieving children without adverse behavioral comments in their records were straightforward. For these children as a group the reading teacher (or perhaps the learning disabilities teacher) was thought to be the most helpful provider of special assistance, and it was rare that the services of a behavioral adjustment teacher or school psychologist were thought to be required. It is of interest to note that of the six elementary schools where the teachers were employed, all had reading teachers on the staff, and half had learning disabilities teachers. However, none of the schools had behavioral adjustment teachers or school psychologists on the staff! Thus, the schools seemed better prepared to handle wellbehaved, low-achieving students than to handle those with behavioral problems. The effects of race and parent educational levels on teacher judgments were intertwined in a complex way. The general pattern was to expect better progress in reading from black children than from white children and better progress from the children of parents of low education than from children of well educated parents. Routh and King (1972) found that clinical psychologists considered middle-class individuals more likely than lower-class individuals to need professional help for an emotional problem. Hendren and Routh (Note 2) found that psychologists considered middle-class children more likely to need special educational services than lowerclass children but were not influenced by social class information in making educational predictions about children. Hendren and Routh hypothesized that psycholo- 186

7 TEACHER REFERRALS gists considered special education as a valuable treatment resource, to be given more freely to middle-class than lower-class children. In contrast, in the present study, teachers considered black children less likely to need special help if their parents were well educated than if their parents were poorly educated. It could be that psychologists consider special education a valuable service to the child, while some elementary teachers perhaps tend to consider it more as a means of removing the child from their classroom. REFERENCE NOTES 1. BENGSTON, J, W. North Carolina assessment of educational progress: General description of the sample (Report No. 22U-948). Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Research Triangle Institute, October HENDREN, T. E., & ROUTH, D. K. Social class bias in psychologists' evaluations of children. Manuscript submitted for publication, REFERENCES LAVOIE, J. C, & ADAMS, G. R. Teacher expectancy and its relation to physical and interpersonal characteristics of the child. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 1974, 20, National Assessment of Educational Progress. General information yearbook. Washington, D. C: U. S. Government Printing Office, PATTON, C. V. Selecting special students: Who decides? Teachers College Record, 1976, 78, ROBBINS, R. C, MERCER, J. R., & MEYERS, C. E. The school as a selecting-labeling system. Journal of School Psychology, 1967, 5, ROUTH, D. K., & KING, K. M. Social class bias in clinical judgment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1972, 38, MARGARET L. GIESBRECHT, Assistant Professor of Education, Peace College, Raleigh, North Carolina. DONALD K. ROUTH, Professor of Psychology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa. 187

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