The Roles of Information and Experience in Improving Teachers' Knowledge and Attitudes About Mainstreaming

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    The Journal of Special online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/002246697901300412

    1979 13: 453J Spec EducAlex B. Johnson and Carol A. Cartwright

    Attitudes About MainstreamingThe Roles of Information and Experience in Improving Teachers' Knowledge and

    Published by:

    Hammill Institute on Disabilities


    can be found at:The Journal of Special EducationAdditional services and information for Alerts:

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    Alex B. Johnson, Ph.D.Bowling Green State University

    Carol A. Cartwright, Ph.D.The Pennsylvania State University

    Research on mainstreaming suggests thatteachers are often ill prepared, both in termsof knowledge and attitude, to teach handi-capped children. The present research in-vestigated whether information about andexperience with the handicapped would im-prove prospective regular education teachersattitudes toward and knowledge aboutmainstreaming. In addition, data were gatheredand reported on the relationship betweenteachers attitudes and knowledge and certaincharacteristics, including term standing, areasof specialization, and grade-point averages. Theresults indicated that the teachers did not

    increase their general knowledge about main-streaming as a result of only information aboutor only experience with the handicapped.However, attitudes toward mainstreamingsignificantly improved as a result of a combina-tion of information about and experience withthe handicapped and as a result of onlyinformation about the handicapped. Theresults also indicated that prospective teachersattitudes toward and knowledge about main-streaming were not significantly influenced bytheir term standings, areas of specialization, orgrade-point averages.

    The passage of P.L. 94-142, The Education For All Handicapped Children Actof 1975, represented, among other things, official recognition by the U.S. Con-gress of the growing dissatisfaction with the practice of placing handicappedchildren in self-contained special classrooms away from regular classrooms.This is embodied in the policy of &dquo;least restrictive alternative,&dquo; which is ofteninterpreted in educational practice as leading to or resulting in mainstreaming.As mildly and moderately handicapped students are placed in regular classes,

    an inevitable concomitant of mainstreaming is the training and retraining ofregular school personnel (Alexander & Strain, 1978; Reynolds & Birch, 1977).Although educators have proposed a number of administrative (i.e., The Cas-cade System of Special Education Service) and teacher-centered (i.e., resourceroom) strategies (Deno, 1970; Bruininks & Rynders, 1971; Cartwright,Cartwright, & Ysseldyke, 1973) for implementing mainstreaming, many reg-ular teachers are still concerned about having handicapped children in theirclasses. Martin (1976) suggested that this concern might be due, at least in part,to teachers feelings that they lack the skills to teach handicapped studentswithout additional training. Vacc and Kirst (1977) explored the attitudes of

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    regular teachers toward mainstreaming emotionally disturbed children. Theteachers they questioned believed emotianally disturbed children should besegregated in special classes, and 91% indicated that they needed special educa-tion courses to better prepare them for dealing with handicapped children.From another standpoint, Shotel, Iano, and McGettigan (1972) noted that theresistance of regular classroom teachers to contact with handicapped studentsreflects the fear that their classrooms will be disrupted.

    Educators generally agree that in order for mainstreaming to succeed, thetraining and retraining of regular class teachers should be given top priority.First, it will be extremely difficult for regular class teachers to accept mildly ormoderately handicapped children in their classrooms unless they have beenconvinced of its desirability (Alexander & Strain, 1978; MacMillan, Jones, &Meyers, 1976; Melcher, Note 1). Second, few regular class teachers have hadrequired coursework about handicapped children and have had little, if any,contact with them (Mac Millan, Jones, & Aloia, 1974). Finally, regular classteachers have a long record of resisting specialization of function and are notexempt from harboring negative attitudes toward handicapped individuals(Lortie, 1976; Martin, 1976; Scriven, 1976).

    Since teachers attitudes are important to the educational and psychologicaladjustment of the mainstreamed child, it is significant to learn what factors liebehind the development of positive attitudes (Shotel et al., 1972). In most ofthe research, a consistent finding is that regular teachers prefer special classplacement of children classified as mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed,and learning disabled rather than mainstreaming. Moore and Fine (1978), inan investigation of teachers attitudes, found regular educators were generallyless accepting of mainstreaming practices than were special educators. Theregular educators were more supportive of mainstreaming for learning-disabled than for mentally retarded children. MacMillan, Meyers, and Yoshida(1978) reported that even when children are being maintained in regularclasses, teachers perceive them to be considerably below the class average inboth social acceptance and academic achievement.

    Social psychologists Krech, Crutchfield, and Ballachey (1962) suggested thatattitude change is brought about through exposure to additional informationand direct experience with an attitude object. On a similar note, researchers inspecial education (Harasymiw & Horne, 1976; Klinger, 1972) concluded thatattitudes seem best modified when the shift is generated by new environmentalexperiences, such as a workshop designed to disseminate information about thehandicapped and offer direct experience with them. Other researchers(Donaldson & Martinson, 1977; Reid, Reid, Whorton, & Reichard, 1972) con-cluded that immediate and intensive contact with a variety of handicappedchildren is a beneficial practice that should be incorporated into teacher-training programs. A traditional teacher-training course, which often remainsat an abstract level, may not be adequate for changing attitudes toward andproviding the skill for mainstreaming.There have been relatively few systematic efforts designed to improve reg-

    ular classroom teachers attitudes and skill with regard to teaching handicapped

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    students. A recent review (Alexander & Strain, 1978) suggests that considerableresearch and development are needed regarding ways to improve the involve-ment of regular educators in mainstreaming.Training efforts usually focus on methods designed to give information

    about (e.g., courses, seminars, and workshops) or to provide experience with(e.g., student teaching, practicums, and clinical experiences) handicapped stu-dents. Methods combining information and experience are generally lacking. Itcan be assumed that such a combination may be more effective in improvingteachers attitudes toward and knowledge about mainstreaming than is trainingin only one dimension (e.g., information about or experience with).Other factors also need investigation. For example, although it has been sug-

    gested (Alper & Retish, 1972) that the formation of attitudes toward the handi-capped is not significantly influenced by the teachers choice of specialization,term standing, and academic grade-point average, these factors may influencethe improvement of attitude toward and skill in mainstreaming.


    The purpose of this investigation was to compare the efficacy of singletreatments of either information and experience or a combination treatment ofinformation and experience, and to ascertain which were most effective in im-proving prospective teachers attitudes toward and knowledge about main-streaming. In addition, data were gathered and reported on the relationshipbetween subjects attitudes and knowledge and certain subject characteristics:their major, term standing, and grade-point average.

    Effects of the treatments were examined by comparing prospective teacherswho received both information and experience with those who received eitherinformation, or experience.The investigation asked the following questions:1. Do prospective teachers increase their general knowledge about main-

    streaming when they take a course designed to give information about thehandicapped?

    2. Do prospective teachers attitudes towards mainstreaming improve whentheir knowledge about the handicapped increases?

    3. Do prospective teachers attitudes toward mainstreaming improve whenthey have experience with the handicapped?

    4. Is a combination of information and experience with the handicappedmore effective for improving prospective teachers attitudes and knowledgethan is a single treatment of either information or experience?


    ParticipantsThe experimental group consisted of 29 prospective regular classroom

    teachers enrolled simultaneously in Educational Adjustments for ExceptionalChildren, a course designed to provide information about mainstreaming themildly and moderately handicapped, and Experience with Exceptional Chil-

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    dren, a course designed to provide experience with the handicapped in a vari-ety of settings, both at The Pennsylvania State University. Two contrast groupsconsisted of (a) 27 prospective regular classroom teachers enrolled only in theInformation course and (b) 28 prospective regular classroom teachers enrolledonly in the Experience course.


    The participants were assessed both pre and post using the Rucker-GableEducational Programming Scale (RGEPS) (Rucker & Gable, 1974). Use of theRGEPS has been reported in numerous articles (Gillung & Rucker, 1976; Shaw& Gillung, 1975) and doctoral dissertations (Mosley, 1974; Myers, Note 2). De-veloped to measure attitudes toward and knowledge of appropriate main-stream settings, the RGEPS consists of 30 brief descriptions of actual childrenreferred for special education services. These items primarily describe childrenusually classified as mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, or learning dis-abled. Respondents are asked to choose what they feel is the best educationalsetting for each child at the present time from among continuum choices ofseven educational programs or services ranging from regular classroom place-ment to placement outside regular or special education.The RGEPS scores are based on the respondents placement choices as fol-

    lows. Knowledge scores are defined as agreement with special education ex-perts about placement. Attitude scores are thought of as a measure of the socialdistance teachers want to maintain between themselves and a variety of typesand degrees of handicapping conditions; attitude scores are also based onplacement choices. In addition to total knowledge and total attitude scores, sub-scores can be generated for knowledge about and attitudes toward each ofthree groups of handicapped children: those classified as mentally retarded,emotionally disturbed, and learning disabled. Split-half internal consistency re-liabilities range from .87 to .94 for total knowledge scales and from .86 to .94for total attitude scales.The RGEPS was administered to all participants at the beginning (pretest) of

    their respective courses and again at the end (posttest) of the courses, approxi-mately 10 weeks after the initial assessment.


    Information. As stated, the course Educational Adjustments for ExceptionalChildren was the Information treatment. This 3-credit course met twice weekly,once for 75 minutes and once for 150 minutes. It is primarily designed to helpprospective regular classroom teachers develop and understand group and in-dividualized diagnostic-prescriptive teaching techniques applicable to the in-struction of mildly and moderately handicapped learners.

    Experience. The course Experience with Exceptional Children was the Ex-perience treatment, also a 3-credit course. It provides supervised activities withhandicapped children in a variety of settings, including camps, schools, and/orinstitutions. The subjects traveled to their sites twice weekly and were assignedduties, by a cooperating teacher, similar to those of a classroom aide. In addi-

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    tion, the prospective teachers met in weekly seminars with the course coor-dinator to discuss their experiences, obtain information, and analyze possibleproblems.

    Information and Experience. Although the Experience course is considered aprerequisite to the Information course, trainees may enroll in both simultane-ously, and a great many do so. It was thus possible to assess subjects enrolled inthe Experience course alone, the Information course alone, or both.


    The computer program Analysis of Variance with Repeated Measures(ANOVR) (Games, Gray, & Herron, 1974) was used to analyze pretest andposttest RGEPS scores. Since the participants were already enrolled in intactclasses, random assignment was not possible. Thus, in order to support theassumption of homogeneous variances, it was necessary to determine whetherthe groups were homogeneous prior to treatments. The participants pretestknowledge and attitude scores were analyzed using ANOVR. The results re-vealed nonsignificant F-ratios (F = 2.25, df = 2/81, p > .05; F = 1.089, df =

    2/81, p > .05). The interpretation was that there were no differences amongthe Information and Experience group, the Information-only group, and theExperience-only group on the initial assessment.

    Analysis of posttest knowledge and attitude scores on the RGEPS also usedANOVR. In...


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