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Career education needs of students with exceptionalities; one state's case.

ABSTRACT: A survey of 1,826 special education teachers and administrators from North Carolina was conducted to determine a) the extent to which career education skills are actually being taught to children and youth with handicaps, and (b) the extent to which they need to be taught. Findings include: (a) teachers tended to perceive their schools' programs in career education al a higher level than did the administrators, yet teachers felt a greater need for additional instructional emphasis than did the administrators; (b) females' perceptions of their personal impact on students remain far behind those of males; and (c) neither inservice workshops nor college courses were the predominant way in which teachers acquired knowledge about career education.

Career development and transition are significantly related. Kokaska and Brolin (1985) defined career development as the process of systematically coordinating all school, family, and community components together to facilitate each individual's potential for economic, social, and personal fulfillment and participation in productive work activities that benefit the individual or others" (p. 43). Transition is the process of preparing students for a post school life and easing the adjustment from a school environment to adult life. Both concepts are being used to increase the probability of a brighter future for students and youth with handicaps by bridging the gap between school and adult life. This includes satisfactory work experiences as well as satisfactory home and community lives.

Recent attempts to accomplish such coordination of school, family, and community services and resources have become increasingly difficult, particularly with respect to students who have exceptional needs. Those who write about career education for learners with handicaps have pointed out the extensive difficulties that these individuals encounter in finding work. Mithaug, Martin, and Agran (1987) suggested that such failure is a significant obstacle to effective transition. Students with handicaps fail to adapt in two major ways. First, they fail to adapt to dynamic work environments and, in turn, are likely to have unsatisfactory work experiences and job termination. Second, these students fail to adapt to dynamic home and community environments; thus they experience unsatisfactory relationships and daily living environments. Career development and transition programs for students with handicapping conditions may be improved to a significant degree if teachers could be polled to determine what they are currently doing and what they think should be done to improve school programs and transition curricula. CONDUCTING NEEDS ASSESSMENT The conduct of needs assessments represents a continuous process of problem identification, negotiation, and resolution. Scriven (1978) noted that needs assessments function as an integral part of the planning process. A needs assessment can also be defined as a process used to examine discrepancies between existing and ideal states of achievement or conduct. Bode (1938) described the difficulty in distinguishing "actual" needs from "felt" needs or desires. More recently, Kuh, Hutson, Orbaugh, and Byers (1980) noted that the typical approaches used in education and human services do not necessarily distinguish between "wants" and "needs. " To avoid difficulties that arise from this semantic misinterpretation, Scriven and Roth (1978) defined a need as being a factor without which a group or system could not function, and a desire as something that could be considered a luxury, the absence of which would have little critical bearing upon future performance.

Considerable work remains to be done in the area of assessing the training needs of various special interest groups within the field of education---for example, regular education inservice training (Kuh et al., 1980). Little has actually been verified about the status of training needs in the career development for students with exceptionalities. Peterson 1984) assessed the interest in occupational education among North Carolina special education teachers. He surveyed 142 special education teachers from select counties surrounding Wake County, the scat of the state capital. The data demonstrated considerable agreement among special education teachers on the importance of occupational education for students with handicaps. ONE STATE'S EXAMPLE In 1983, the North Carolina Division on Career Development (NCDCD) received its charter as a state unit from the National Division on Career Education of The Council for Exceptional Children. With the charter came the commitment to meet needs in the area of career education and development. What follows is a description of activities undertaken to identify those services that are rendered by professionals providing career education services to individuals with handicaps.

The purpose of this study was to assess the perceptions of need of a statewide sample of special education teachers and administrators. Two research questions (RQs) were articulated. RQI: Based on two factors found in earlier work (Rau, Spooner, & Fimian, 1986), are these factors related to one another in the present investigation? RQ2: Are there significant mean differences between and among respondent groups with respect to these two factors? To answer these questions, Pearson product-moment correlations and one-way analyses of variance were conducted to determine variable interrelationships and group differences, if any. METHOD Sample An instrument was developed based on preliminary feedback from a limited sample of teachers from one western North Carolina county. Then the directors of 140 North Carolina local education agencies (LEAs) were contacted by mail and asked if they would be willing to allow their teachers to participate in an assessment of career development needs. Seventy of the 140 (50%) special education directors contacted agreed to distribute surveys to teachers, administrators, and counselors involved in career education and/or transition programs. Surveys were returned from 57 of the 70 districts, representing 81 % of the participating LEAS. The final sample consisted of 1,705 (94%) special education teachers and 121 (6%) counselors and administrators, for a total of 1,826 respondents. Of those who reported teaching assignments, 79% taught in elementary or middle schools, and the remaining 21% taught in high schools. Twelve percent were male, 88% female. When asked about their major source of career education and transition information, 23% replied none," 2% specified grants and research activities, 25% targeted college courses, while the remaining 22% and 28% specified articles and workshops, respectively. Data Collection A cross-sectional survey design (Huck, Cormier, & Bounds, 1974) was used to select the population sample for this study. Each respondent was voluntarily surveyed during a 1-month period in the fall of 1984, using paper and pencil procedures. Instrumentation Based on a review of a number of career education surveys, the preliminary instrument used to collect the data was developed and validated. The items used in this investigation's survey were drawn primarily from earlier content work conducted by Brolin, McKay, and West (1978) and Ferguson (personal communication, May 15, 1986). Based on this work, two Likert-type measures for 16 items were adopted. One set of items was used to ascertain the degree to which actual career needs were met (i.e., the actual dimension). The other items focused on the degree to which respondents thought the needs should be met (i.e., the needed dimension). The initial form was pilot-tested to analyze readability and clarity of item content in one North Carolina county; all items were retained. Thus, two Likert-type measures per item, for 16 items, were adopted: one each for actual and needed career education needs. Each rating scale ranged from I (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree) allowing respondents to rate the degree of actual versus needed impact that individual items currently do have, and should have, after career education services have been provided to special needs students. The revised 16-item form was distributed to the statewide sample during the 1984-85 school year.

Since an investigation of this type is exploratory in nature, careful consideration had to be given to clearly defining the need construct(s) to be used in this and future analyses. On the basis of such variable clarifications, correlational and group difference comparisons could then be conducted. To reduce the data load, earlier factor and reliability analyses of over 70,000 data points related to the 40 questions were conducted before analyzing the data for this particular investigation. The factorial validity of the needs assessment was examined using each of 16 items twice, first using the actual dimension data, then using the needed dimension data. Based on the principal components analyses, two identical factors for the actual and the needed dimensions emerged. The alpha and split-half reliabilities, as well as the between-forms correlations for each of the resulting factors, were then computed and examined. It was evident that two factors per dimension, actual and needed, resulted. Also, the factors were identical for both actual and needed dimensions. Thus, a total of four factors, two identical factors for each of the actual and needed dimensions, resulted based on two ratings for each of the 16 items. Then, Cronbach's alpha formula was used to determine the internal consistency of each of the two factors for both dimensions (Cronbach, 1951): alpha estimates of .91 (SAT) and .84 (ACEK) resulted for the actual dimension, whereas alphas of .96 (SAT) and 94 (ACEK) were evident for the needed dimension.

The first variable was called Social Adjustment Training (SAT). This factor's items reflect the extent to which the respondents agreed or disagreed that an individual's skills for the following concerns are important: positively relating to others, making appropriate decisions, functioning effectively within the school environment, demonstrating attitudes and habits that positively impact upon others, and others. The major conceptual focus of this set of items is that each is related to the individual and his or her habits, roles, and attitudes, and is done so in light of the social appropriateness of her or his behavior in general.

The second variable was labeled Application of Career Education Knowledge (ACEK). This factor's items reflect the extent to which respondents agreed or disagreed that student skills related to the following concerns are important: understanding the importance of work and occupations, meeting occupational education demands, identifying occupational information suitable to his or her interests, developing plans and acting on them, and building a repertoire of job-seeking skills. Whereas the item content of the SAT factor defines personal attributes and behavioral skills that could impact upon the individual in the workplace, the item content of ACEK deals more with obtaining job-related information and acquiring work skills. It was also apparent that SAT items were more personally based than were those of ACEK, which required the individual to take newly acquired knowledge and use it in some type of applied problem-solving manner. Data Analysis SAT and ACEK for both dimensions were correlated with one another employing Pearson product-moment correlation analyses. These four variables (two variables by two dimensions) then acted as the dependent measures in a sequence of one-way ANOVAs comparing mean scores for the sample subgroups described in the "Sample" section: respondent gender, position, grade level, and primary source of career education information. Computations were conducted using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS), Version X (Norusis, 1986). RESULTS Item Means and Standard Deviations inspection of the data indicated a range of actual dimension teaching-emphasis means from 2.7 (Item 22) to 3.4 (Item 19) and a range of needed dimension means from 3.4 (Item 38) to 3.7 (Item 3 1). Overall, extremely small means and standard deviations were not related to items in either of the dimensions. The needed dimension teaching-emphasis means consistently exceeded those of the actual dimension. Item and variable means and standard deviations are listed in Table 1. Correlational Analysis In response to RQ1, Pearson product-moment correlations were computed. Coefficients ranged from a low of .41 (between actual ACEK and needed SAT) to a high of .87 (between needed SAT and needed ACEK). Actual SAT correlated .53 and .47 with needed SAT and needed ACEK, respectively. Actual ACEK correlated .41 and .46 with needed SAT and needed ACEK, respectively. Because all coefficients fell within the moderate to high positive range and each exceeded the .001 level of probability, it was apparent that each of the variables, both within and across the actual and needed dimensions, were significantly related to one another. Group Comparisons With respect to RQ2, one-way ANOVAs were used to determine if between-group differences occurred in terms of the needs variables e.g., did males or females rate the variables on higher or lower agreement levels, and was this difference significant?). For each of the independent variables listed in the "Sample" section, one one-way ANOVA was conducted. In situations in which more than two levels per variable were examined, the conservative Scheffe's post hoc analysis of group differences was conducted. Thus, significant differences between or among two or more groups, if any, could be determined.

When the 221 males were compared with the 1,558 females with respect to the actual and needed dimensions of SAT and ACEK, only in the case of actual ACEK were there significant mean differences (F = 3.9, p = 05-, male 9 = 2.9, SD = 1.1; female ? = 2.7, SD = 1.3). Thus, the male and female respondents did not differ in their perceptions of needed ACEK and SAT arid actual SAT. Males, however, rated actual ACEK at higher levels than did the females; the males agreed more that career education and knowledge skills were actually being taught than did the females in the sample.

When the 1,705 teachers were compared with the 121 counselors and administrators with respect to the actual and needed dimensions of SAT and ACEK, there were significant mean differences in each of the variables assessed. Teachers rated higher than did the counselors/administrators on all four dimensions (see Table 2). Teachers agreed more so than their counselor and administrative colleagues on the importance of career-related social skills and applied career education knowledge, and stressed the continued need for these skills significantly more so than did the counselors and administrators.

When the 1,354 elementary and middle school teachers' (EMT) responses were compared to those of the 368 secondary teachers (ST), only one significant difference was noted for actual ACEK (F = 32.3, p = .001; EMT X = 2.6, SD = 1.3; ST X = 3.0, SD = 1.2). In this case, secondary teachers agreed more about the instruction of career education knowledge skills than did the elementary and middle school respondents.

When those respondents who specified their primary source of information about career education as being "none" (n = 404; ACEK X = 2.6, SD = 1.3), grants or research (n = 37; ACEK X = 2.6, SD = 1.0), college courses (n = 446; ACEK X= 2.7, SD = 1.2), articles (n = 396; ACEK X = 2.9, SD = 1.0), and workshops (n = 497; ACEK X = 2.7, SD= 1.4), it was apparent that, at least with respect to actual ACEK, those whose primary information source was articles agreed significantly more strongly in terms of actual ACEK than did those who preferred other information sources---particularly that derived from an intutitive base or from grant and research activities and information. Indeed, those who relied on written material were those who rated this factor the highest, with those citing college, workshops, and proposal activities following slightly yet significantly behind the literature readers. CONCLUSION All respondents consistently rated the actual level of use of career education knowledge to be significantly lower than they deemed necessary within their schools, Apparently, the actual implementation of efforts in this area has thus far been inadequately addressed by curriculum and instructional strategy planners. Such an impression is further supported by the disparity between administrator and teacher responses. Teachers tended to perceive their schools' programs in career education at a higher level than did the counselors and administrators, yet teachers felt a greater need for additional emphasis than did the nonteaching group.

Although 88% of the respondents were females, the males perceived themselves as having a greater impact on the teaching of ACEK than did females. These data, in part, could be attributed to the traditional roles of gender in our society. As we are aware, such stereotyped roles and perceptions are slowly changing, with women of all ages experiencing greater opportunities across professions and in vocational pursuits. Apparently, though, females' perceptions of their personal impact upon students remain far behind those of their male counterparts. Seeing that 88% of the entire teacher sample was female, these perceptions may have a significant impact on the information and services provided to individuals with handicaps.

Neither inservice workshops nor college courses were the predominant way in which teachers acquired knowledge about career education. The development of more efficient and effective dissemination processes for this type of information should increase ACEK levels at elementary and middle school levels. Insofar as the teaching of career education concepts at the college level is just starting to be an issue of great importance (Spooner & Test, 1986), it should come as no surprise that most teachers did not gain their career education knowledge from college courses. With the onset of transitional programming for special needs students and the notion that career planning should start at the elementary level, the fact that university special education departments are increasingly focusing on career education may eventually have a greater impact on the source of career education knowledge. The recent emphasis of transitional programming is also currently and strongly being reflected in the professional literature (e.g., Tucker, 1985). This, too, could add greatly to the pool of knowledge to which teachers and administrators are exposed.

Surprisingly, a large majority of respondents 70%,in fact ---could not say that their school had appointed coordinators of career education. Such persons could have indeed been appointed, but their title may be different from that specified in the survey. It is also possible that responsibilities for career education programs are assigned to other individuals, such as vice principals or administrative assistants. This would imply, though, that the area was addressed administratively. It also indicates that teachers were nonetheless unaware as to who was responsible for these efforts in their districts. It is plausible also that there have been no such appointments in many districts. It is clear from the data that those who knew of a coordinator of career education felt that they actually did more in the area of ACEK than did those who could not identify such persons. Thus, explication of title, role, and function of career education personnel appears to be an important first step for modifying the perceived teacher emphasis on career education.

Additional work with this instrument will need to be conducted. Though the content validity of the instrument was earlier established by Brolin et al. (1978) and Ferguson (personal communication, May 15, 1986), as was the factorial validity and reliability (Rau et al., 1986), further work needs to be conducted to improve the generalizability of this investigation's findings. This would entail using the survey with teachers from other states. Further, in this study, teachers of exceptional students were grouped together. Would similar results be evident in the future if "special education teachers" were broken out by category of exceptionality? If the factors are uniform from state to state or teacher sample to sample, are the discrepancies evident between the services that are presently being offered and those that most practitioners feel should be offered? Decreasing this disparity may well mean closing the gap between what is currently available and what the majority feels should be available to get the job done. It is now up to each of us to apply this information to our own schools, districts, and states to see what can be done to improve the current state of affairs.
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Title Annotation:North Carolina
Author:Rau, Dorothy; Spooner, Fred; Fimian, Michael J.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Apr 1, 1989
Previous Article:Postsecondary transition needs and employment patterns of individuals with mild disabilities.
Next Article:Students' time on learning tasks in special education.

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