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An observational case study of four second grade general education students' academic responding and inappropriate behavior in the presence of a disruptive student with disabilities.

The current observational case study involves four second grade students without disabilities in a classroom in which a disruptive student with disabilities was included. The purpose of the study was to record and analyze the academic responses (AR) and inappropriate behaviors (IB) that were exhibited by students without disabilities in three different conditions. Within an alternating observations design, the results indicated that the students' AR was lowest and IB was highest when the disruptive student was in the classroom without the para, and students' AR was highest and IB was lowest when both the disruptive student and the para left the room. Limitations and implications for future research were discussed.

Keywords: Disruptive Behavior, General Education Students, MS-CISSAR, Paraprofessional, Regular Education Classroom


With increasing frequency, general education classrooms are being selected as the location where special education service delivery occurs (United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2007). Furthermore, recent federal legislation (i.e., Individuals with Disabilities Education ImprovementAct of 2004 [P.L. 108-446]) makes it likely that this trend will continue by promoting the notion that students with disabilities be taught in settings that, to the greatest degree appropriate, resemble regular classroom environments (i.e., Least Restrictive Environment [LRE]). One might assume that educators who regularly participate on Individual Education Program (IEP) teams that decide where services occur understand how general education peers are affected when disruptive students with disabilities are simultaneously instructed in regular classrooms (i.e., inclusion). However, according to Wallace, Anderson, Reschly, and Bartholomay (2002), there is very little research that has focused on this issue. As such, it is important that educators begin to develop an understanding of how general education students are impacted when disruptive students with disabilities are taught alongside them.

Since 1989, IEP teams have determined that regular education classrooms were the LRE for increasing numbers of students with disabilities. For example, in 1989, only 31.1 percent of students with disabilities spent at least 79 percent of the day in a regular education setting (NCES, 2007). However, by 2005, states reported that 54.2 percent of such students did so (NCES, 2007). This increased percentage of included students with disabilities is noteworthy because, not only had the rate of inclusion risen, but the overall number of students with disabilities had grown faster than total school enrollments. For example, during the same time span, the ratio of special education students to total K-12 enrollment increased from 11.4 to 13.7 percent (NCES, 2006). As a result, general education students were being taught in instructional settings that included increasingly higher numbers, as well as greater proportions, of students with disabilities.

What constitutes the LRE is one of the more controversial topics in special education (McDonnell, McLaughlin, & Morrison, 1997). Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), LRE means that each public agency shall insure that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including those in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who do not have disabilities. Furthermore, special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment should occur only when the nature of severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily (IDEA, 34 C.F.R. [section] 300.550 [b]). Educators must continually consider these requirements when deciding where services will be provided for students with disabilities. Furthermore, when determining the LRE, educators are required to consider the impact that including students with disabilities have on general education students. Even so, because IEP teams focus on meeting the needs of students with disabilities (e.g., Fagan & Wise, 2007), they may be less inclined to give attention to how general education peers are impacted in cases where the LRE appears to be the general education classroom.

Related research. Most studies have supported the notion that including students with disabilities in general education settings does not hinder the progress of general education students (e.g., Bailey & Winton, 1989; Duhaney & Salend, 2000; Giangreco, Edelman, Cloninger, & Dennis, 1993; Green & Stoneman, 1989; Lowenbraun, Madge, & Affleck, 1990). For example, Bailey and Winton (1989) sampled parents' and teachers' attitudes concerning inclusive programs and did not report any harm to the developmental progress of general education students. In another study, Duhaney and Salend (2000) found that the parents of children without disabilities were generally supportive of inclusion because they believed that it helped to make their children more accepting of students with diverse needs. However, in the study by Green and Stoneman (1989), fathers were generally supportive of including students with disabilities but expressed concern regarding these students when disruptive behavior was involved.

Instead of polling teachers and parents, other researchers (e.g., Fisher, 1999; Fisher, Pumpian, & Sax, 1998; Kishi & Meyer, 1994; Klingner, Vaughn, Schumm, Cohen, & Forgan, 1998) looked at how general education students viewed their peers with disabilities in inclusive settings. In these studies, the general education students often expressed concern that students with disabilities were teased by other students, disciplined differently for engaging in inappropriate behaviors, and treated more negatively by some adults in the school. However, the results indicated that nondisabled peers generally held positive, supportive attitudes toward students with disabilities in inclusive settings. In contrast, Vaughn and Klingner (1998) found that the majority of general education students preferred that students with disabilities receive pull-out services rather than receive special assistance within the general classroom.

Although articles about inclusion are common in the literature,Wallace et al. (2002) indicated that there was very little research that focused on how children without disabilities were behaviorally and academically affected when taught alongside students with disabilities. One way researchers could begin to fill this void would be to conduct direct observational studies of students without disabilities when being taught alongside students with disabilities using observational recording systems (e.g., the Mainstream Version of the code for Instructional Structure and StudentAcademic Response [MS-CISSAR]) designed to measure student behaviors in different instructional situations over time (Greenwood, Carta, Kamps, & Delquadri, 1997). Measuring student behavior over time is a topic of importance in the field of education (Ysseldyke, O'Sullivan, Thurlow, & Christenson, 1989) because research has shown that increases in academic engaged time (i.e., time spent making active academic responses) covaries highly with increases in curriculum-based measures and standardized tests (e.g., Broden, Beasley, & Hall, 1978; Delquadri, Greenwood, Stretton, & Hall, 1983; Duvall, Delquadri, & Ward, 2004; Duvall, Ward, Delquadri, & Greenwood, 1997; Lee, Soukup, Little, & Wehmeyer, 2009; Greenwood, Delquadri, & Hall, 1989). As such, academic engagement can be used to determine the effectiveness of classroom instructional practices (Gettinger & Seibert, 2002). Therefore, if data gathered using MS-CISSAR indicated that the level of academic engagement by students without disabilities was reduced by the presence of students with disabilities who exhibited, for example, disruptive behaviors, it might prompt researchers to investigate how classroom teachers could minimize the impact of including such students.

Studies focusing on the academic engaged time experienced by students with disabilties have indicated that the students were generally engaged at higher levels in more restrictive settings (e.g., Ysseldyke, Thurlow, Mecklenburg, & Graden, 1984; O'Sullivan, Ysseldyke, Christenson, & Thurlow; 1990). However, because the focus of these studies was on students with instead of without disabilities, they did little to expand the data base regarding general education students, especially when taught alongside students with disabilities.

In light of the pressures that are currently placed on public school officials to ensure that all students make adequate yearly progress, it is imperative that educators begin to determine whether disruptive students with disabilities adversely affect the learning and behavior of their general education peers. Consequently, the purpose of the current case study was to pilot an investigation concerning whether the active academic engagement and inappropriate behavior of general education students seemed to be affected when a disruptive student with disabilities was included in the general education classroom.

Specifically, the possible impact that a disruptive student with disabilities seemed to have on students without disabilities was studied under three conditions: (a) when the disruptive student with disabilities was in the regular classroom and did not have the assistance of a paraprofessional; (b) when the disruptive student with disabilities was in the room and was helped by a paraprofessional; and (c) when the disruptive student with disabilities and the paraprofessional were not in the regular classroom.



The study took place in a rural consolidated school district with an enrollment of 3,050. The district demographics involved 27 percent minorities and 51 percent of students on free-and-reduced lunches. All observations took place in a second grade general education classroom with an enrollment of 22 students who were taught by a teacher with over 20 yrs of experience. All observations occurred during the 8th month of the school year.


Target Students. The students in this study were two female and two male elementary students who were randomly selected from a pool of 15 second grade students. Because the purpose of the study was to examine whether the presence of a disruptive student with disabilities might impact these general education students, six students in the classroom were not included in the pool because they had LD.

Disruptive Student. The disruptive student with disabilities was a male who had been diagnosed with Downs Syndrome. His Individual Education Program (IEP) indicated that, when special services were provided in the resource room and the general education classroom, he had the one-on-one assistance of a paraprofessional. The student participated in the resource room for 160 minutes per day where he received instruction in self-help, vocational, and communication skills. When in the general education classroom, he received instruction in math, reading and science using a modified curriculum. He spent additional time with his regular education peers during lunch, recess, physical education and library. The disruptive behavior mentioned as most problematic by his teacher involved noises and verbalizations loud enough to attract the attention of the other students or the teacher. According to teacher reports, these occurred constantly throughout the school day across settings and subjects.


Student Rankings by Classroom Teacher. To provide a context for the target students and the disruptive student with disabilities, the classroom teacher was asked to rank each of her 22 students according to academic engagement (i.e., amount of time that students were actually engaged in the curriculum), academic performance (i.e., academic grades typically earned by the student), and inappropriate behaviors (i.e., amount of time students were engaged in behaviors such as talking to a neighbor, looking around, or being disruptive). Rankings ranged from 1 to 22 with 1 being the most desirable rank and 22 the least desirable.

The rankings for academic engagement, academic performance, and inappropriate behavior, respectively, were 1st, 2nd, and 6th for Student 1. The teacher rankings and for the same variables concerning Students 2, 3 and 4 were 3rd, 4th, and 9th; 4th, 14th, and 14th; 14th 6th and 3rd, respectively. The teacher rankings for the same variables concerning the disruptive student with disabilities were 22nd, 22nd and 16th.

Observation Instrument (EBASS). EcoBehavioral Assessment Systems Software (EBASS) was used to measure the dependent variables in the study, students' academic engagement and inappropriate behavior. The Mainstream Code for Instructional Structure and Student Academic Response (MS-CISSAR), an observation instrument within EBASS, provides descriptions of the student's behavior over time. The MSCISSAR taxonomy organizes a student's response events into three categories, (a) academic responses, (b) task management responses, and (c) competing, inappropriate responses. MS-CISSAR is designed for use in both regular and special education settings and provides an assessment that is sensitive to environmental and behavioral variables (Juniper Gardens Children's Project, 1993). For the current study, a downsized version of MS-CISSAR was used to record information concerning academic responding and competing (inappropriate) responses, only.

Data was collected during 8 consecutive school days using MS-CISSAR on a laptop computer. The observers were trained to use MS-CISSAR in about 10 hours by studying definitions, using a practice video, reaching a minimum 90% criterion on a computerized tutorial, and conducting practice observations in actual classrooms.


The students' academic engagement and inappropriate behaviors were measured using MS-CISSAR in three conditions,A, B and C. Condition A involved observations when the disruptive student with disabilities was not assisted by his paraprofessional; Condition B, when the disruptive student with disabilities was assisted by his paraprofessional; and Condition C, when the disruptive student with disabilities and his paraprofessional were out of the classroom. Students were observed for 11 min. in each of these three conditions per day across eight observation days for a total of 264 minutes per student (i.e., 11 minutes X 3 conditions X 8 days = 264 min.).

Observations of the four target students occurred at the same time each morning when reading instruction occurred. Typically, reading instruction involved small groups of students (determined by reading ability) working with the teacher at the reading table. Students who concurrently remained at their desks were assigned passages to be read independently and worksheets typically related to the day's reading passage. Ability-level materials were assigned to the disruptive student as he worked individually with the paraprofessional or the teacher.

Student 1 was the first to be observed in each condition on the first day while the subsequent order in which Students 2, 3, and 4 were observed was randomly rotated. On the next day, Student 2 was the first observed in each condition followed by randomly rotated observations of Students 1,3, and 4. Observations were rotated in this manner on each successive day so that each student was the first to be observed in each condition on two observation days.

Interobserver Reliability

One of the eight observation days was randomly selected during which independent observers scored the behavior of the target students across conditions (n = 12). Reliability was determined by comparing point-by-point coded entries that were made by the separate observers. Percent agreement ranged from 81.8 to 100 with an overall mean of 97.4.


The academic responding and inappropriate behaviors of four general education students were coded and recorded during instructional times under three conditions. As can be seen in Table 1, the participants' AR and IB varied considerably by condition.

Academic Responses by all Students Across Conditions

Figure 1 shows the group means for all four students' AR across observation days. As can be seen, together, the students consistently averaged more AR during the No DS condition, followed by the DS with Para and DS No Para conditions during the first and subsequent observations.


Figure 2 illustrates the mean levels of the four students' IB that occurred during the eight observation days. As can be seen in Figure 2, the highest daily mean percentage of IB generally occurred during the DS No Para condition followed by those exhibited in DS with Para and, finally, No DS.



The current case study appeared to demonstrate that the academic responding and inappropriate behaviors of four elementary students without disabilities were impacted when a disruptive student with disabilities simultaneously received instruction in the general education setting. The findings also seemed to indicate that, when the disruptive student's paraprofessional assisted him, the degree to which the general education students were affected was modified, though not to the extent that was realized when both the disruptive student and his paraprofessional were out of the classroom.

Current observations seemed to indicate that, compared to DS No Para,AR increased substantially during the DS with Para and No DS conditions by factors of 1.5 and 2.0, respectively.As stated earlier, increases in AR covary with academic gains (e.g., Broden et al., 1978; Delquadri et al., 1983; Duvall et al., 2004; Duvall et al., 1997; and, Greenwood et al., 1989), so the more AR that a student experiences, the more academic gains (s)he will make. Subsequently, the implication of the current study is that the general education peers would make fewer academic gains when the disruptive student with disabilities was in the room without a paraprofessional, more gains when a paraprofessional accompanied the disruptive student, and the most gains when the disruptive student and his paraprofessional were both out of the room.

Concerning IB, the observations of the current study appeared to indicate that, compared to DS No Para, IB decreased during the DS with Para and No DS conditions by factors of .41 and .49, respectively. Because inappropriate behavior in the classroom has been shown to decrease academic engagement by preventing students from responding to academic tasks in timely and accurate ways (Greenwood et al., 2002), the IB findings in the current study would seem to indicate that the general education peers would make the fewest achievement gains when the disruptive student was in the room without a paraprofessional, more gains when a paraprofessional accompanied the disruptive student, and the most gains when the disruptive student and his paraprofessional were out of the room. Given that the IB of the general education peers increased during the DS without Para and DS with Para conditions even after they had had seven months to adjust to the presence of the disruptive student, the findings are somewhat alarming because they imply that the general education students may not have become desensitized to the DS's behavior as the year progressed. However, because no measures of peer behavior occurred during the first 7 months of school, one can only speculate concerning how they responded to the disruptive student during the first month of school as opposed to the eighth month.

As the reader will recall, the classroom teacher identified three of the four participating students as being among the best general education academic performers (i.e., high achievers) in the classroom. It seems reasonable to assume, therefore, that their ability to engage academically and behave appropriately would be minimally affected by the presence of a disruptive student. However, concerning AR, it appears that this may have not been the case because the AR of the three high performers and the one low performer were similarly impacted when the disruptive student was present in the classroom. Surprisingly, the presence of the disruptive student seemed to impact the IB of the three high performers but not the lower one.

The implications of the current study are that the presence of a disruptive student with disabilities seemed to impact the academic responding and the inappropriate behavior of four general education peers. However, even in the current study, caution must be exercised when concluding whether the disruptive student did, indeed, negatively impact the AR and IB of the general education students involved. The use of MS-CISSAR detected changes in the levels of AR and IB that were exhibited by the general education students in the different conditions, but the lack of experimental control by the experimenters may not be accounting for other variables that could have caused the changes in behavior being measured. As a result, it is difficult if not impossible to determine whether the presence of the disruptive student was responsible for the observed changes. For example, because this was an exploratory study, no steps were taken to isolate the degree of impact that the paraprofessional may have had on the behavior of the general education students. That is, it would have been better to include a fourth condition involving the presence of the paraprofessional when the disruptive student was not present in the classroom, but the resource room staff was not in agreement with the provision of resource room instruction of the disruptive student without the designated paraprofessional being present to work with him. Consequently, the paraprofessional could not be available for a "paraprofessional only" condition when the disruptive student left the general education classroom. Without this fourth condition, it is premature to conclude that the behavior of the general education students was a function of the presence of the disruptive student. Consequently, future researchers would do well to include a "paraeducator only" condition in an attempt to more clearly isolate the effects, if any, that a disruptive student may have on the academic responding and inappropriate behavior of general education peers. Additionally, replication studies should determine whether the current findings are maintained across exceptionalities, paraprofessionals, teachers, and differing degrees of administrative support. Other variables to consider would be the amount and nature of direct support provided for the classroom teacher.

Until these questions can be answered, educators should always include students with disabilities when deemed appropriate by the local multi-disciplinary team. How ever, when doing so, they would do well to consider the impact that disruptive students with disabilities might have on the academic responding and behavior of their general education peers.


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Steven F. Duvall, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Sachin Jain, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Counseling and School Psychology & Educational Leadership, University of Idaho. Denise Boone, D., Ed.S., School Psychologist, Barton County Special Education Cooperative, Great Bend, KS.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Steven F. Duvall at
Table 1
Percent Student Responses Across Conditions

                DS-No Para    DS with Para      No DS

                 AR     IB      AR     IB     AR     IB

Participant 1   31.8   47.7    43.2   34.1   75.0   20.5
Participant 2   35.2   38.7    59.1   14.8   75.2   11.3
Participant 3   28.8   53.0    55.5   26.9   59.5   21.6
Participant 4   45.0   34.0    56.4   26.8   73.9   34.1
Mean            35.2   43.4    53.6   25.7   70.9   21.9

Note: DS = Disruptive Student; AR = Academic Responding;
IB = Inappropriate Behavior
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Author:Duvall, Steven F.; Jain, Sachin; Boone, Denise
Publication:Journal of Instructional Psychology
Article Type:Case study
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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