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Transition and other services for handicapped students in local education agencies.

S ABSTRACT: A survey was conducted among special education administrators in 1,450 local education agencies LEAS) nationwide, to determine the availability of vocational programs and transition-oriented services for handicapped youth. Results showed that most LEAs offer al least some vocational programs; transition-oriented services are not as frequently available, particularly in smaller LEAS. In addition to size of LEA, community employment opportunities and the availability of adult services were related to whether at? LEA offered any transition-related services.

The disillusioning postschool employment statistics for handicapped youth (e.g., Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985; Mithaug, Horiuchi, & Fanning, 1985) and the limited success of these youth in postsecondary education and training (e.g., Baker & Blanding, 1985) have raised questions about the long-term effectiveness of special education. One consequence of these disappointing outcomes has been an increased interest in the availability of secondary-level programs and services designed to prepare handicapped students for work and life after school (e.g., Will, 1984).

Despite this interest, nationwide data on vocationally related programs for handicapped students in secondary-level local education agencies LEAS) or school districts do not exist. Accordingly, SRI International and the Center for the Study of Higher Education, the Pennsylvania State University, undertook a national survey of LEAs to determine the availability of vocational preparation programs and newer transition-oriented services for special education students. Particular attention was paid to the influence of size of the LEA and other demographic factors on the availability of these programs and services. POPULATION AND SAMPLING A nationally representative sample of 1,549 secondary LEAs stratified by enrollment, geographic region, and district/community wealth (estimated by the percentage of students in an LEA whose parents had incomes below the poverty level) was selected from the public school universe data maintained by Quality Education Data and by the National Center for Education Statistics. The chief special education administrator in each sampled LEA was interviewed by telephone: 1,450 responded---a response rate of 93.6%. A comparison of the sample with population characteristics found little evidence of bias (see Fairweather, 1986). This sample was sufficient to make estimates about LEA programs and practices accurate to within 3 percentage points p < .05). INSTRUMENTATION AND DATA COLLECTION A survey instrument was designed to gather information on the availability of four traditional vocational preparation programs cited in previous research as being related to successful transition: (a) vocational education (Halpem, 1985; Hasazi et al., 1985); (b) counseling (Wright, Cooperstein, Grogan-Renneker, & Padilla, 1982); (c) occupational or physical therapy (Wright et al., 1982); and (d) whether the local Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency assigned a staff member to an LEA (Moss, 1979; Wehman, 1983).

Data were also gathered on the availability of two nontraditional transition-related programs suggested as leading to beneficial postschool outcomes: (a) whether the LEA had a staff member whose primary function was to help special education students to find jobs (Bullis & Foss, 1983) and (b) whether the LEA had a transition-oriented program for special education students (Wilcox & Bellamy, 1982). Finally, data were gathered on the richness or paucity of community services and job opportunities available for handicapped youth.

In addition to survey data, the national data base contained such basic LEA information as instructional dollars per pupil. DATA ANALYSIS Descriptive statistics were calculated using weighted data to make national estimates about the availability of traditional and nontraditional vocationally related programs for secondary-aged handicapped students. Cross-tabulation analyses were performed to compare these results by size of district (see Table 1). Meaningful differences on cross-tabulation analyses were defined as having chi-square values significant at p < .0 I and values of r > 1. 15 1 (for continuous or ordinal variables) or (Cramer's V) V > .15 (for categorical variables). Finally, an LEA typology based on the number and type of traditional and nontraditional programs was postulated and examined with a stepwise discriminant function analysis. RESULTS Vocational Preparation Programs As shown in Table 2, more than 50% of all secondary LEAs provide at least one of four vocational preparation programs for handicapped students. This ranges from a low of 52.3% of LEAs having a VR agency staff member assigned to them to a high of 86.0% of LEAs arranging counseling for handicapped students.

Large and small LEAs are about equally likely to have a VR staff member assigned to them or to provide counseling services for special education students. Very small LEAS, however, are much less likely than all others to have some or almost all of their handicapped students enrolled in vocational education or participating in an occupational or physical therapy program. Transition-Oriented Programs Newer transition-oriented programs are less available to secondary-aged handicapped students than the more traditional vocational preparation programs; less than one-half of all LEAs offer at least one transition-oriented program (see Table 3). About one-third of the LEAs say they have a staff member whose main function is to assist handicapped students find jobs. About 45% claim they have a transition program. For both of these programs, larger LEAs are more likely than smaller ones to provide services. Typology of LEAs Offering Vocationally Related Programs As shown in Table 4, the data suggest that LEAs can be divided into five programmatic groups based on combinations of vocational preparation and transition-oriented programs. Group I offers two or fewer of the four vocational preparation programs and none of the transition-oriented (24.9% of LEAS). Group 2 offers at least three out of the four vocational preparation programs and none of the transition-related ones (16.4% of LEAS). Group 3 offers two or fewer of the vocational preparation programs and at least one of the newer transition-oriented ones i 8.6% of LEAS). Group 4 offers at least three of the four vocational preparation programs and one of the transition-related programs (22.8% of LEAS). Group 5 offers at least three of the four vocational preparation programs and both of the transition-oriented programs (17.3% of LEAS).

To examine whether additional data confirm the utility of this typology, a stepwise discriminant function analysis was performed using enrollment, number of disabilities served, district/community wealth, percent minority, metropolitan status, categorical funds per pupil, instructional dollars per pupil, and community services and job opportunities for handicapped youth. Relationships between variables found significant at p < .0 I and accounting for a partial (squared multiple correlation coefficient) R2 (see Kerlinger & Pedhazur, 1982) of at least 01 were included in the discriminant function (see Table 4).

The results support the utility of the suggested typology. Size of district, external services available for handicapped youth, and to a lesser degree, instructional dollars per pupil and metropolitan status rural or urban/suburban) combine to discriminate between the five programmatic groups. LEAs offering few (if any) vocationally related services (Group 1) are much smaller than average and spend below average amounts of instructional dollars per pupil. LEAs in Group I also are more often located in rural communities that offer less than average external services and resources for handicapped youth.

LEAs that offer several traditional vocational preparation program options for special education students but do not offer transition-oriented services (Group 2) are slightly above average size and spend less than average instructional dollars per pupil. Districts in this group are about evenly split between rural and nonrural locations. Group 2 LEAs have less than average external resources for handicapped youth.

Possibly the most interesting group, LEAs that offer few vocational preparation programs but do offer at least one transition-oriented service (Group 3) seem to follow recommendations made by Edgar, Horton, and Maddox (1984): Invest more resources in transition-oriented services than in traditional vocational preparatory programs. These LEAs are generally smaller than average, but spend higher than average instructional dollars per pupil (second only to Group 5). Group 3 LEAs are about evenly divided between rural and nonrural locations. However, they are more likely than all but those in Group 5 to be between the five programmatic groups. LEAs offering few (if any) vocationally related services (Group 1) are much smaller than average and spend below average amounts of instructional dollars per pupil. LEAs in Group I also are more often located in rural communities that offer less than average external services and resources for handicapped youth.

LEAs that offer several traditional vocational preparation program options for special education students but do not offer transition-oriented services (Group 2) are slightly above average size and spend less than average instructional dollars per pupil. Districts in this group are about evenly split between rural and nonrural locations. Group 2 LEAs have less than average external resources for handicapped youth.

Possibly the most interesting group, LEAs that offer few vocational preparation programs but do offer at least one transition-oriented service (Group 3) seem to follow recommendations made by Edgar, Horton, and Maddox (1984): Invest more resources in transition-oriented services than in traditional vocational preparatory programs. These LEAs are generally smaller than average, but spend higher than average instructional dollars per pupil (second only to Group 5). Group 3 LEAs are about evenly divided between rural and nonrural locations. However, they are more likely than all but those in Group 5 to be located in communities with substantial external services for handicapped youth.

Group 4 LEAS, which offer most of the traditional vocational preparation programs and one of the transition-oriented ones, are second in average size to LEAs in Group 5. LEAs in this group are about average in every other respect, including instructional dollars per pupil, percentage in rural locations, and external services available for handicapped youth.

LEAs with the most comprehensive programs and services for handicapped students (Group 5) are much larger than average. They score higher than any other group on instructional dollars per pupil and on external services available for handicapped youth. Districts in this group are much less likely to be located in rural settings. DISCUSSION Size of LEA is strongly related to the likelihood that secondary-aged handicapped students will find vocational preparation programs available to them. Although these programs are offered by more than half of all LEAS, smaller LEAs are much less likely to provide vocational education or occupational or physical therapy to handicapped students. These results suggest that special education students in larger LEAs are more likely to have access to vocational preparation programs than are students in smaller LEAS.

Transition-oriented programs, which presumably are aimed more directly at assisting handicapped students to find jobs, enroll in postsecondary educational programs, and live independently, are less evident. Less than half of LEAs nationwide say they offer transition programs and only about one-third say they maintain staff members to assist special education students to find jobs. This is consistent with the curricula assessments done by Bellamy and Wilcox (1981), who found that many secondary LEAs focus only on the academic performance of special education students and not on preparation for the transition to work and independent living. Again, larger LEAs are more likely than smaller ones to provide these services.

Examination of the proposed typology of programmatic groups, however, shows a more complex relationship between services provided and size of LEA. In comparing LEAs that offer most of the vocational preparation programs with those that offer only a few, size of LEA is the key factor---larger LEAs offer more vocational preparation programs than do smaller ones. In contrast, size is only one factor that explains differences between LEAs offering at least one transition-oriented service and those that offer none. LEAs offering these newer programs are larger; spend more instructional dollars per pupil; and, perhaps most important, are located in communities with more services and job opportunities for handicapped youth.

These results suggest that the combination of LEA size and district and community wealth affects the availability of vocationally related services for handicapped students. While not surprising, these results document the extent to which this pattern holds nationwide. One implication is that policy-makers should consider carefully the potential generalizability of model vocational preparation and transitionoriented programs, which often are implemented only in LEAs and communities that are likely to have the necessary resources for successful transition outcomes. The applicability of such model programs often is further limited by their focus on only a few youth with a limited number of handicapping conditions e.g., Wehman, Kregel, & Barcus, 1985).

Two important questions remain unanswered. The first concerns the quality (as distinct from availability) of programs; this issue was not addressed in the survey of special education administrators. The second question is whether the nontraditional programs are more likely to assist handicapped students to achieve employment and enroll in college than the traditional vocational preparation programs. If nontraditional programs are more effective, perhaps Group 3 LEAs have one answer: Given a choice, invest limited resources in transition-oriented services rather than in traditional vocational preparation programs.
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Title Annotation:survey to determine availability of vocational programs, etc.
Author:Fairweather, James S.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Jan 1, 1989
Words:2117
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