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Rich and Ross: a mixed message.

Rich and Ross: A Mixed Message

* In the April 1989 issue of Exceptional Children, Rich and Ross published an interesting piece of research that examined some of the variables differentiating settings in which education occurs for students with disabilities. One important contribution of this research is the use of naturalistic observation in regular classrooms, resource rooms, special classes, and special schools.

The findings are interesting, not only for the technique used, but for the estrangement between the data and the conclusions. We will first review the study itself and then share what we understand the data to say.


Rich and Ross observed students with mild and moderate disabilities in four different environments to compare the amount of allocated learning time and the amount of engaged learning time. Despite some problems we found in the data (e.g., we calculated 80 minutes to be 22.2% rather than 21.5% of 6 hours), the findings of Rich and Ross were impressive. They documented distinctive differences. Students received proportionally more frequently allocated instruction time in the resource room and were more frequently on task in the resource room when compared with the three other settings studied (regular classes, special classes, and special schools). Further, Rich and Ross found differences between groups, by disabilities, in total opportunity for learning tasks and total time on task.

The findings of Rich and Ross are in direct contrast to the claims of supporters of the regular education initiative. Yet, in their conclusions, Rich and Ross support Will's (1986) call for more mainstreaming by saying there is a need to "change attitudes toward collaboration and integration, rather than isolation and segregation" (p. 514). The Will article supported the notion that resource rooms are an inherently flawed service delivery system. We see these data as contrary to such an idea.


What these authors have demonstrated in their body of data, without recognizing its impact, is the contribution of the resource room. That contribution is to provide an island of learning opportunity. On the one hand, Rich and Ross say the resource room "appears to be organizationally designed to maximize learning time" (p. 513). Later, they describe an "evident need" to "provide increased regular class involvement rather than restrictive segregation" (p. 514). At that point, they cited Will (1986), who viewed the regular classroom as the placement preferable to the resource room. The possibility that Rich and Ross share Will's view seems contrary to their own data that more focused academically engaged time is available in the resource room than in the other three settings they studied.

We saw no achievement measures in the data. Rich and Ross saw the "combination of reduced learning time [which occurred in nonresource room settings] and the categorical handicaps served in the more segregated alternatives" as "the primary factors in the lack of the students' educational progress" (p. 514). Without achievement measures, absent in this study, their data did not lead us to such a conclusion.

What their data say is that there are categorical differences in time use. We think it is not capricious to conclude that differences among the disabilities may be a factor in time use, though these data do not demonstrate what that factor may be. These researchers may be shown to be correct in assuming that categories as programmatic divisions produce a problem in achievement. Other data on noncategorical programs, however, have not supported that premise (Alberg et al., 1988).

These data suggest that there is something about the organizational design of the resource room that interacts positively with the characteristics of the learners served there. A further implication is that we need to improve our understanding of the differences in organizational constraints among settings and how those constraints interact with learner characteristics.

We applaud Rich and Ross for their interest in the use of instructional time across settings and for the contribution of their data. We suggest that readers adjust their conclusions regarding the resource room and the contribution that setting makes to the academic success of students with mild disabilities.


Alberg, J. Y., Pyecha, J. N., Schulte, S. T., Hocutt, A. M., Yin, R. K., & Scott, A. (1988). Final report: A case study of the application of noncategorical special education in two states. Research Triangle Park, NC: Research Triangle Institute.

Rich, H. L., & Ross, S. M. (1989). Students' time on learning tasks in special education. Exceptional Children, 55(6), 508-515.

Will, M. C. (1986). Educating children with learning problems: A shared responsibility. Exceptional Children 52(5), 411-424.

GLENN A. VERGASON (CEC Chapter #77) is a Professor in the Department of Special Education at the Georgia State University, Atlanta. M. L. ANDEREGG (CEC Chapter #276) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Kennesaw State College, Marietta, Georgia.

Exceptional Children, Vol. 57, No. 5, pp. 475-476. [C] 1991 The Council for Exceptional Children.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Council for Exceptional Children
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Point/Counterpoint; critique of S.M. Ross and H.L. Rich's research on the variables differentiating settings of education for learning disabled students
Author:Vergason, Glenn A.; Anderegg, M.L.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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