Winner of Cld’s 2004 Award for Outstanding Research

Abstract

This study investigated the effect of the disability labels learning disabilities (LD) and emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) on public school general education and special education teachers’ willingness to refer students to gifted programs. Results indicated that teachers were significantly influenced by the LD and EBD labels when making referrals to gifted programs. Both groups of teachers were much less willing to refer students with disability labels to gifted programs than identically described students with no disability label. Additionally, when compared to general education teachers, special education teachers were less likely to refer a gifted student, with or without disabilities, to a gifted program. MARGARITA BIANCO, Ed.D., is assistant professor, Colorado State University. most likely to be found among students with the most frequently occurring disabilities, such as learning disabilities (Miller & Terry-Godt, 1996). For example, Friedrichs estimated that there are approximately 95,000 students in this subpopulation. Although it is generally accepted that gifted students with learning disabilities (LD) are underrepresented in gifted programs, limited empirical data are available regarding the actual prevalence of this population (Karnes, Shaunessy, & Bisland, 2004). One reason for this may be the problematic nature of defining giftedness and identifying who does and who does not meet the criteria. Defining giftedness, with or without disabilities, is a complicated and often controversial task (Davis & Rimm, 2004). Although the literature abounds with definitions of giftedness (e.g., Clark, 1997; Piirto, 1999; Renzulli, 1978; Tannenbaum, 1997) and theories of intelligence (e.g., Gardner, 1983; Sternberg, 1997), there is no one universally accepted definition of giftedness (Davis & Rimm, 1998, 2004). As a result, giftedness means different things to different people (Tannenbaum & Baldwin, 1983) and can be influenced by one’s cultural perspective (Busse, Dahme, Wagner, & Wieczerkowski, 1986). To help resolve this dilemma, many states look to the federal definition to guide their policy development (Stephens & Karnes, 2000). The federal definition of gifted and talented has undergone numerous changes since the first definition appeared in The Education Amendments of 1969 (U.S. Congress, 1970). State departments of education use their interpretation of these definitions to develop school district policies for identification and eligibility criteria (Davis & Rimm, 2004; Stephens & Karnes, 2000). In a recent analysis of states’ definitions of gifted and talented, Stephens and Karnes found no single generally accepted definition used for identification and eligibility purposes. However, according to these authors, most states use some modified form of the following 1978 federal definition: The term “gifted and talented children” means children and, whenever applicable, youth, who are identified at the preschool, elementary, or secondary level as possessing demonstrated or potential abilities that give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, specific academic or leadership ability or in the performing and visual arts and who by reason thereof require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school. (Purcell, 1978; P.L. 95-561, title IX, sec. 902) A critical issue related to defining giftedness is the purpose for which the definition is used (Renzulli, 1998). Defining giftedness becomes particularly important when the definition influences the selection of students for gifted programs and inhibits the selection of others (Davis & Rimm, 1998, 2004). Renzulli discussed this relationship, stating: A definition of giftedness is a formal and explicit statement that might eventually become part of official policies or guidelines. Whether or not it is the writer’s intent, such statements will undoubtedly be used to direct identification and programming practices, and therefore we must recognize the consequential nature of this purpose and pivotal role. (p. 2) Most school districts still base their identification of gifted students on high general intelligence as measured by group or individual intelligence tests and high achievement test scores (Patton, 1997; Richert, 1997). As a result, access to gifted programs continues to be limited for many students who, despite their gifted abilities, do not perform well on these measures (Patton; Richert). Consequently, many unidentified gifted students, including those with LD, are not receiving the differentiated services they need in order to nurture and further develop their unique abilities (Davis & Rimm, 1998, 2004). Increasing attention has been given to identifying characteristics of gifted students with LD (Beckley, 1998; Nielsen, 2002). This population has been defined as “those who possess an outstanding gift or talent and are capable of high performance, but also have a learning disability that makes some aspect of academic achievement difficult” (Brody & Mills, 1997, p. 282). The students’ disabilities frequently mask their abilities, causing both exceptionalities to appear less extreme, which may result in average (or below average) performance (Baum, Owen, & Dixon, 1991; Silverman, 1989, 2003). According to Brody and Mills, these students usually fit into one of three categories, leaving the dual nature of their exceptionalities unrecognized. The first group includes students who have been identified as gifted but continue to exhibit difficulties with academic tasks. They are frequently considered underachievers and often their poor academic performance is attributed to laziness (Silverman, 2003). The second group contains those who have been identified as having an LD. For this group, the disability is what becomes recognized and addressed. Finally, the third group consists of students who have not been identified for either their disability or their exceptional abilities. This may be the largest group of all (Baum, 1990; Beckley, 1998; Brody & Mills, 1997). Contrary to the recent interest and research in the identification and needs of gifted students with LD (Karnes, Shaunessy, & Bisland, 2004; Reis & Colbert, 2004; Winebrenner, 2003), a paucity of empirical research has addressed the characteristics, identificaLearning Disability Quarterly 286 tion, and needs of gifted students with emotional and behavioral disorders (Morrison & Omdal, 2000; Reid & McGuire, 1995). Reid and McGuire suggested that students with attention or emotional and behavior disorders (EBD) are routinely overlooked and not considered for referral to gifted programs because their negative behaviors contradict commonly held perceptions of gifted students. Among the many barriers hindering the identification and referral of students with disabilities for gifted programs are teachers’ stereotypic beliefs (Cline & Hedgeman, 2001; Johnson et al., 1997; Minner, Prater, Bloodsworth, & Walker, 1987; St. Jean, 1996) and inadequate teacher training (Davis & Rimm, 2004; Johnson et al., 1997). According to Cline and Hedgeman, stereotypic expectations work against gifted students with disabilities in two ways: (a) misconceptions about the characteristics of gifted students and (b) low expectations for students identified with disabilities. Researchers have investigated the effects of disability labels on teachers’ perceptions and expectations for students with disabilities for several decades (e.g., Algozzine & Sutherland, 1977; Dunn, 1968; Foster & Ysseldyke, 1976; Taylor, Smiley, & Ziegler, 1983). These studies, among others, document both preservice and inservice teachers’ lowered expectations for students with disabilities in public school classrooms and even college classrooms (Beilke & Yssel, 1999; Minner & Prater, 1984). Given overall lower teacher expectations for students who are labeled as having a disability than for those who are not, the special education teacher’s role becomes particularly important for gifted students with disabilities since many of these students are often first recognized for their disability, not their gifts and talents (Davis & Rimm, 2004). While special education teachers may provide services for students with disabilities in a variety of settings or using a variety of approaches, their role does not preclude noting potential giftedness among their students, and subsequently making referrals for evaluation and placement in gifted programs. With the exception of a few well-cited studies published more than a decade ago (Minner, 1989, 1990; Minner et al., 1987), research on the specific effect of disability labels on teachers’ referrals to gifted programs is nonexistent. Additionally, little is known about the differential effects of disability labels on referrals to gifted programs between special education teachers and general education teachers. However, Minner’s research (Minner, 1989, 1990; Minner et al., 1987) clearly demonstrated that general education teachers and teachers of the gifted are negatively influenced by certain disability labels when making referral decisions for gifted programs. The purpose of this study was twofold. First, given what is known regarding the underrepresentation of students with LD and EBD in gifted programs, the study was designed to investigate the influence of the presence of LD and EBD labels on public school teachers’ (special education and general education) referral recommendations for gifted programs. Second, the differences in referral recommendations between special and general education teachers were examined. Three questions were investigated: (a) Do referral ratings for gifted programs differ among teachers who believe the student has a learning disability, an emotional or behavioral disorder, or no exceptional condition? (b) Do referral ratings for gifted programs differ between general and special education teachers? and (c) Is there an interaction between labeled conditions and teacher certification type?

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Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Bianco2010WinnerOC, title={Winner of Cld’s 2004 Award for Outstanding Research}, author={Margarita Bianco}, year={2010} }