Study explores factors predicting referral to remedial or special education

January 26, 2007

Preschool entry is often the first time children are compared academically and socially with peers of the same age. For this reason, preschool is often also the time when learning and behavioral disabilities are first identified. However, whether referrals to remedial or special education are based solely on cognitive disability or other factors has not been fully addressed. A new study from the Elementary School Journal explores to what extent factors such as parental education and race indicate a high likelihood of referral to remedial or special education during the first years of school.

Emily Mann (Bridgewater State College), Kathleen McCartney (Harvard University), and Jennifer Park (National Center for Education Statistics) are the first to compare remedial and special education services, with remedial services encompassing tutoring provided within a classroom setting and special education referring to placement into a separate kindergarten or first grade. Using data from 999 students, the researchers found that this differentiation affected which socioeconomic factors are associated with high- and low-levels of special education.

Specifically, the researchers found that lower maternal education and higher numbers of children in the home do not predict placement into a special education class (high level), though they do predict remedial services (low level). In addition, each additional year of maternal education was associated with an approximately 14% decrease in the likelihood of remedial services. Child birth order was also a strong indicator of remedial service placement, with second-born children associated with a 74% increase in the likelihood of referral for a low-level remedial service relative to first-born children.

Conversely, boys and children with unmarried mothers were associated only with high-level special education, and not remedial services. Gender differences were also a factor in referral to or placement in special education, with girls about a third less likely than boys to be referred for high-level special education.

Repeated periods of low income were also far more significantly related to high levels of special service placement than remedial education. Every additional period of low income in a child's life increased the odds of low-level remedial education by about 12% and increased the odds of high-level special education by about 50%.

"The prediction of remedial and special education has important implications for the early identification of learning problems and the implementation of appropriate and targeted intervention services," write the authors. "The next steps in this research are to assess the relative benefits of special education services for youth who received both high and low levels of remedial and special education and to determine whether academic and social outcomes differ for youth with different initial identification criteria."
For more than one-hundred years, The Elementary School Journal has served researchers, teacher educators, and practitioners in the elementary and middle school education. ESJ publishes articles dealing with both education theory and research and their implications for teaching practice. In addition, ESJ presents articles that relate the latest research in child development, cognitive psychology, and sociology to school learning and teaching.

Mann, Emily A., Kathleen McCartney, and Jennifer M. Park. "Preschool Predictors of the Need for Early Remedial and Special Education Services," Elementary School Journal 107:3.

University of Chicago Press Journals

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