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Relationship between teachers' effectiveness and their tolerance for handicapped students.

Relationship Between Teachers' Effectiveness and Their Tolerance for Handicapped Students

In the past decade, a host of studies have explored the relationship between teachers' expectations and student achievement. In a recent review of this literature, Good asserted, "Every research effort that has examined the relationship between student achievement and teacher expectations has yielded positive relationships" (1981, p. 419). Though Good cautioned that the studies conducted to date have been correlational (thereby preventing causal inferences), he concluded that the research base strongly suggests that higher performance expectations by teachers do stimulate more effort on the part of both teachers and students, and hence lead to increased student achievement (Good & Weinstein, 1986).

In the classic explorations of successful inner-city schools, both Edmonds (1979) and Brookover (1981) found that teachers (and administrators) in these schools demonstrated consistently high expectations for students in academic, social, and behavioral domains. Recently, there has been a concurrent move in inservice education programs to stress high expectations (e.g., Clark & McCarthy, 1983) and to urge teachers to increase their standards and expectations in the hope of raising student achievement.

A curious irony associated with this issue, however, has never been brought into the forefront. This issue may partially account for the negative experiences of many handicapped children who have been integrated into regular classrooms as part of Public Law 94-142 (Gresham, 1982). Is it possible that the most successful teachers, those with the highest expectations and standards for their students, tend to resist placement of a child with obvious behavioral or learning problems, social skill deficits, or other atypical characteristics? Such children are typically perceived as difficult to teach, as demanding of teacher time and resources, and as having low potential achievement levels (Gerber & Semmel, 1984).

The obvious, direct route to exploring this question would be to unobtrusively record occasions when regular education teachers actually resist placement of handicapped students in their classrooms, and then determine the relationship between these instances of rejections and teachers' performance. Such observation, however, would be neither feasible nor practicable. For one thing, rejection of the placement of a handicapped student in a regular classroom is rarely a clearcut, public event. A range of polite, but subtle, evasions often enter into the picture. Teachers are usually indirect and sometimes evasive in such situations, perhaps suggesting that the child "really would do a lot better in the room across the hall" or alluding to how the teacher cannot find an appropriate reading group for the student.

For this reason, researchers such as Ysseldyke and his colleagues (Thurlow, Christenson & Ysseldyke, 1983; Ysseldyke & Thurlow, 1983) resorted to studies in which teachers were asked what they would do if a child with a certain problem (e.g., a drooler or a well-behaved, charming child who read well below grade level) were placed in their classrooms. Ysseldyke and colleagues then analyzed possible determinants of these simulated decisions. Ysseldyke and Thurlow (1983) argued that teachers who anonymously tell a researcher that they will actively resist placing a problem child in their classroom will likely do this in practice.

This simulation approach is the basis for the exploratory study discussed here. The study explores the relationship between teachers' reports on their tolerance of students with learning or behavior problems in their classrooms and their observed teaching performance.

The preliminary study focused only on observations during math instruction in a middle-income community. The major study, conducted in two low-income schools, assessed the effectiveness of teachers' overall performance, with a particular emphasis on behaviors linked with effective instruction for low-achieving students, that is, the set of teaching variables isolated by Brophy and Good (1986) and Englert (1984).


A study by Walker and Rankin (1983) explored the issue of teachers' resistance to placing handicapped students in their classrooms as part of a larger program of research into the social integration of handicapped children in less restricted settings (Walker, 1984). Two self-report instruments (discussed later here in "Measures") were used. Scores on these measures were correlated with teachers' observed instructional behavior during mathematics lessons. Teachers were observed during two math classes, totaling 70 minutes of observation per teacher. Data were recorded by professionally trained observers on two occasions using the second author's SBS Teacher Observation Code (Walker & Rankin, 1983).

Interobserver reliability averaged 96.7% across all code categories. (See Walker & Rankin, 1983, for further details.)

Multiple regression procedures were used in this analysis, with the three SBS self-report scales treated as predictor variables and observed teaching performance as the criterion variable. Because of the low ratio of predictor variables to number of subjects in this study, these results were deemed exploratory.

Table 1 presents the teacher performance variables for which significant multiple Rs were found with the three SBS self-report measures. All these variables (except for Organizing Non-interactive) have been identified as teaching behaviors associated with strong academic growth for mildly handicapped and low-achieving students (Brophy & Good, 1986; Englert, 1984). More effective teachers ask a higher proportion of product questions (i.e., questions with clearcut right or wrong answers), give clear directions and signals to elicit students' attention, and actively monitor seatwork.

The Walker and Rankin results indicated that those teachers most likely to succeed with low-performing students were also those who (a) expected the most adaptive behavior, (b) tolerated the fewest maladaptive behaviors, and (c) showed the greatest reluctance to have handicapped children placed in their classrooms. The latter result was a source of some surprise and major interest to us, and led to the development of the current study. Interpretation of this finding should be tempered with the observation that only one portion of the teaching day (mathematics) was observed.


The present study was conducted in a low-income, rural community. All participating teachers were involved in the Follow Through Project, a federally funded, compensatory education program. Their implementation of effective teaching techniques was assessed by a trained supervisor using a standardized evaluation procedure (Teacher Effectiveness Evaluation Form, TEEF). The TEEF measures a much broader range of behaviors than does the SBS Observation Code. A criterion-related validity study of TEEF had shown significant, moderate correlations between scores on the evaluation form and direct observations of teacher performance (Spearman rho of .82). As in the Walker and Rankin study, teachers completed measures that probed their tolerance of maladaptive behavior and their propensity to resist the placement of a handicapped child in their rooms. Though this study did not attempt to actually observe teachers resisting placement of handicapped students, we believed teachers' self-reports provided a basis for predicting what they actually would do. We hoped to see if this phenomena was replicable in a quite different setting, with rural Hispanic students.


Subjects and Setting

Subjects were 15 primary grade teachers in a community in rural Texas, with a high proportion of limited-English-speaking students. All 15 teachers involved in Project Follow Through participated. Eight teachers were Hispanic, and seven Caucasian. Over 99% of the students at the school were Hispanic; 85% were classified as low income by their district.

Measures (Independent Variables)

Four instruments were used in the study as independent (predictor) variables. All were self-report measures; the first three had been used in the previous study. The SBS Tolerance scale measured teachers' expressed tolerance for maladaptive behavior in their rooms. The SBS Resistance scale measured teachers' propensity to resist placement of handicapped children. The SBS Expectations scale dealt with teachers' minimal standards for acceptable behavior of any student in their room. The final measure, Perceived Technical Assistance Needs, asked teachers to indicate which problems they would request technical assistance for. A brief description of each follows.

Tolerance. Items on the Tolerance scale asked teachers to delineate which maladaptive student behaviors they would find intolerable in their classroom. This inventory contains 51 student behaviors that would tend to impede classroom adjustment or interfere with peer social relationships. Examples include both major problems (acts of aggression) and more minor problems, such as ignoring teacher warnings.

Resistance. In the Resistance scale, 24 items delineate characteristics frequently associated with handicapping conditions (e.g., orthopedic impairments, slow rates of academic progress, and deficits in self-help skills). Teachers were asked to delineate child characteristics that would cause them to actively resist placement into the classroom.

Expectations. The Expectations scale asked teachers to delineate components of children's social behavior they deemed critical for successful functioning in their classroom. The 56 Expectations items are evenly divided between teacher-child behavioral interactions and items relating to competent peer-to-peer interactions. Teachers were asked to make one of three rating judgments in relation to each item. These are (a) critical, (b) desirable, or (c) unimportant.

Perceived Technical Assistance Needs. This scale of the battery assesses teachers' perceived technical assistance needs. For items in the Expectations scale that a teacher marked as critical, the teacher indicates whether technical assistance from a specialist would be required in remediating or dealing with any behavioral deficits (e.g., seeking attention at inappropriate times, inability to work with peers) following placement of a handicapped student into the classroom. Similarly, for items on the Tolerance scale marked unacceptable, the teacher indicates whether technical assistance would be required in coping with the specific behavior (e.g., tantrums, ignoring teacher reprimands after integration).

Reliability of the Four Scales. Internal consistency (coefficient alpha) coefficients for the three scales from the SBS battery were: .93 for Tolerance, .82 for Resistance, and .96 for Expectations. Temporal stability correlations over a 6-week interval ranged from .74 to .81 for the Expectations and Tolerance scales and from .48 to .54 for the Resistance scale.

Dependent Variable: Measure of Teacher


The Teacher Effectiveness Evaluation Form (TEEF, Gersten, Meyer, & Zoref, 1979) measures concrete, observable teaching practices that have been shown to increase student achievement (Brophy & Good, 1986; Englert, 1984; Gersten, Carnine & Williams, 1982; Rosenshine, 1986). The 34-item instrument covers a wide band of teacher behaviors including remediation procedures, feedback given when student errors are made, student success rate during lessons, and procedures for motivating low-achieving students.

Internal consistency reliability for a sample of 28 teachers was .93, and interrater reliability was .81. A criterion-related study (Gersten, Carnine, Zoref, & Cronin, 1986) indicated significant, moderately strong correlations between scores on the observation form and mean class gains in academic achievements on a standardized achievement test (median r of .79). The TEEF correlated moderately well with a direct observational measure of teacher performance (Spearman rho of .82).


The TEEF was completed by two supervisors who had received over 40 hours of training in observing and monitoring the teaching competencies included in the form. Supervisors had observed each teacher at least 10 times during the academic year. Each supervisor had a minimum of 10 years' experience in inservice teacher training. Teachers completed the self-report instruments after school at their convenience. All instruments were completed in the spring of 1982.


The mean score on the TEEF was 65.8 with a standard deviation of 8.2, indicating a reasonable amount of variability in effectiveness scores between the teachers. Descriptive statistics for the four teacher self-report measures are presented in Table 2. Table 2 also presents correlations between each teacher self-report measure and the TEEF.

The highest correlation was found between the Resistance scale and the TEEF measure, r = .75. p [is less than] .01. As noted, the SBS Resistance scale is a list of characteristics that would cause a teacher to resist placement of a handicapped child in her or his class. In other words, teachers with the strongest repertoire of effective techniques for children with academic difficulties would be most likely to resist placement of a student in their class if the student, for example, was deficit in self-help skills, had impaired language, or required adapted instructional materials.

The correlation between the Tolerance scale and the TEEF measure was also significant, r = .47, p [is less than] .05. This result indicates that teachers who say they have low tolerance for maladaptive behavior tend to be those who show better teaching and classroom management techniques.

These two correlations tend to show the same relationships found in the original Walker and Rankin (1983) study. Those teachers with the strongest repertoire of effective teaching techniques say they will tolerate less maladaptive behavior and that they are more likely to actively resist placement of students with specific handicapping conditions.

The correlation between the Expectations scale and the Teacher Effectiveness measure was also significant, r = .47, p [is less than] .05. The most successful teachers tended to have the highest expectations for classroom behavior and achievement.

The correlation between Perceived Technical Assistance Needs and use of effective teaching techniques was significant and moderately strong, r = .50, p [is less than] .01. In other words, there was a significant tendency for the more effective teachers to indicate a greater willingness to receive technical assistance in dealing with the behavior and learning deficits they identified as problematic.


At face value, the results of these studies suggest that the teachers who would be most likely to maximize the achievement gains of students with learning and behavior problems were also those likely to resist their placement in their classes. Thus, low-performing students who have intensive instructional or management needs may have difficulty accessing the most skilled teachers in school settings. It must be kept in mind, however, that these findings apply to teacher self-reports about expectations, tolerance, and resistance, and must be viewed with caution.

The "effective" teachers--those with high standards and low tolerance for deviant behavior--are those most likely to seek help in dealing with these problems. Moreover, the most successful teachers are those who efficiently use their instructional time. Therefore, one reason for the type of resistance identified in this study may be the effective teachers' attempt to guard against inefficient use of academic instructional time, which could result in an overall decreased level of student performance. If the necessary technical assistance could be provided on how to implement teaching models that are effective for all students, it is likely that these skilled teachers with high standards would be the first to accept handicapped students into their classrooms. It remains for future studies to examine this question.


Brophy, J., & Good, T. (1986). Teacher and student achievement. In M. Wittrock (Ed.), The third handbook of research on teaching. New York: McMillan.

Brookover, W., (1981). Schools can make a difference. East Lansing, MI: College of Urban Development, Michigan State University.

Clark, T. A., & McCarthy, D. P. (1983). School improvement in New York City: An appraisal of some recent trends. Educational Researcher, 12, 17-24.

Edmonds, R. (1979). Some schools work and more can. Social Policy, 9(5), 28-32.

Englert, C. S. (1984). Effective direct instruction practices in special education settings. Remedial and Special Education, 5(2), 38-47.

Gerber, M. M., & Semmel, M. I. (1984). Teacher as imperfect test: Reconceptualizing the referral process. Educational Psychologist, 19(3), 137-148.

Gersten, R., Carnine, D., & Williams, P. (1982). Measuring implementation of a stuctured educational model in an urban setting: An observational approach. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 4, 67-69.

Gersten, R., Carnine, D., Zoref, L, & Cronin, D. (1986). Measuring implementation of educational innovations in a broad context. Elementary School Journal, 86, 257-276.

Gersten, R., Meyer, L., Zoref, L. (1979). Teacher effectiveness evaluation form. Eugene, OR: University of Oregon.

Good, T. (1981). Teacher expectations and student perceptions: A decade of research. Educational Leadership, 415-422.

Good, T., & Weinstein, R. (1986). Teacher expectations: A framework for exploring classrooms. In K. Zumwalt (Ed.). Improving Teaching (pp. 67-86). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Gresham, F. M. (1982). Misguided mainstreaming: The case for social skills training with handicapped children. Exceptional Children, 48, 422-433.

Rosenshine, B. (1986). Synthesis of research on explicity teaching. Educational Research, 43, 60-69.

Thurlow, M., Christenson, S., & Ysseldyke, J. (1983). Referral research: An integrative summary of findings. (Research Report # 141). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute for Research on Learning Disabilities.

Walker, H. M., (1984). SBS Program: A systematic approach to the integration of handicapped children into less restrictive settings. Education and Treatment of Children, 6(4), 421-431.

Walker, H. M., & Rankin, R. (1983). Assessing the behavior expectations and demands of less restrictive settings. School Psychology Review, 12, 274-284.

Ysseldyke, J., & Thurlow, M. (1983). Identification/classification research: An integrative summary of findings. (Research Report # 142). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute for Research on Learning Disabilities.

RUSSELL GERSTEN is Associate Professor, Department of Special Education and HILL WALKER is Associate Dean, Division of Special Education and Rehabilitation, University of Oregon, Eugene. CRAIG DARCH is Associate Professor, Department of Special Education, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.
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Title Annotation:includes bibliography
Author:Gersten, Russell; Wlaker, Hill; Darch, Craig
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Feb 1, 1988
Previous Article:Impact of Diana, Larry P., and P.L. 94-142 on minority students.
Next Article:Comparison of academic and cognitive programs for young handicapped children.

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