What Makes A Difference? Influences on Outcomes for Students with Disabilities

This report focuses on identifying factors related to both academic (e.g. scores on standardized assessments of reading and mathematics, oral reading fluency, and teacher-given grades) and social adjustment (e.g. membership in extracurricular groups and the number of disciplinary incidents) outcomes and to both the level of achievement of students with disabilities on those outcomes at the outset of the study (referred to as Wave 1) and to change in those outcomes over time.

This report addresses the following questions:

  • To what extent did the academic and social adjustment outcomes of students with disabilities nationally change from 2000-01 to 2003-2004?
  • To what extent did outcomes and changes in them over time vary for students who differed in their individual and family characteristics, and their school programs and supports?
  • To what extent do the independent and the combined effects of individual, family, school program, instructional, and support factors vary for students in different disability clusters and for different outcomes.?

Outcomes were predicted as a function of student-level factors (e.g., disability and functioning, demographics, and social skills and behaviors), household characteristics (e.g., income and parental expectations and support for education) and school program factors (e.g., participation in general education, instructional groupings, instructional activities, curriculum modification, and receipt of learning supports and accommodations).

SEELS findings include that the aggregate measures of academic outcomes for students with disabilities as a whole demonstrate variable but generally low academic performance, and show modest improvement in the period between Waves 1 and 3. For example, for students with disabilities overall, the median passage comprehension W-score in 2001 was 488 increased 12 W-score points (i.e., 2%) over 3 years. Thus, although students improve over time, they do not do so sufficiently to close the gap with the general population.

Teacher-given grades were similar to other academic outcome measures in showing a wide range in performance for students with disabilities as a whole and in showing a modest improvement over time. However, this measure differed from others in showing that the majority of students to have above-average performance; 59% and 66% of students with disabilities as a whole were reported by parents or school staff to earn “mostly As and Bs” or “mostly Bs and Cs” in Waves 1 and 3, respectively. This measure also differed from others in that the distribution of grades generally was similar across disability clusters, in contrast to the variation in academic performance measured by test scores. These findings regarding grades suggest that grades reflect factors in addition to students' academic performance.

In addition, SEELS analyses of social outcomes show that students with disabilities were active in extracurricular school or community groups in both Waves 1 and 3, with membership rates of about 70% at both points in time. About half of students were group members at both times, and about 15% were not members at either time. Similarly, with the exception of students with emotional disturbance, the majority of students with disabilities were not involved in any disciplinary incidents in the school year preceding Wave 1 and 3 interviews, with little change over time. Almost half of those who had been involved in such incidents were involved in 1 or 2, although 10% of students with disabilities were involved in 6 or more incidents in a school year.

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Complete Report (PDF)

Last Updated 07/07