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Evaluating a high school special education program using a comprehensive approach focused on outcomes

Kathleen L Vespia, Johnson & Wales University


The evaluation of special education programs has focused primarily on process indicators, such as compliance, while neglecting outcome indicators focused on student performance (Johnson, 1998; McLaughlin & Hopfengardner Warren, 1992). With the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the upcoming reauthorization of IDEA, a greater emphasis is being placed on accountability and evidence of learning for special education. The purpose of this research was to evaluate the effectiveness of a high school special education program for students with emotional and behavioral disorders using an evaluation model not previously used for outcome-based program evaluation. The new model employed the conceptual framework of the Guskey (2000) and Kirkpatrick (1998) models of program evaluation and involved five levels: students' reactions (Level 1), students' learning (Level 2), organizational support (Level 3), students' behavior (Level 4), and extended student results (Level 5). The research included designing a new model of program evaluation to focus on student learning and the outcomes of a special education high school program, applying the model, and making subsequent recommendations for its use by schools and districts. Data were collected through survey questionnaires, interviews, and an analysis of documentation and archival records. A research diary was used to record participant observation data for subsequent reflection and analysis of the program evaluation. Subjects for the study were 11 recent graduates of the high school special education program, their parents, 6 district level school staff, and 2 school committee members. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, qualitative data analysis methods, and a program logic model. The study revealed that the model was effective for examining student-learning outcomes, but lacked measurement of a critical first step in the learning process of adolescent students. A revised six level model is proposed that recognizes the critical importance of adolescent students establishing a sense of purpose and setting goals to direct learning. The data obtained from using this model can be shared with stakeholders for evaluating the effectiveness of the special education program's efforts and for developing improved strategies for promoting teaching and learning.

Subject Area

Special education|Educational psychology|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Vespia, Kathleen L, "Evaluating a high school special education program using a comprehensive approach focused on outcomes" (2004). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI3124565.