Mesosystem Variables and Schools' Learning Disabilities Prevalence Rates
Since the inception of the 1974 Education for all Handicapped Children legislation, the number of students referred and placed in special education has been steadily rising. The largest increase is in the learning disabilities category. With the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 and the federal requirements for schools under the No Child Left Behind law, schools are required to take a closer look at their rising special education numbers and identify alternative solutions for children's needs other than a certain placement in special education.
There are different levels of variables that influence a teacher's decision to refer a student to special education. This study aimed to understand the mesosystem school variables that influence this process. Using two scales, the Organizational Health Inventory for Elementary Schools (OHI-E) and the Collective Efficacy Scale (CE-Scale) this study used purposive sampling to survey ten elementary school faculties in a large suburban district in Virginia. LD prevalence rates were collected for all elementary schools in the district. Data was analyzed to answer the following questions:
(a) How does school organizational health correlate with the number of students referred to special education in a given school? (b) How does collective teacher efficacy correlate to the number of students referred for special education services?
The overall return rate for the survey was 87% with 490 teacher surveys completed. Teachers did not have many teaching years in their buildings. Teachers with twelve or more teaching years experience were more likely to refer students to special education. Collective teacher efficacy scores were correlated to school health scores but not to LD prevalence rates. Higher institutional integrity was seen in smaller schools. Title I schools did not correlate with higher LD prevalence rates. Two variables predicted referrals to special education; years teaching in combination with teacher efficacy resulted in greater referrals to special education.
The findings of this study may aid educational leaders in making sound changes within school environments to affect the school's LD prevalence rate, addressing particularly teacher efficacy and referral habits of more experienced teachers.