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Vocational technical programs: follow-up of students with learning disabilities.

Over the past several years, special educators have examined the needs of students with disabilities as they move from the public school environment to the world of employment (e.g., Clark & Knowlton, 1987). This effort to facilitate the transition from school to work has been identified as a major priority by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (Will, 1984) and has resulted in a significant increase in research efforts examining issues and procedures in transition for youth with both mild and severe disabilities.

Many of the studies that have concentrated on transition issues among students with learning disabilities and other mild handicapping conditions, have examined the impact of special education programs by collecting follow-up data on students who have graduated. White, Schumaker, Warner, Alley, and Deshler (1980) reported that although young adults with learning disabilities were employed equally as those without, the youth with disabilities were found to have lower occupational status and job satisfaction than were individuals without disabilities. Results were very limited, however, because of sample size and other methodological problems.

Hasazi, Gordon, and Roe (1985) reported the results of a follow-up survey of 462 students identified as having received special services and exiting high school between 1979 and 1983 in Vermont. Their survey found employment rates over 50%, with the employment level for those students who attended resource room programs (in contrast to self-contained programs), to be 61.5%. Most of the students found jobs reportedly through the "self-family-friend" network (85.2%). In addition, having a part-time or summer job while in high school was the best predictor for postsecondary employment. Hasazi, Gordon, Roe, Finck, Hull, and Salembier (1985) examined post-high-school status of students identified as mentally retarded in Vermont and found results similar to those of Hasazi, Gordon, and Roe. Of importance was that having vocational classes and work experiences in high school best predicted the highest wage earners.

Other follow-up studies of youth with disabilities who were exiting schools have reported similar results (e.g., Mithaug, Horiuchi, & Fanning, 1985; Neel, Meadows, Levine, & Edgar, 1988; Schalock et al., 1986). Full-time employment rates tended to be around 60%-70% for students with learning disabilities, up to 5 years after graduation. One variable that seemed to emerge across studies, however, was the importance of vocational courses and experiences before graduation. Indeed, Okolo and Sitlington (1986), in a review of special education practices for adolescents with learning disabilities, found that while there is a compelling rationale for inclusion of vocational programming in the special education programs of adolescents, available data suggest that such efforts are not typically a part of many secondary school special education programs. Moreover, Okolo and Sitlington have noted several methodological weaknesses in the existing literature, such as the failure to include sufficient comparison groups of youth without disabilities, criteria for specifying the group with disabilities, and providing follow-up data for 1 year or less. In addition, Okolo (1988) reported that the learning environment of secondary vocational programs puts behavioral demands on youth with learning disabilitie--demands for which they may have poor skills.

Given the strong endorsement that appears to be given to vocational programs is assisting the transition of youth with learning disabilities to the work environment (e.g., Okolo & Sitlington, 1986), it is surprising that no studies have specifically examined the impact of attending vocational-technical schools on such youth's transition to the postsecondary period. The present study offered a unique opportunity to examine a subgroup of these youths. All students in the present study attended the vocational-technical programs in their respective school districts. These programs were self-contained schools offering a wide range of training opportunities across the vocational spectrum. In all school districts the fed the four sites in which the study was conducted, virtually all identified students were counseled into attending the local vocational-technical program. Follow-up data collected on these students would partially reveal the potential impact that vocational-technical training may have in the transition process for youth with learning disabilities. Additionally, the present study attempted to address some of the methodological limitations of previous follow-up studies by including a matched control group of youth without disabilities attending vocational-technical programs, and a similar group attending regular high school programs that fed one of the vocational-technical schools.

METHOD

Overview

The study was conducted over a 3-year period, September 1985 - August 1988. Data reported here are for the first 2 years of the study. All students were in the 12th grade during their initial year in the study. Data were obtained by student completion of a survey at graduation; completion of an abbreviated version of the survey at 6 months postgraduation; and completion of the full survey at 12 months (1985-86 and 1986-87 cohorts), and 24 months (1985-86) postgraduation. All follow-up surveys were completed using telephone interviews. Additionally, the Wide Range Achievement Test-Revised (WRAT-R; Jastak & Wilkinson, 1984) was administered at graduation to all students in the study.

Subjects and Settings

The study was implemented across four vocational-technical (VT) schools located in eastern Pennsylvania. The schools served between 630 and 2,153 students and fed from school districts ranging from rural, to suburban, to inner-city urban. Approximately 20% of all students in each site were identified as learning disabled (LD). Two regular high schools that were feeder schools for one of the VT schools served as the source for the non-LD, regular high school (NLD-RegHS) comparison group. Students from the two regular high schools came from urban and suburban areas.

Participant selection procedures were identical each year. At each VT school, the potential pool of 12th grade, LD students was identified. After permission to participate was obtained from both parents and students, the records of the potential participants were examined. In addition to being legally classified as LD, students had to (1) have no physical handicaps; (2) have no sensory handicaps (hearing, visual); (3) have received any form of special education services in grades 9 through 11; (4) have an IQ score no more than 2 standard deviations below the mean on the most recent individually administered intelligence test; and (5) have scored more than 1 standard deviation below the mean on a recently administered standardized norm-referenced test in any of the basic skill areas: reading, spelling mathematics, or language arts. Students meeting these criteria were then assigned to the LD-VT group. IQ scores (as assessed on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised or Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised) reported within the last 3 years found a mean full-scale IQ of 85.00 (range = 72-109) from the 1985-86 cohort, 86.30 (range = 73-107) for the 1986-87 cohort, and 85.3 (range = 71-108) for the 1987-88 cohort.

After the LD groups were identified, the non-LD groups were formed at each VT school. Students were matched on grade, VT shop, and sex. In cases where exact matches in shops were not possible, teachers at the VT school were consulted and they recommended the next closest match to the students' shop. For example, if no match could be found for a student in food preparation, then baking might be a logical next choice. In addition, if an exact match on shop and sex could not be found, the match on shop took precedence over matching on sex. In cases where multiple matches were available, potential participants were selected randomly. Permission to participate was then obtained. Any students who had physical or sensory handicaps, or had been legally classified as disabled at any point in their school careers, were excluded from participation. The NLD-RegHS students were chosen randomly from the 12th-grade enrollment lists provided by the high schools.

For the 1985-86 cohort, of the initial 143 students (92 males, 51 females) who completed all phases of the study during their senior year, follow-up data were obtained on 136 (88.1%) of the participants at a 6-month follow-up, and 123 (72.0%) of the participants at 12- and 24-month follow-up. Attrition rates were approximately equal across the LD-Vt and NLD-VT groups, with somewhat lower attrition noted among the NLD-RegHS group. Racial composition of the 1985-86 cohort was self-identified as 89.3% Caucasian, 6.7% Black, and 4.0% Hispanic. Results of the WRAT-R administered at graduation were also examined. In both 1985-86 and 1986-87 cohorts, one-way analyses of variance (ANOVAs) followed by Scheffe's procedure for multiple comparisons, found significant differences (p < .05) between LD-VT and NLD-VT groups. In addition, NLD-RegHS groups were significantly higher in achievement than were the NLD-VT groups (p < .05).

For the 1986-87 cohort, of the initial 124 students (80 males, 44 females) who completed the study in their senior year, follow-up data were obtained on 117 (94.4%) at 6 months, and 104 (83.9%) at 12 months. Patterns of attrition similar to the 1985-86 cohort were found, with somewhat less attrition noted among the NLD-RegHS students. Racial composition of the 1986-87 cohort was self-identified as 91.5% Caucasian, 3.8% Black, 3.1% Hispanic, and 1.5% as other.

Socioeconomic-status (SES) levels of participants were determined by asking students to identify their mother and father's occupation, describe their parents' highest levels of education, and estimate family income. Parental occupations were rated from 1 to 7 using the Hollingshead Two Factor Index of Social Position. Parental education was coded on a 7-point scale ranging from grade school through graduate or professional degree. Overall, the SES level of the 1985-86 and 1986-87 cohort appeared to consist of individuals whose parents fell primarily into the clerical, skilled manual, semi-skilled, and unskilled groups. Educational levels of parents of most participants included at least some high school, with most having at least a high school diploma, and some having a college degree. Occupational and educational levels of parents were equivalent across LD-VT, NLD-VT, and NLD-RegHS groups for the 1985-86 cohort, with somewhat higher ratios of parents with college degrees among the NLD-RegHS group for the 1986-87 cohort.

Dependent Measures

Youth Survey (YS). A modified version of the Young Adult Report (White et al., 1980) was used. The survey administered at graduation consisted of 48 items related to background, vocational status and future educational plans, personal and social items, and questions regarding educational plans and status. At 6 months postgraduation, an abbreviated 6-item scale was completed, with questions related to occupational and living status. At 12- and 24-month follow-up, the entire 48-item YS was repeated, with additional items related to postgraduation employment.

Basic Academic Skills. The WRAT-R was administered to all participants at the same time that the YS was completed. All three subtests were administered (reading, math, spelling). Both spelling and math subtests were administered in group formats, and the reading test was administered individually.

Procedures

Each year of the project, data were collected between May 1 and 31. At 6 months postgraduation (December), attempts were made to contact all participants who had completed the YS at graduation. These contacts were made via telephone, at which time a brief, 6-item version of the YS was obtained. At 12 and 24 months postgraduation, attempts to again reach all students who had completed the YS at graduation were made. The survey was completed by first contacting the participants by telephone, mailing them a copy of the survey, and then recontacting them by phone and completing the survey over the telephone while they had the survey in front of them. A token payment of $10 was made to all participants completing the survey during the follow-up period.

Data Analyses

Both descriptive and statistical analyses of the YS were completed. Each item was reviewed and classified independently into one of four groups (educational, occupation, social, and personal) by the first author and a project assistant. Agreement was found for 95% of the items. When a disagreement occurred, the item was discussed and a consensus reached for where the item belonged. Items selected for descriptive discussion here were based largely on the outcome of the statistical analyses.

Statistical analysis was conducted on selected variables from the 6-, 12-, and 24-month follow-up contacts, using multivariate discriminant function analyses to determine whether these chosen variables reliably differentiated among groups of subjects. In an effort to better understand the nature of the discriminant functions, we conducted subsequent classification analyses when discriminant functions were statistically significant (p < .05). Variables selected for analysis were based on Hasazi, Gordon, and Roe (1985) and included employment status, income, job satisfaction, enrollment in educational programs, future plans, and living status.

RESULTS

Descriptive Analyses

Educational Analysis. Five items from the educational category appeared to consistently emerge as important variables in differentiating groups. These included: (1) future plans? (2) what future plans, (3) desired skills not received in high school, (4) what skills desired, and (5) job/VT program match.

Results for the 1985-86 and 1986-87 cohorts at graduation regarding future plans were remarkably similar. Approximately 55% of students from the LD-VT group reported future plans, as compared with 73% and 82%-93% of those from the NLD-VT and NLD-RegHS groups (1985-86: [X.sup.2](2, N = 151) = 7.74, p < .02; 1986-87: [X.sup.2](2, N = 130) = 19.20, p < .001). the specific types of plans reported by students at graduation are shown in Table 1. Among students reporting future plans in each group, most LD-VT students reported plans to attend trade school, whereas NLD-VT students distributed fairly evenly across trade school, 2-year, and 4-year colleges. Not surprisingly, the largest proportion of NLd-RegHS students reported future plans to attend 4-year colleges (1985-86: [X.sup.2](12, N = 151) = 29.75, p < .003; 1986-87: [X.sup.2](6, N = 94) = 22.51, p < .001).

Although many students apparently had future plans, their educational status at 6, 12, and 24 months postgraduation consistently showed little follow-through with those plans. Tables 2 and 3 show the educational status at follow-up for each of the 1985-86 and 1986-87 cohorts. In addition, when asked if they had future plans at 12- and 24-months follow-up, the LD-VT group remained substantially lower in the proportion of students reporting future plans (approximately 28% for both years in the 1985-86 cohort). The proportion of students in the NLd-VT and NLD-RegHS groups increased at both follow-up points to approximately 85% of the groups reporting future plans (12-month follow-up: [X.sup.2](2, N = 111) = 23.06, p < .001; 24-month follow-up: [X.sup.2](2, N = 108) = 20.60, p < .001). Similar shifts also were evident for the 1986-87 cohort: the LD-VT group again showed substantially less interest in future planning (12-month follow-up: [X.sup.2](8, N = 112) = 23.41, p < .001).

These results are disconcerting when we examined students responses to questions about desired skills not taught while in high school. At graduation for the 1985-86 cohort, almost 50% of students in all groups indicated that they desired skills not instructed. Among those desiring skills, over 50% of students in each group felt that job-related (e.g., interviewing, resume writing, job seeking) skills were required. Both LD and NLD groups at the VT indicated that academic skills were also needed.

In contrast to the 1985-86 cohort, 55%-67% of the 1986-87 cohort identified that there were desired skills not taught in high school. The largest proportion of students in the LD-VT group indicated that academic skills were needed most [tdo]

(56.5%), followed by job specific skills (e.g., training in specific occupations) (21.7%), [X.sup.2] (12, N = 130) = 20.44, p < .05. The highest proportion of students in the NLD-VT group reported needing job-specific skills, followed by academic skills.

When the same question was asked again at 12-month postgraduation for the 1985-86 cohort, somewhat fewer students (approximately 40%) across groups reported that there were skills desired but not taught in high school. In contrast to the response at graduation, however, the largest proportions in all groups (approximately 50%) reported the need for job-specific skills. Students in the LD-VT group ranked academic skills next. Among the 1986-87 cohort, 34% of the students indicated that they desired skills not taught in high school, with the highest percentages of desired skills in all groups in the academic areas.

Another significant educational variable for students who had attended VT programs, was the degree to which there was a match between the students' shop in which they were trained in school and their current job. The degree of match was rated on a 3-point scale by comparing current job titles and title of the shop in which they had been enrolled at graduation. These judgments were performed by two project assistants independently and compared for levels of interscorer agreement. Results showed that across the entire follow-up period for both cohorts, almost 50% or more of the students at each point in the follow-up period showed no match between the students' current job and the trade in which they had been trained. This was equally true for LD and NLD students (1985-86, 6-month follow-up: [X.sup.2] (3, N = 66) = 1.28, p = N.S.; 12-month follow-up; [X.sup.2] (2, N = 71) = 1.26, p = N.S.; 24-month follow-up: [X.sup.2] (2, N = 72) = 4.55, p = N.S.). Indeed, for the 1986-87 cohort, at 6- and 12-month follow-up, the LD-VT and NLD-VT groups showed no significant differences between the percentage of individuals in jobs matched or somewhat matched to the trained occupation (47.5% LD. vs. 39% NLD) (6-month follow-up: [X.sup.2] (2, N = 78) - 1.17, p = N.S.; 12-month follow-up: [X.sup.2] (2, N = 66) = 2.29, p = N.S.). These data show that little relationship existed between the shop in which training had occurred and subsequent jobs. For example, some students had been trained in horticulature and were working as cement workers, one trained as a welder was working as a cashier in a food market, one trained in data processing was

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working as a cook, and another trained as a maintenance mechanic was working as a nurse's aide.

Occupational Analysis. Among occupational items, employment status, annual income, current job satisfaction, and how the students were informed of jobs are described. Tables 4 and 5 display the employment status for the 1985-86 and 1986-87 cohorts across the follow-up period. Those individuals who reported attending trade schools or 2- or 4-year colleges or who were in full-time military service at the time of the follow-up survey were eliminated from these analyses. At graduation for the 1985-86 cohort, at least 50% of the students across groups were employed, with over 80% of the these jobs being part time (less than 30 hr per week). Substantially fewer LD-VT students were employed compared with NLD-VT or NLD-RegHS students, [X.sup.2] (2, N = 151) = 5.89, p < .05. In contrast, no differences were noted among groups employed in the 1986-87 cohort, with over 73% of the students employed, again with approximately 76% of these in part-time jobs, [X.sup.2] (2, N = 130) - .08, p = N.S.

Over the first 12-month follow-up period, employment rates steadily increased for LD-VT and NLD-VT groups in both cohorts, with unemployment rates ranging from 3% to 10% between 12 and 24 months postgraduation for each cohort. At all points of follow-up, over 75% of the reported employment involved full-time jobs (> 30 hr per week). Increases in unemployment rates over the

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12-month rate were noted at 24-month follow-up for the LD-VT and NLD-VT groups. In general, students appeared to settle into an effective rate of employment within 12 months postgraduation, although this rate tended to be somewhat higher than the regional employment rate of 95%. No significant differences appeared between any of the groups; however, students who graduated from regular high school programs and were not attending trade school or 2- or 4-year colleges or were in full-time military service, were found to have somewhat higher unemployment rates at 12-month follow-up.

For the 1985-86 cohort, NLD students at both the VT and RegHS tended to find jobs at graduation, primarily using the friend-and-relative network (over 75%), whereas those in the LD-VT group used family and friends to a lesser extent (47%). These students reported using "other" methods (mostly job placement through the VT program) over 32% of the time. Over the 2-year follow-up period, the percentage of reported jobs found through family and relatives for LD-VT students tended to increase until over 70% of participants reported finding jobs this way by 24 months postgraduation. Proportions of jobs reported through family and friends for the NLD groups remained stable across the 2 years. This same pattern was evident for the 1986-87 cohort, as well.

Job satisfaction was rated by students on a 1 (very unhappy) to 7 (very happy) scale. Across the 1985-86 cohort, students in all groups tended to report being at least neutral to slightly happy in their current jobs. Similar patterns were noted for the 1986-87 cohort. Reported income levels for the cohorts are reported in Table 6. These data showed that at 12 months postgraduation for the 1985-86 cohort, over 85% of the LD-VT group and 75% of the NLD-VT group had incomes under $7,500 (12-month follow-up: [X.sup.2](10, N = 111) = 17.49, p < .06; 24-month follow-up: [X.sup.2](16, N = 108) = 21.69, p = N.S.). NLD-RegHS students who did not attend trade school or 2- or 4-year colleges or were in full-time military service, were even lower: over 87% of the group had incomes less than $5,000. These levels are equivalent to a minimum-wage earner's making $3.65/hr, working 40 hr per week, 52 weeks per year, who would earn $7,592. At 24 months postgraduation, some improvement occurs: over 75% of the LD-VT and NLD-VT groups had salaries under $10,000. Similar shifts occur for the NLD-RegHS group, where 75% of the group had salaries under $7,500. At 12-month follow-up for the 1986-87 cohort, findings similar to the 1985-86 cohort were noted among the LD-VT and NLD-RegHS groups, [X.sup.2](12, N = 112) = 15.18, p = N.S. Salaries for the NLD-VT group, however, were somewhat higher, with approximately 58% of the sample accounted for with salaries under $7,500. Given the level of training provided to students attending VT programs, such low annual incomes are inconsistent with income expectations of individuals entering trades in which the students were trained. It is important to note, however, that differences in salaries between those attending VT and regular high school programs remain across the 2 years postgraduation.

Social Involvement

Questions related to the social life of the students were asked at graduation, at 12 months, and at 24 months postgraduation. These questions included the number of reported friends and close friends, as well as the degree of involvement in church, social, political, labor, and community activities. Among the 1985-86 cohort, few differences were evident across groups at any point in the follow-up process. All participants appeared to have sufficient numbers of friends as well as several reported close friends. Activities outside school tended to center around church and recreational areas. Some increase in professional organization interest was present at 24 months postgraduation. Students from the 1986-87 cohort showed similar results in this area, although they tended to be somewhat less involved in church-related activities than the 1985-86 cohort.

Personal Resources

A large set of personal and lifestyle items was also included in the YS. These items included such questions as parental occupation, marital status, living arrangements, frequency of contact with relatives, drug use, help received after high school graduation, and so forth. Results for the 1985-86 cohort showed that over 72% of the students continued to live with their parents up to 24 months postgraduation. Only 10% of the participants indicated they had received some form of special help (from an educational, vocational, or psychological professional) postgraduation. A series of questions was asked regarding which persons or agencies had been most helpful during the past 12 months. Results showed clearly that for all participants, regardless of the program attended in high school, parents/relatives, friends, and fellow workers provided the most significant amount of help. Consistently, community agencies, professionals, and social clubs were found to provide the least amount of help. These results were identical with those found at the 24-month follow-up. Results of the 1986-87 cohort at the 12-month follow-up were almost identical with those of the 1985-85 cohort.

Statistical Analysis

Selected items from the YS at each data-collection period were subjected to a discriminant function analysis to determine which combinations of these variables best discriminated among groups. A classification analysis was also performed for these variables to determine which ones best predicted group membership. Items were selected based on previous research (e.g., Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985) as showing anticipated relationships to successful transitions. These included achievement test scores at graduation, as well as questions regarding future plans, employment status, duration of employment, how informed of job, current educational status, match between current job and VT training program, income, job satisfaction, and living status. Because the primary question raised by these data is the relationship of vocational-technical programs to the successful postgraduation transition of LD students, two sets of analyses for each administration of the YS were conducted. First, only students attending the VT programs were compared. This offered a direct comparison between LD and NLD students, all receiving a similar type of high school education. The second set of analyses included the NLD-RegHS group to determine whether the additional comparison of this group to the VT students provided a substantially different set of outcomes.

Results of Cohorts at Graduation. The discriminant function analysis at graduation, examining only the VT students for the 1985-86 cohort, showed a statistically significant discrimination (Canonical R = .619, p < .001) between groups employing all subtests of the WRAT-R, work status at graduation, and whether students indicated they had any future plans. Examination of correlations between Canonical discriminant functions and discriminating variables showed that all subtests of the WRAT-R contributed substantially to the significant function (WRATSPEL = .776; WRATREAD - .733; WRATMATH = .674) with work status (structure coefficient = .318), future plans (structure coefficient = .214), and SES (structure coefficient = .107) showing less important contributions to the discriminant function. The classification analysis of lthese variables resulted in the correct prediction of LD-VT versus NLD-VT groups for approximately 81% of the cases. When the analysis included the NLD-RegHS group, only the subtests of the WRAT-R contributed substantially to the only significant discriminant function (Canonical R = .645, p < .001; structure coefficients: WRATSPEL = .786, WRATREAD = .776, WRATMATH = .718); but the success at predicting group membership in the classification analysis was reduced to 66% overall, with the largest number of errors occurring within the NLD-RegHS group. The second discriminant functions in this and most other analyses were not significant.

In contrast, the analysis at graduation for the 1986-87 group showed that the first and only significant discriminant function (Canonical R = .650, p < .001), contained only the spelling and reading subtests of the WRAT-R (structure coefficients: WRATSPEL = .958; WRATREAD = .910). The classification analysis found 82.1% of the cases were accurately classified. When the NLD-RegHS groups were added to the analysis, only the first discriminant function was found to significantly discriminate groups (Canonical R = .681, p < .001). All variables except work status contributed to the function, but WRAT-R subtests showed substantially stronger contributions to the function (structure coefficients: WRATSPEL = .923; WRATREAD = .901; WRATMATH = .417; SES =-.158; work status = .088). Again, a substantially lower percentage of accurate classification (59.2%) into groups was made, compared with the analysis of VT students alone.

Overall, these analyses suggest mixed differences across the two cohorts. Whereas the LD-VT and NLD-VT students in the 1985-86 cohort appeared to differ on more than the expected academic achievement variable, in particular on work status, those in the 1986-87 cohort differed only on academic achievement. Interestingly, when the comparisons included the NLD-RegHS students in both cohorts, the accuracy of classification greatly diminished; the largest number of errors occurred within the NLD groups.

Results of Cohorts at 6-, 12-, and 24-Month Follow-up. Among those students in the 1985-86 cohort, at 6 months postgraduation, the first and only significant function discriminating the LD-VT from the NLD-VT group (Canonical R = .338, p < .03) included current educational status (structure coefficient = .565), months employed (structure coefficient = .516), how informed of job (structure coefficient = .409), hours worked per week (structure coefficient = .061), and working status (structure coefficient = -.057). At 12 months postgraduation, the statistically significant discriminant function (Canonical R = .228, p < .05) contained only annual income (structure coefficient = 1.000). When the NLD-RegHS group was added to the analysis, the discriminant function differentiating groups was significant (Canonical R = .544, p < .001). With all variables employed in the function at 6 months, current educational status showed the strongest relationship with the function (structure coefficient = .731); and hours worked per week (structure coefficient = -.415) and working status (structure coefficient = -.178) showed relatively less strong contributions.

At the 12-month follow-up, both first and second discriminant functions were significant. Current educational programs (structure coefficient = .892), work status (structure coefficient = -.320), and future plans (structure coefficient = -.320), and annual income (structure coefficient = -.221) were part of the first significant function (Canonical R = .563, p < .001); and annual income (structure coefficient =.649) and living arrangements (structure coefficient = -.217) were part of the second discriminant function (Canonical R = .335, p < .01). Although these discriminant function analyses showed significance, classification analyses at each point in time showed accurate differentiation of LD-VT and NLD-VT groups no better than 63%. At 24-month follow-up, none of the discriminant functions significantly discriminated the LD-VT and NLD-VT groups. Adding the NLD-RegHS group resulted in a significant first discriminant function (Canonical R = .875, p < .001), with job/VT match, current educational programs, future plans, and annual income included in the function. Job/VT match showed the strongest relationship to the function (structure coefficient = .912), and the other variables showed much weaker relationships (current educational program = .281; future plans = 279; annual income = -.095). The subsequent classification analysis, however, again showed poor accuracy. In particular, there was a marked reduction in the accurate discrimination of the LD-VT from NLD-VT groups.

Results for the 1986-87 cohort were very similar at 6 and 12 monsths postgraduation. Although there were some differences in the variables found in the significant discriminant functions, the accuracy of classification into groups remained quite low.

Overall, the results of the statistical analyses seem to show that although there may be some differences between LD and NLD groups at graduation, these differences appear to diminish over time. It is important to note, however, that although the selection of variables for inclusion in the discriminant function analysis was based on previous research, results of the initial analyses conducted at graduation in the present study tended to substantiate these variables as significant discriminators across groups.

DISCUSSION

General Findings

Given the large number of questions asked on the YS, it is difficult to synthesize the findings and draw general conclusions. Certain questions, however, appear to be conceptually related to the effects of vocational-technical training on the postgraduation transition period. Specifically, comparisons of groups and cohorts on the variables of future plans, employment status, educational status at follow-up, annual income, and the relationship between trained occupation at the vocational-technical program and the participants's job postgraduation should suggest potential outcomes of such training on the transition period.

Whether students state that they have future plans or not appears to be an important variable at graduation and follow-up for both cohorts. In both years, only about 50% of the students with learning disabilities stated they had any particular future plans at graduation. Among the students without disabilities, in both vocational and regular high schools, a higher proportion of participants indicated they had future plans; for vocational-technical students, these plans often involved trade school or college. Despite the future plans of students both with and without disabilities, an examination of educational status during the follow-up period showed that few students in any group actually implemented their stated plans. Particularly alarming was the very low postgraduation enrollment rates of students with learning disabilities. While these students cited the need for academic skills more than any other type of skill in which they felt deficient at graduation and during follow-up, very few of these students appeared to be actively engaged in acquiring more skills. This is troublesome and strongly suggests the need for postgraduation planning and guidance.

When we look at who has helped these students the most postgraduation, especially for job-finding, it is clear and consistent across groups that the majority of help comes from friends, relatives, and fellow workers. This is consistent with other follow-up studies of special education populations (e.g., Hasazi, Gordon, & roe, 1985; Neel et al., 1988).

As a result of the way that most graduates find jobs, it was not surprising to find that only around 40%-50% of any year's cohort show even some relationship between what students were trained to do in school and what they were doing postgraduation. These findings are troublesome, also, because they raise serious questions about the purpose of the vocational-technical program. If the outcome of such a program is job readiness, the data from the project suggest strongly that these schools are doing a good job. Employment rates for students in all groups, including those with learning disabilities, were higher during follow-up than those reported by others in the literature. For example, Hazasi, Gordon, and Roe (1985) found employment rates of 61.5% for students who had attended resource room programs. Mithaug et al. (1985) reported employment rates of 69% for students with learning disabilities. Further, in the present study, regular high school students without disabilities tended to have somewhat higher unemployment rates compared with all students in vocational-technical programs. At graduation, a high percentage of students in all groups held at least part-time jobs, a variable found to be predictive of future employment (Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985).

If, however, one views the purpose of vocational-technical training as deisgned to train job-specific skills for entry-level employment into specific trades, the data are not encouraging. They indicate that graduates of vocational-technical programs, including students with learning disabilities, often do not end up in the jobs for which they were trained. Moreover, income levels among these students remain at minimum-wage levels up to 12 months after graduation. Although these wages are relatively higher than wages of those students graduating from regular high schools who do not attend college, it would be anticipated that earnings would be higher for these graduates, considering society's demands for persons well trained in trades.

One major implication of these findings raises questions about whether training in specific trades at vocational-technical programs is a good strategy for students in general, and for students with learning disabilities, in particular. Given that students expressed needs in academic skills, as well as job-related and job-specific areas, an alternative to attending vocational-technical programs may be to offer students opportunities to sample occupational trades, aiming for specific training to occur after graduation. This may also provide opportunities for students to make better decisions about their personal career goals, as well as afford them the chance to receive more training in academic skills. Clearly, the data raise questions about the ability of 17- and 18-year-old students, either with or without learning disabilities, to make a career choice that will continue postgraduation.

Limitations and Cautions

Several limitations of the present findings must be considered. First, the study had to rely on self-report survey data. This type of data has several biases, such as retrospective reporting and response set recording. Although the collection of follow-up data using telephone interviews rather than just mailing surveys may have helped to secure the best data possible, the accuracy of the reported data can always be questioned.

A second major limitation of the student was related to subject attrition. Of the original 143 students in the 1985-86 cohort, complete follow-up data were obtained for 103. For the 1986-87 cohort, there was only a 15% attrition rate. Although the attrition rate was evenly distributed across groups, the loss of 40 students between graduation and 24-month follow-up for the first year's cohort is substantial and could have been a biasing factor in the results. Attrition in both years was due mainly to the inability to locate subjects.

One additional limitation of the present study was the failure to include a comparison group of regular high school students with learning disabilities to determine the specific value for students with such disabilities of attending or not attending a vocational-technical program. Future studies need to provide this direct comparison to offer some insignt into this important question.

CONCLUSION

The findings of this study raise a number of questions and issues for future research. What happens to students both with and without learning disabilities during the postgraduation transition period? Does attending the vocational-technical program assist this transition? The answer to this question is highly complex and cannot be definitively answered by this study alone. Results of the study suggest that there is a high employment level for all students who attend vocational-technical programs after graduation, and these results appeared to be consistent with existing follow-up studies from other states (e.g., Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985; Mithaug et al., 1985; Schalock et al., 1986). Further, the employment levels appear to stabilize and maintain themselves across a 24-month, postgraduation period.

Unfortunately, the types of jobs and levels of earning that these students have do not match well with their training and anticipated incomes. Most students, up to 24 months after graduation, appear to be at or near minimum-wage-level jobs. Moreover, for the majority, their occupations are unrelated to their trained skills. Thus, serious questions may have to be raised about the nature and purpose of vocational-technical training for these students. It was found, however, that as low as the income levels may be for students--either with or without disabilities--attending such programs, their income levels were still higher than those students without disabilities who had attended regular high school programs and were not enrolled in college.

Overall, the present study offers some important findings related to the transition period for all students who attended vocational-technical programs. The study tends to suggest that the training offered by these programs may be somewhat beneficial, but that many students do not use the specific occupations in which they were trained when making their career choices. Extensive room for future research is evident. The data reported here can help us understand the role that vocational-technical training can and should play in the education of adolescents with learning disabilities.

REFERENCES

Clark, G. M., & Knowlton, H. E. (eds.). (1987). The transition from school to adult life. Exceptional Children [Special Issues], 53(6).

Hasazi, S. B., Gordon, L. R., & Roe, C. A. (1985). Factors associated with the employment status of handicapped youth exiting high school from 1979 to 1983. Exceptional Children, 51, 455-469.

Hasazi, S. B., Gordon, L. R., Roe, C. A., Finck, K., Hull, M., & Salembier, G. (1985). A statewide follow-up on post high school employment and residential status of students labeled "mentally retarded." Education and Training of the Mentally Retarded, 20, 222-234.

Jastak, S., & Wilkinson, G. S. (1984). Wide Range Achievement Test-Revised. Wilmington, DE: Jastak Associates.

Mithaug, D. W., Horiuchi, C. W., & Fanning, P. N. (1985). A report on the Colorado statewide follow-up survey of special education students. Exceptional Children, 51, 397-404.

Neel, R. S., Meadows, N., Levine, P., & Edgar, E. B. (1988). What happens after special education: A statewide follow-up study of secondary students who have behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 13, 209-216.

Okolo, C. M. (1988). Instructional environments in secondary vocational education programs: Implications for LD adolescents. Learning Disability Quarterly, 11, 136-148.

Okolo, C. M., & Sitlington, P. (1986). The role of special education in LD adolescents' transition from school to work. Learning Disability Quarterly, 9, 141-155.

Schalock, R. L., Wolzen, B., Ross, I., Elliott, B., Werbel, G., & Peterson, K. (1986). Post-secondary community placement for handicapped students: A five-year follow-up. Learning Disability Quarterly, 9,295-303.

Shapiro, E. s. (1988, September). Project TRANS: Vocational-technical training, self-management, and the learning disabled adolescent. (Final report for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.) Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University, Department of Counseling Psychology, School Psychology, and Special Education.

White, W.J., Schumaker, J.B., Warner, M.M., Alley, G. R., & Deshler, D. D. (1980). The current status of young adultls identified as learning disabled during their school career. (Research report No. 21). Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Institute for Research in Learning Disabilities.

Will M. (1984). Bridges from school to working life. Washington, DC: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education.

EDWARD S. SHAPIRO is a Professor and the Director of the School Psychology Program at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. FRANCIS E. LENTZ, JR. is an Associate Professor in the Department of School Psychology and Counseling at the University of cincinnati, Ohio.

This study was conducted as part of grant #G008530046 from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services to the authors. The opinions expressed here should not be considered representative of the views of the Department of Education. Special appreciation is given to J. Gary Lutz for his consultative assistance in conducting the statistical analyses. Copies of all Youth Surveys as well as a complete report examining all items included in the Survey (see Shapiro, 1988) are available from the first author.

Requests for reprints shouldl be sent to Edward S. Shapiro, Department of Counseling Psychology, School Psychology, and Special Education, Lehigh University, 111 Research Drive, Bethlehem, PA 18015.
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Author:Shapiro, Edward S.; Lentz, Francis E., Jr.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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