What Is Special About Special Education Research? Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Special Education, Aliens, Theory, Students, Independent, Challenges, Study, Validity

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2023/05/15

Special Education Research has undergone significant changes since the 1990s as the samples of students with learning difficulties used in studies decreased whilst samples of students at risks due to their personal circumstances and students with severe autism has increased (Mastropieri et al, 2009, p.105). This essay intends to explore what is so ‘special’ about special education research.

Challenges to research practices in special education

After examining different academic journals on the field of special education research, Mastropieri et al (2009) discovered that pre-post research designs, where researchers monitor the effects of new teaching methods on children, seemed to lack internal and external validity and that only eleven per cent of the journal articles that they examined throughout 1988-2006 contained pre-post research (p.101). Because of growing interest among policymakers on inclusive practice in schools, the percentage of intervention research explored in these journal articles was at an all-time low of almost sixteen per cent (Mastropieri et al, 2009, p.105). There seemed to a growing focus during this time on academic interventions designed for elementary, as opposed to secondary, aged children in order to ensure that academic interventions tackled with any problems in a child’s education sooner (Mastropieri et al, 2009, p.105). Learning disability journals such as LDRP and LDP are examples of journals that placed a huge emphasis on academic as opposed to social research, whereas journals such as BD placed more emphasis on behavioural disorders (Mastropieri et al, 2009, p.106).
Researchers can often find conducting descriptive research into comparing students with learning difficulties to students without learning difficulties less challenging to seek approval from school districts and Human Subject Review Boards than intervention research (Mastropieri et al, 2009, p.106). This is because descriptive research, used to describe the characteristics of a population, is often less intrusive than intervention research, which focuses on how a situation can improve after modification (Mastropieri et al, 2009, p.105). This presents a challenge for those who want to conduct research into special education as only a minority of researchers conduct intervention research compared to those who conduct descriptive research due to the less intrusive nature of the latter (Mastropieri et al, 2009, p.106). Many researchers struggle to perform research into the effects of technology by itself as they need to compare how technology is used to other methods of learning, which presents a challenge as researchers cannot evaluate the full impact of technology on students with special needs (Mastropieri et al, 2009, p.105). This shows how increasingly ‘special’ special education research is becoming as there are many challenges to overcome in regards to research.

The purpose of measurement

What makes special education research ‘special’ in terms of measurement is that it often uses data graphics to measure data in order to help researchers discover new facts and summarise empirical relationships (Kubina et al, 2010, p.117). Measurement involves responses of individuals to specific rules (Kubina et al, 2010, p.117). For example, a questionnaire typically includes a scoring key that provides rules on how to add up the separate scores into a total score (Rumrill, 2014, p.39).
In special education research, what makes this type of research ‘special’ is the use of non-standardised tests to measure variables as they provide ecological information about individual students (Rumrill, 2014, p.42). Special education research depends upon reliability in order to ensure the stability of scores, and this is done through different strategies such as test/re-test (variation of measurements taken by a single person on the same item in a short period of time), internal consistency (based on the correlations between different items on the same test) and inter-rater (scores of consistency between different judges) (Rumrill, 2014, p.70). Special education research also depends upon validity in order to judge the value of a test through content validity (the items of a test sample the appropriate content domain), criterion validity (relationship between test scores and external factors), and construct validity (underlying constructs) (Rumrill, 2014, p.70).

The role of theory and effective practices

In special education research, theory provides researchers with a primary purpose or rationale for conducting research which will then enable teachers to develop more effective practices to interact with their students (Rumrill, 2014, p.14). Theory provides the framework by which researchers explain phenomena happening all around them (Rumrill, 2014, p.14). This enables teachers to understand why certain methods of teaching did not work and it also guides teacher training programmes into improving the way teachers are trained so that those certain methods can be improved upon (Rumrill, 2014, p.14). This provides special education research with a more ‘special’ element in order to meet the needs of special needs students.
Theory is used to explain the results of a research enquiry and if the results are in accordance with the theory, this enables the research to be reinforced by the theory and the researcher can conclude the outcome of the experiment (Rumrill, 2014, p.14). This contributes towards the ‘specialness’ of special education research as teachers are able to improve their practice through theory and it is difficult for a teacher to understand why a theory is being tested without there being an actual theory tested (Rumrill, 2014, p.14).

Identification of Variables

Independent variables are employed by researchers in an experiment and can include input, cause and grouping, whereas dependent variables vary according to responses (Rumrill, 2014 , p.27). Synonyms for independent variables can consist of grouping, predictor and process, all of which can affect the dependent variable (Rumrill, 2014, p.27). Dependent variables were seen to influence the level of inclusion in the classroom through social skill and language development (Rumrill, 2014, p.14). However, special education research is ‘special’ compared to other research studies as ethical constraints can make it problematic to change the independent variable e.g. not all participants can be provided with a disability (Rumrill, 2014, p.27). Sometimes moderator variables, such as gender, can influence the views of teachers towards special needs students being included in mainstream or special education (Rumrill, 2014, p.27).
Cook et al (2009) found that forty-one of sixty-two studies in special education research failed to meet quality indicator standards due to failing to include independent variables, as did five out of twelve group experiment studies (p.377). Because this number is disproportionately high, this proves that there are many problems in special education research and a particular concern for those wishing to establish an Evidence Base of Practices in this field (Cook et al, 2009, p.377). This outcome may have emerged due to differences in the quality of the studies reviewed or in the rigour essential for the two sets of quality indicators, and possibly both (Cook et al, 2009, p.377). Either way, this demonstrates how important independent variables are to the outcome of different studies.

Statistical methods used in special education

Descriptive statistics consist of forms of concluding and presenting data, such as bar graphs, whereas inferential statistics involves the use of correlation testing (statistical relationships involving dependence) and regression analysis (estimating the relationship among variables) in order to reach conclusions on the basis of probability theory (Rumrill, 2014, p.52). These numerical scores are described in terms of the characteristics of their distribution which enables us to understand the outcome of a study as statistical procedures are founded upon the distribution of variables (Rumrill, 2014, p.52).
Individual difference variables alert researchers to a relationship between the status and dependent variables (Rumrill, 2014, p.29). They could be aspects of a person’s personality or socioeconomic status (Rumrill, 2014, p.29). Researchers in special education use non-random samples even though systematic sampling error may occur as variables are not considered (Rumrill, 2014, p.30). Other statistical methods include t-Test (one categorical independent, one continuous independent and tests mean differences between two groups) and factor analysis with a set of continuous variables and the dimensionality of a set of variables are assessed (Rumrill, 2014, p.30).


In conclusion, it is clear that what makes special education research ‘special’, compared to other forms of research, are the unique challenges that face those working in special education research and the measurements and theories used in special education research. Researchers need to use other forms of research, such as intervention research, in order to improve the quality of research in special education continues to improve.

Reference List:

Cook, B.G., Tankersley, M. & Landrum, T.J. (2009). Determining Evidence-Based Practices in Special Education. Council for Exceptional Children, 75(3), 365-383.
Kubina, R.M., Kostewicz, D.E. & Datchuk, S.M. (2010). Graph and Table Use in Special Education: A Review and Analysis of the Communication of Data. Evaluation & Research in Education, 23(2), 105-119.
Mastropieri, M.A, Marshak, L., Conners, N.A., Diamond, C.M., Simpkins, P., Bowdey, F.R, Fulcher, A., Scruggs, T.E. & Cuenca-Sanchez, Y. (2009). What is Published in the Field of Special Education? An Analysis of 11 Prominent Journals. Council for Exceptional Children, 76(1), 95-109.
Rumrill, P.D. (2014). Research in Special Education. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas.

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