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In this article, we present findings from a study that compared academic progress over 5 years for students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) and students with learning disabilities (LD). Additionally, a set of factors related to academic achievement (attendance, behavior offenses, type of special education setting, school mobility, and early retention) were examined as to their contribution to achievement over time for these two groups of students. Findings indicated that students with LD made significant progress over time in reading, and this progress was associated with receiving less full-time special education services. Similar findings, however, were not found for students with EBD. For both groups of students, early retention was associated with lower achievement over time.
THE INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES Education Act, originally enacted in 1975, required students with disabilities to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Since the law's passage, however, there has been widespread disagreement about how LRE should be interpreted and implemented. Central to this debate is a focus on the place (e.g., general education, resource room, separate setting) where students with special needs should be educated (Daniel & King, 1998). Current sentiment appears to favor integrated settings for students with mild disabilities (Waldron & McLeskey, 1998), and in recent years, there has been a steady increase in the percentage of students with disabilities educated in general classroom settings (Cook, Gerber, & Semmel, 1997; McLeskey, Henry, & Hodges, 1998). On the other hand, apprehension remains as to whether inclusive settings can best meet the needs of all students with special needs, and some researchers continue to argue for the preservation of an array of services to support the individual needs of students with mild disabilities (e.g., Klingner, Vaughn, Hughes, Schumm, & Elbaum, 1998; Manset & Semmel, 1997; Marston, 1996).
Concern about appropriate placements for students with mild disabilities has prompted research exploring similarities and differences among the various special education classifications (Luebke, Epstein, & Cullinan, 1989). Such information is valuable to the field because it can provide insight into which types of special needs are better served in inclusive environments. A number of investigators, for example, have compared the educational characteristics of students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) and students with learning disabilities (LD; e.g., Glassberg, Hooper, & Mattison, 1999; Margalit, 1989). Researchers have demonstrated that students with LD and students with EBD share a number of similarities in school functioning, including below-average achievement in content area courses, deficits in basic academics, a general lack of motivation toward school, and deficiencies in school-related skills such as note taking and test taking (Maheady, Sacca, & Harper, 1988). Although LD and EBD represent two distinct special education categories, it is generally understood that there is some degree of overlap in their educational needs.
This area of research, however, has not produced definitive results. For example, a study by Scruggs and Mastropieri (1986), investigating academic achievement using Stanford Achievement Test (SAT; Harcourt Brace Educational Measurement, 1996) scores, did not uncover substantive differences in the academic functioning of these two groups. On the other hand, studies by Luebke et al. (1989) and Epstein and Cullinan (1983) found that students with EBD demonstrated higher academic performance than students with LD. Conversely, Gajar (1980) found that students with LD were underachieving in reading to a lesser extent than students with EBD. In another study, Gajar (1979) reported mixed results, in which, compared to students with LD, students with EBD performed higher in math, lower in reading, and the same in spelling. Although now dated, collectively, the research comparing the academic achievement of these two groups of students has provided equivocal findings, and several researchers have stated that the available evidence is inconclusive (Luebke et al., 1989; Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1986). Moreover, the available research has tended to focus on achievement at a single point in time, and there is a paucity of information comparing academic progress over time for these two groups of students.
In contrast to these cross-sectional studies, the few existing longitudinal studies have revealed definitive differences in the long-term outcomes of students with EBD and students with LD. Rates of school completion, independent living, competitive employment, and post-secondary educational enrollment 3 to 5 years after leaving school are lower for students with EBD than students with LD (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996; Wagner, 1995a). Additionally, students with EBD have higher arrest rates (Doren, Bullis, & Benz, 1996) and dropout rates (U.S. Department of Education, 1998) than students with LD. In general, research findings have demonstrated that, as a group, students with EBD tend to have the lowest or most inferior adult adjustment outcomes of any disability group (Kutash & Duchnowski, 1997; Wagner, 1995b). According to Wagner (1995b), many of these students flounder after leaving secondary school before "sinking into unemployment and/or criminal justice system involvement" (p. 105).
In sum, although students with EBD and students with LD present some similar characteristics, the degree to which these two groups are homogeneous with regard to academic performance and achievement has not been clearly established. On the other hand, evidence indicates that students with EBD appear to attain less positive adult outcomes than students with LD. Such outcomes may be associated with academic performance because the inability to acquire basic academic skills while in school can lead to adjustment difficulties in adulthood (Epstein, Kinder, & Bursuck, 1989; Jimerson, Egeland, & Teo, 1999). As Rosenblatt and Rosenblatt (1999) aptly observed, "Success in school provides the foundation for a productive future for children and adolescents" (p. 21). Academic achievement, which has been called the premiere outcome of schooling (Shriner, 1994), also is related to many of the experiences that children and youth have while in school. It is low achievement, for example, that differentiates students with disabilities from students without disabilities (Madden & Slavin, 1983). However, understanding the course of academic achievement is complex because achievement is a multidimensional variable that has been connected with many factors, such as attendance (e.g., Ehrenberg, Ehrenberg, Rees, & Ehrenberg, 1989) and behavior (e.g., Truesdell & Abramson, 1992). Thus, investigating academic achievement over time and exploring factors that may be related to achievement may provide specific information about the differential progress of students with EBD as compared to students with LD.
A better understanding of the similarities and differences in children who have LD and children who have EBD also has important implications for policy development and practice that can have a significant impact on the lives of these children. If, for example, children who are labeled EBD are systematically placed into programs that do not emphasize academic skill development, their poor academic achievement might be exacerbated by the special education intended to help them (Knitzer, Steinberg, & Fleisch, 1990). The poor social outcomes associated with academic failure will be highly likely for students who experience ineffective and/or inappropriate education (Bower, 1995; Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey, 1995). However, more systematic information is needed about the typical curricular and instructional strategies in programs for students with EBD and LD as well as more information about the academic progress these two groups of students make over time.
In the present study, we sought to explore the nature of differences in academic progress over time for students with EBD and students with LD by examining changes in standardized math and reading achievement test scores between kindergarten or first grade and fifth or sixth grades. We examined the progress of students with EBD or LD served in programs that reflected the standard offerings of a local school district and were in compliance with state curriculum guidelines. Additionally, for both …