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Teacher attitudes and attributes concerning disabilities.


The purpose of this study was to investigate selected teacher attitudes and attributes with regard to specific disabilities. Participants of the study were 512 teachers (419 females, 75 males) teaching in a variety of educational levels, representing 12 school districts in a Midwestern state. Each participant completed a Revised Version of the PEATH II survey instrument to assess attitudes toward teaching students with disabilities. Results indicated that general classroom teachers were found to have more negative attitudes toward students identified with emotional and behavioral disorders than those with cognitive, sensory, and orthopedic disabilities. Analysis of teacher attributes suggested the need for additional learning experiences for pre-professionals and increased in-service opportunities for experienced teachers.


The Regular Education Initiative in 1986 brought forth the idea that a dual system of separate and general education classrooms was inappropriate for students with mild disabilities. The interpretation of this initiative became consistent with what is now referred to as inclusion, wherein students with disabilities are placed and receive instruction in the general classroom (Block, 1994).

Proponents of inclusion support a philosophy that all students, including those with disabilities, be placed and receive appropriate educational services in the general education classroom; with provisions for all necessary support and assistance (Block, 1999; Sherrill, 1998; Stainback & Stainback, 1990). Numerous school districts throughout the United States have implemented various instructional models promoting the education of all children, regardless of the type or severity of disability, in the general education classroom (Schattman & Benay, 1992). These models and subsequent different interpretations of inclusion philosophy and placement resulted in varying acceptance and degrees of success. This philosophy/trend continues to raise considerable debate and controversy within the academic community as to the educational and functional value of full inclusion. As a result of past and current legislative mandates, funding initiatives have been presented to states and school districts geared toward improving the process of integrating students with special needs into the general education classroom. These initiatives have impacted all aspects of education, including public school administration, currently practicing educators, students involved in professional preparation programs, and university faculty charged with preparing future educators to meet the needs of a diverse student population.

Previous research concerning successful inclusion indicates several teacher and student variables have been found related to teacher attitudes (Rizzo & Vispoel, 1991). Teacher variables identified include gender, age, years of teaching experience, previous experience with students having disabilities, specialized coursework at the post-secondary level, and the teacher's perceived competence of addressing student's individualized needs in the classroom. Student variables found to influence teacher attitudes include the student's grade level as well as the type and severity of disabling condition. The attitudes of professional educators toward teaching students with disabilities is identified by a number of authors as a teacher attribute critical to the success of these inclusion efforts (Bricker, 1995; Rizzo & Wright, 1987; French & Henderson, 1984; Minner & Knutson, 1982; Aloia, Knutson, Minner, & Von Seggern, 1980). Furthermore, Bricker (1995) contends attitudes exhibited toward teaching students with disabilities appears to be the single most important teacher attribute necessary for successful assimilation of students with special needs into general education classes.

To date, results from studies attempting to assess the attitudes of educators toward teaching students with disabilities have not been conclusive. With this in mind, it is important to continue the examination of teacher attitudes in an attempt to clarify the relationship between selected variables and teacher attitudes. With the continuing movement toward "inclusion" in the educational environments of many states, it is imperative that an understanding concerning the attitudes of educators toward providing instruction to students with disabilities be assessed and fully understood. The purpose of this study was to:

* Assess teacher attitudes toward the inclusion of students with disabilities in the regular classroom;

* Determine if attitudes toward teaching students with disabilities differ according to the type of disability identified;

* Determine the relationship between selected teacher attributes and teacher attitudes toward teaching students with disabilities.



Participants were 512 teachers (419 females, 75 males) representing 12 school districts, including urban, suburban and rural communities, from a Midwestern state. Fifty-two percent of the participants held a bachelor's degree with 48% holding a master's degree or above. Participants were employed at the elementary level (51%), middle school level (17%), high school level (24%), or some combination of the above (8%). Sixty-eight percent of participants surveyed had 6 or more years of teaching experience. The age categories represented by participants in the study included under 30 (24%), 30-39 (27%), 40-49 (35%) and 50 or over (14%).


Each participant completed a Revised Version of the PEATH (version II) survey instrument (Rizzo & Wright, 1988). The PEATH-II instrument was originally devised for use with physical education teachers, but has been revised for use with K-12 classroom teachers as well. The PEATH-II instrument consisted of 12 statements with a blank inserted in each statement requiring the reader to mentally insert a specific disabling condition. The participant was asked to respond to each of the twelve questions using a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly agree, 2 = agree, 3 = undecided, 4 = disagree, 5 = strongly disagree). The following statements are examples of questions included in the survey, "Teaching students with--in my general classes with nondisabled students will disrupt the harmony of the class," and "Having to teach students with--in my general classes with non-disabled students places an unfair burden on teachers." Scores for negatively phrased items were reverse scored. The labeled disabling conditions included: 1) cognitive disabilities (CD); 2) emotional disturbances and behavioral disorders (ED/BD); 3) orthopedic disabilities (OD); and 4) sensory disabilities (SD), including hearing and visual impairments. Definitions for each of the disabling conditions were provided and reviewed before subjects completed the questionnaire. Validity and reliability for the PEATH-II instrument has been extensively reported in previous studies (Rizzo & Vispoel, 1992; Rizzo, 1988; Jansma, & Shultz, 1982).


Table 1 presents the attitude scores for each of the four disabling conditions and all four disabling conditions combined. A score of 3.0 on the PEATH-II is considered a neutural response with scores above 3.0 representing positive attitudes and scores below 3.0 representing negative attitudes. The results indicated that attitudes toward teaching students with orthopedic disabling conditions (M=3.14) and sensory disabilities (M=3.08) in the general classroom were somewhat positive while teaching students with cognitive disabilities (M=2.69), and emotional disturbances and behavioral disorders was perceived in a more negative light (M=2.25). The overall score (M=2.81) reflected a slightly negative attitude toward teaching students with disabilities in general. No significant differences in attitudes toward teaching students with disabilities were found when analyzed by gender or grade level taught. See issue's website <> A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was employed to determine if attitudes toward teaching students with disabilities differ according to the type of disability identified. Results of the ANOVA indicated differences among the means of the disabling conditions were significant at the .05 level. Scheffe post-hoc comparison revealed significant differences at the .05 level between ED/BD and SD scores and between ED/BD and OD scores. Teachers had a significantly more negative attitude regarding teaching students labeled with emotional disturbance and behavior disorders when compared to orthopedic and sensory disabilities.

When assessing teacher attributes, results indicated that 26% of the subjects had no coursework in which the primary focus was on educating students with disabilities with another 38% having one such course. Also, when asked how much experience they had actually teaching students with disabilities during pre-professional preparation, 44% of the subjects said that they had none. Another 29% responded that they rarely had such experiences with 9% responding with frequent or extensive experience. When asked about their experience as a professional educator actually teaching students with disabilities, 75% said that they had moderate, frequent, or extensive experience. When asked to rate their overall experience in teaching students with disabilities on a scale of 1 (very negative) to 5 (very positive), the mean response was 2.8, or somewhat negative. When asked "how competent do you feel teaching students with disabilities", again on a scale of 1 (not at all competent) to 5 (very competent), the mean response was 2.5. To determine the relationship between selected teacher attributes and teacher attitudes, simple correlations were computed which are presented in Table 2. Significant relationships (p<.05) were reported between many of the variables and teacher attitudes. See issue's website <>

The teachers who expressed more positive attitudes felt more competent, had more university courses, had more experience in these courses actually working with students having disabilities, and had more positive experiences in working with students with disabilities.


The findings of this study indicate that, collectively, general classroom teachers tended to display negative attitudes towards students with disabilities. However, an important result of this study was that teachers were found to have more negative attitudes toward teaching those students identified as cognitively disabled and as being emotionally disturbed or having behavioral disorders than those with orthopedic and sensory disabilities. This negative perception may be due in part to the unique classroom management and/or discipline issues these students create such as understanding and following rules, controlling behavior, and interacting with others in the classroom. Wynne and Ryan (1997) indicated that classroom management and discipline are major concerns for most teachers, especially first year teachers. In addition, Freiberg (1996) asserts that the teacher's ability to effectively manage the classroom is critical to student success. Teachers in this study had relatively positive attitudes regarding teaching students with sensory or orthopedic conditions. Although these students present very distinct challenges to the instructor, perhaps the challenges are perceived in a less negative light if they are directed toward instruction and not as much toward classroom management and/or discipline.

Teacher attitude has been identified as a major contributor to success in working with students with disabilities (Bricker, 1995; Aloia et al., 1980). Four variables were found that significantly correlated with teacher attitudes toward teaching students with disabilities. These variables were perceived competence, university courses taken, pre-professional experience working with students with disabilities, and the teacher's rating of their overall experience with students with disabilities. Perceived competence (r = .56) emerged as having the strongest relationship to teacher attitudes. Also of interest was the finding that university courses (r =. 45) and pre-professional experience (r = .49) were significantly related to perceived competence. These findings suggest that attitudes can be influenced in a positive fashion during the teacher preparation process. Munby and Hutchinson (1998) indicated that professional knowledge, with regard to the formulation of attitudes, could be positively influenced by an experiential learning environment during teacher preparation. Professional experience (r = .52) was also related to perceived competence, indicating that the more classroom teaching opportunities an educator had with students having disabilities, the more positive the attitude.

Although most teachers in this study teach or have taught students with disabilities in their classrooms (only 7% indicated no experience in this area), 26% had no pre-professional coursework, while 38% had only one class in which the primary focus was on educating students with disabilities during their pre-professional preparation. Moreover, 44% of the subjects indicated no experience actually teaching students with disabilities during these courses, with another 29% responding that they were "rarely" provided with these experiences. For future teaching professionals, this finding becomes important because students with disabilities, especially those diagnosed with emotional and behavioral disorders, are the fourth largest group of students receiving special education services in the public schools (National Center for Education Statistics, 1998). The results of the current study suggested that teachers expressed more negative attitudes toward students displaying emotional and behavioral disorders. Thus, it is imperative that the pre-professional program include strategies and techniques targeting this population. There also appears to be a need for more in-service training opportunities for teachers in the schools. Seventy-two percent of the participants agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "I will need more coursework and training before I will be able to teach students with disabilities in a class with nondisabled students." Outcomes of this study also suggested that increased age (r = -.22) and years of teaching (r = -.20) produced negative correlations with attitude. This finding would support the idea that teachers are not receiving enough in-service training to feel comfortable in making the adjustments necessary with an ever-changing student population (Schilling, M. & Coles, R., 1997). While continuing education directed at teaching all students with disabilities is important, the results of this study suggest that the emphasis of these training sessions may be best focused on teaching students with cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

If the concept of inclusion is going to be successful and provide meaningful learning experiences for students with disabilities, teachers and prospective teachers must be afforded planned opportunities to develop skills that foster positive attitudes necessary for meeting the demands of a changing educational landscape. If these opportunities are not provided, educators, and more importantly students, including those who have disabilities, cannot be successful.


Aloia, G., Knutson, R., Minner, S., & Von Seggern, M. (1980). Physical education teachers' initial perceptions of handicapped children. Mental Retardation, 18, 85-87.

Block, M. (1999). Did we jump on the wrong bandwagon? Problems with inclusion in physical education. Palaestra, 15(3), 30-36, 55-56.

Block, M. (1994). A teacher's guide to including students with disabilities in regular physical education. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Bricker, D. (1995). The challenge of inclusion. Journal of Early Intervention, 19, 179-194.

Freiberg, H. J. (1996). From tourist to citizen: The influences of socially constructed classroom management on teacher and student roles. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association Conference, New York.

French, R., & Henderson, H. (1984). Teacher attitudes toward mainstreaming. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 55(8), 69-70.

Jansma, P. & Shultz B. (1982). Validation and use of a mainstreaming attitude inventory with physical educators. American Corrective Therapy Journal, 36, 150-158.

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Munby, H. & Hutchinson, N. (1998). Using experience to prepare teachers for inclusive classrooms. Teacher Education and Special Education, 21 (2), 75-82.

National Center for Education Statistics. (1998). The condition of education, 1998. Washington, DC: Department of Education.

Rizzo, T. L. (1988). Validation of the Physical Educators' Attitudes Toward Teaching Handicapped Students survey. Abstracts of Research Papers of the Research Consortium of the American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, Kansas City, MO.

Rizzo, T. L., & Vispoel, W. P. (1992). Physical educators' attributes and attitudes toward teaching students with handicaps. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 8, 4-11.

Rizzo, T. L. & Wright, R. G. (1987). Secondary school physical educators' attitudes toward teaching students with handicaps. American Corrective Therapy Journal, 41(2), 52-55.

Rizzo, T. L. & Wright, R. G. (1988). Selected attributes related to physical educators' attitudes toward teaching students with handicaps. Mental Retardation, 26, 307-309.

Schattman, R. & Benay, J. (1992). Inclusiveness transforms special education for the 1990's. The Education Digest, 57(9), 23-26.

Schilling, M. L. & Coles, R. (1997). From exclusion to inclusion: A historical glimpse at the past and reflection of the future. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, 68(8), 42-44.

Sherrill, C. (1998). Adapted physical activity, recreation and sport: Crossdisciplinary and lifespan (5th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.

Stainback, W., & Stainback, E. (Eds.). (1990). Support networks for inclusive schooling: Interdependent integrated education. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Wynne, E., & Ryan, K. (1997). Reclaiming our schools: Teaching character, academics and discipline (2nd ed.). Upper saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Briggs, Ed.D., is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Health and Human Performance. Johnson, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Sports and Exercise Sciences. Shepherd, M.S., is an Assistant Professor and Adapted Physical Education Specialist in the Department of Health and Human Performance. Sedbrook, Ed.D., is an Associate Professor and Teacher Education Specialist in the Department of Health and Human Performance
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Author:Sedbrook, Steven R.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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