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A response to Reynolds, Zetlin, and Wang's "20/20 Analysis: taking a close look at the margins".

Reynolds, Zetlin, and Wang (1993) have proposed an innovative and thought-provoking approach to allocating special services, which they call "20/20 Analysis." We commend the authors for their attempt to redesign the existing system; clearly, the system's inherent problems necessitate radical reform (Gartner & Lipsky, 1987). Perhaps the most important contribution of Reynolds et al. is that they have appropriately refocused the discussion from classification of students to eligibility for service. By rejecting labels and classification systems, the authors have simplified a complex and seriously flawed system. Although the simplicity of their proposal is initially appealing, careful analysis of the 20/20 model reveals that it may inadvertently systematize many of the inequities plaguing the current system.


One such inequity concerns labeling and eligibility. In the absence of widely agreed-on definitions, educators do not base labeling and eligibility decisions solely on objective criteria, but depend on local norms. In other words, students found eligible in one geographic area may not be found eligible in another region (Ysseldyke, Algozzine, & Thurlow, 1992). In the 20/20 method, a school's cutoff score (i.e., the score below or above which 20% of the children will fall) is intentionally determined by that school's norms. As the following example shows, basing cutoffs on local norms, as proposed by Reynolds et al., will serve to perpetuate current inequities.

Urban/Suburban Differences

In their description of 20/20 Analysis, Reynolds et al. applied the method to two highly similar inner-city schools, thereby masking an inequity that would occur if the 20/20 method were applied in schools serving different populations. Their data indicate that students in the lower 20% groups in the two inner-city schools scored below the 6th and 10th percentiles, respectively, on national norms. Students in the higher 20% groups scored above the 58th percentlie in one school and above the 62nd percentlie in the other. By contrast, we examined reading scores in two dissimilar schools: a suburban school and an innercity school in the New York area. In the suburban school, students in the bottom 20% scored below the 49th percentile, whereas students in the innercity school scored below the 16th percentile. Students in the top 20% in the suburban school scored above the 88th percentile and, in the innercity school, above the 57th percentile.

Thus, using the 20/20 method, educators in the suburban school might find a student at the 25th percentile eligible for remedial services; but educators at the inner-city school might find the same student ineligible. Our data indicate that implementation of the proposed 20/20 method would deny children in inner-city schools access to services that their suburban counterparts would receive. Further, because of differences in the racial distribution and economic conditions of large cities and suburban towns, implementation of the 20/20 method would exacerbate existing inequities.

Intraindividual Differences

We are also concerned about the exclusive use of a single dimension of learning to determine eligibility in the proposed plan. Different children would be deemed eligible, depending on the dimension selected. For example, in the inner-city school we studied, one third of the students who were in the bottom 20% in reading were not in the bottom 20% in mathematics. Conversely, an equal number of students were in the bottom 20% in mathematics, but not in reading. The unidimensionality of the 20/20 model ignores intraindividual differences among learners and overlooks students with great needs---or superior abilities--in nonassessed areas.

Persisting Inequities

A major argument presented by Reynolds et al. in support of the 20/20 model may, instead, illustrate how it perpetuates current inequities. Specifically, the authors compared eligibility decisions based on their method with those based on the current system and contend that the similarity in identification patterns validates the 20/20 method. The current system, however, is far less than fair in its ability to distinguish children who are poor learners from those who may manifest academic difficulties for other reasons, such as cultural or linguistic differences (Cummins, 1984). Thus, present eligibility figures are an inappropriate standard by which to judge the adequacy of any new approach. Validating the 20/20 model against the current approach allows--and perhaps ensures--the persistence of existing inequities in determining eligibility.


In addition to the equity problems we perceive with the 20/20 model, we feel that the plan may oversimplify critical issues relating to eligibility by assuming that an outcomes-oriented approach is the most appropriate framework from which to restructure special education. Whereas we agree that the efficacy of any system is determined by its ability to meet its objectives, we believe that the objective in determining eligibility should be equity and accuracy rather than expediency. We further believe that a "process-oriented" approach would be of great value in ameliorating students' academic difficulties. We need to examine the conditions of leaming, such as student/teacher interactions (Cazden, 1988), teacher efficacy (Saklofske, Michayluk, & Randhawa, 1988), and classroom climate (Raviv, Raviv, & Reisel, 1990). If we are going to meaningfully restructure education for students having academic difficulties, then we must modify these conditions.

We believe, as do the authors of the 20/20 approach, that special education policies must be radically reformed. Our data indicate, however, that the proposed method would tend to "systematize" inequities, not resolve them. Perhaps the most critical question is whether special education reform can occur apart from the larger context of educational change.


Cazden, C. B. (1988). Classroom discourse: The language of teaching and listening. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Cummins, J. (1984). Bilingualism and special education: Issues in assessment and pedalogy. Cleveland, Avon, England: Multilingual Matters.

Gartner, A., & Lipsky, D. K. (1987). Beyond special education: Toward a quality system for all students. Harvard Educational Review, 57, 367-395.

Rayiv, A., Rayiv, A., & Reisel, E. (1990). Teachers and students: Two different perspectives? Measuring social climate in the classroom. American Educational Research Journal, 27, 141-157.

Reynolds, M. C., Zetlin, A. G., & Wang, M. C. (1993). 20/20 analysis: Taking a close look at the margins. Exceptional Children, 59, 294-300.

Saklofske, D. H., Michayluk, J. O., Randhawa, B. S. (1988). Teachers' efficacy and teaching behaviors. Psychological Reports, 63, 407-414.

Ysseldyke, J. E., Algozzine, B., & Thurlow, M. L. (1992). Critical issues in special education (2nd ed. ). Boston: Houghton Miffiin.


LESLIE C. SOODAK (CEC #742), Assistant Professor of Education, Adelphi University, Garden City, New York. DAVID M. PODELL, Assistant Professor of Education, College of Staten Island, City University of New York.

Address all communications to Leslie Soodak, School of Education, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY 11530.

Manuscript received April 1993; revision accepted June 1993.

Exceptional Children, Vol. 60, No. 3, pp. 276-277. c 1993 The Council for Exceptional Children.
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Title Annotation:Point/Counterpoint
Author:Soodak, Leslie C.; Podell, David M.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Dec 1, 1993
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