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When cooperative learning improves the achievement of students with mild disabilities: a response to Tateyama-Sniezek.

The article by Karen Tateyama-Sniezek in the February 1990 issue of Exceptional Children raises the question of whether cooperative learning can have a positive impact on the academic achievement of mainstreamed students with mild disabilities. This is an important question and one that in today's focus on mainstreaming takes on added significance. However, we would like to offer a response to the article that will clarify how cooperative learning can improve academic achievement of these students.

It is our view that Tateyama-Sniezek did not provide an adequate balance among the various types of cooperative learning in the theoretical background of her article. There are many types of cooperative learning, some emphasizing students' academic achievement gains to a much greater extent than others (Sharan, 1980; Slavin, 1983, 1990). This overgeneralization is seen in the conclusion, which stated that in terms of the effectiveness of cooperative learning, "school achievement of handicapped students is in fact a goal secondary to improving [their] interactions and relationships" (Tateyama-Sniezek, 1990, p. 436). This statement ignores the differences in cooperative learning programs and the research that has been done on what common components of these programs have a positive impact on achievement. In a previous review of cooperative learning, Slavin (1983) found that two components were necessary for cooperative learning to be effective in producing achievement gains: group rewards and individual accountability. Certainly if these constructs are important for the academic achievement of students without disabilities, they should be considered in a review of cooperative learning and achievement for those with disabilities.

To present the positive achievement potential of cooperative learning for students with disabilities, we would like to reconsider the table presented by Tateyama-Sniezek. However, we would like to make a few corrections and additions to the original table to present more information in a clear format.


First, we present all comparison statistics (e.g., F ratios and t values) and their significance level. In the original article, the author made entries in the "Significance" column for those comparisons that were nonsignificant, leaving blanks for the significant effects. We believe that a more balanced presentation would include the significance levels of all comparisons of achievement in all studies.


We believe the table would benefit greatly from presenting the effect sizes of the studies-a methodology standard in meta-analyses, that is becoming common in narrative reviews as well. An effect size provides a measure of the magnitude of difference between the treatment groups in standard deviation units. Effect sizes can be computed from means and standard deviations of the treatment groups (mean treatment minus mean control divided by standard deviation of control), from the test statistic and group sizes, or other information (see Glass, McGaw, & Smith, 198 1).

This methodology provides more information to the reader, particularly where small sample sizes may inhibit studies with large differences from attaining classical levels of significance. This often happens in studies of mainstreamed handicapped students, where there are typically only a few such students in each class. In some cases, the original articles did not provide enough information to compute effect sizes. For these studies, we entered a plus, minus, or zero to indicate group mean differences that were significantly positive, negative, or nonsignificant differences, respectively. We do not suggest that researchers throw out stringent requirements for significance, but rather that researchers and, particularly, reviewers include effect sizes as additional information (see Slavin, 1986).


One minor change in the selection of studies for inclusion in this review is that the achievement measures used as outcomes be given as individual measures to students, and not as cooperative group activities. Clearly, students in cooperative groups who are allowed to work together on a common assessment will score better than those in individualistic classes who work alone on the assessments (see Slavin, 1990). Because of this additional selection criterion, one study (Armstrong, Johnson, & Balow, 1981) was excluded from entries in the Result," Significance," and "Effect Size" categories.


For clarity, we removed one comparison, handicapped versus nonhandicapped (H vs NH), from the table's "Result" category. It is our opinion that this adds little to the information and is a digression from the intent of the review.

In addition to these changes, we added one more article that was missed in Tateyama-Sniezek's extensive review, one evaluating a cooperative learning approach to teaching reading and writing. This research involved two studies: Study One (Slavin, Stevens, & Madden, 1988) did not mainstream mildly handicapped students for reading instruction; Study Two (Stevens, Madden, Slavin, & Farnish, 1987) did mainstream handicapped students for reading instruction. Only in the latter case, where handicapped students were mainstreamed, did we find significant positive effects on handicapped students' achievements. Since Study Two was published before the author's submission date, we feel it should be included.

Our re-creation of the table of studies presented in Tateyama-Sniezek (1990) looks essentially as previously presented, and one could easily conclude that the effects on handicapped students are inconclusive (see Table 1) . However, as previously stated, if one considers what we know about academically effective cooperative learning models, a different picture emerges. As previously noted, Slavin's 1983, 1990) reviews of cooperative learning models found that two components clearly discriminated academically effective models from those with inconclusive results: individual accountability and group rewards. These two components give students an incentive to work together and to provide elaborated explanations to their peers that are essential for learning by all members of the group (Slavin, 1987; Webb, 1985).

When the studies in Table I are categorized by whether the cooperative learning model includes individual accountability and group rewards, only studies 7, 10, 11, 12, and 13 use models that include these two critical components. These are also the studies with by far the longest durations; their mean duration is 15 weeks, while that of all other studies is 12 days. Of those five studies, four specifically tested the model's impact on the academic achievement of handicapped students. Two found statistically significant and large increases in achievement, with effect sizes ranging from .46 to .90 standard deviations greater than the control group. The other two studies did not find significant results, but did find generally positive effect sizes, ranging from .1 4 to nearly a full standard deviation greater than the control group. The median effect size across the four studies is .48, a substantial difference by any standard.

Though these results are not entirely consistent-and given that they are based on only four studies-we agree with Tateyama-Sniezek's previous conclusion that more research is needed. However, these studies yield important information about the positive impact cooperative learning can have on the academic performance of mainstreamed students with mild disabilities. When cooperative learning instructional processes include individual accountability and group rewards, they are likely to have a positive effect on the achievement of students both with and without disabilities.


Armstrong, B., Johnson, D., & Balow, B. (1981). Effects of cooperative vs. individualistic learning experiences on interpersonal attraction between learning-disabled and normal-progress elementary school students. Contemporary Educational Psychology,, 6, 102-109.

Cosden, M., Pearl, R., & Bryan, T. (1985). The effects of cooperative and individual goal structures on learning disabled and nondisabled students. Exceptional Children, 52, 103-114.

Glass, G., McGaw, B., & Smith, M. 1981). Meta-analysis in social research. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Johnson, D., & Johnson, R. (1982). The effects of cooperative and individualistic instruction on handicapped and nonhandicapped students. Journal of Social Psychology., 118, 257-268.

Johnson, D., & Johnson, R. (1984). Building acceptance of differences between handicapped and nonhandicapped students: The effects of cooperative and individualistic instruction. Journal of Social Psychology,, 122, 257-267.

Johnson, D., & Johnson, R. (1985). Mainstreaming hearing-impaired students: The effects of effort in communicating on cooperation and interpersonal attraction. Journal of Psychology, 119, 31-44.

Johnson, R., Johnson, D., DeWeert, N., Lyons, V., & Zaidman, B. (1983). Integrating severely adaptively handicapped seventh-grade students into constructive relationships with nonhandicapped peers in science class. American Journal of AMental Deficiency 87, 611-618.

Johnson, R., Johnson, D., Scott, L., & Ramolae, B. (1985). Effects of single-sex and mixed-sex cooperative interaction on science achievement and attitudes and cross-handicap and cross-sex relationships. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 22, 207-220.

Madden, N., & Slavin, R. (1983). Effects of cooperative learning on the social acceptance of mainstreamed academically handicapped students. Journal of Special Education 17, 171-182.

Sharan, S. (1980). Cooperative learning in small groups: Recent methods and effects on achievement, attitudes, and ethnic relations. Review of Educational Research, 50, 241-27 1.

Slavin, R. (1983). When does cooperative learning increase student achievement? Psychological Bulletin 94, 429-445.

Slavin, R. (1986). Best-evidence synthesis: An alternative to meta-analytic and traditional reviews. Educational Researcher, 15, 5-11.

Slavin, R. (1987). Cooperative learning: Where behavioral and humanistic approaches to classroom motivation meet. Elementary School Journal, 88, 29-37.

Slavin, R. (1990). Cooperative learning: Theory, research, and practice. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Slavin, R., Leavey, M., & Madden, N. (1984). Combining cooperative learning and individualized instruction: Effects on student achievement, attitudes, and behaviors. Elementary School Journal, 84,409-422.

Slavin, R., Madden, N., & Leavey, M. (1984a). Effects of cooperative learning and individualized instruction on mainstreamed students. Exceptional Children, 50, 434-443.

Slavin, R., Madden, N., & Leavey, M. 1984b). Effects of team assisted individualization on the mathematics achievement of handicapped and nonhandicapped students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 813-819.

Slavin, R., Stevens, R., & Madden, N. (1988). Accommodating student diversity in reading and writing instruction: A cooperative learning approach. Remedial and Special Education, 9, 60-66.

Smith, K., Johnson, D., & Johnson, R. 1982). Effects of cooperative and individualistic instruction on the achievement of handicapped, regular, and gifted students. Journal of Social Psychology, 1 16, 277-283.

Stevens, R., Madden, N., Slavin, R., & Famish, A. (1987). Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition: Two field experiments. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 433-454.

Tateyama-Sniezek, K. (1990). Cooperative learning:

Does it improve the academic achievement of students with handicaps? Exceptional Children, 56,426-437.

Webb, N. (1985). Student interactions and learning in small groups: A research summary. in R. Slavin, S. Sharan, S. Kagan, R. Hertz-Lazarowitz, C. Webb, & R. Schmuck (Eds.), Learning to cooperate, cooperating to learn. New York: Plenum.


ROBERT J. STEVENS is a Research Scientist and ROBERT E. SLAVIN is a Principal Research Scientist at the Center for Research on Effective Schooling for Disadvantaged Students at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.

Exceptional Children, Vol. 57, No. 3, pp. 276-280. [c]1990 The Council for Exceptional Children.
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Title Annotation:Karen Tateyama-Sniezek
Author:Stevens, Robert J.; Slavin, Robert E.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Previous Article:Observations to accompany analyses of the Tenth Annual Report to Congress.
Next Article:The Learning Mystique: A Critical Look at "Learning Disabilities."

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