Emotionally Disturbed Students

Students with emotional and behavioral disorders (E/BD) frequently exhibit academic deficits alongside their behavioral deficits, particularly in the area of reading; however, there are very few studies examining ways to address the reading problems of this population of students at the middle and high school level. The academic deficits exhibited by students with emotional and behavioral disorders (E/BD) are well documented in research literature.

As outlined in the federal definition of emotional disturbance, students with this disorder demonstrate an inability to learn and, as a result, pose instructional challenges alongside the behavioral problems that they exhibit in the school environment. Many of these students require intensive instruction to maintain the academic skills they have been taught and to improve their academic deficits. For many students with E/BD, achievement problems are particularly troublesome in the area of reading (Maughan, Pickles, Hagell, Rutter, & Yule, 1996).

Unfortunately, there has been very little published research in the area of reading instruction with this population of students. In their review of reading interventions in the area of E/BD, Coleman and Vaughn (2000) identified only eight published studies that reported the results of reading interventions for students with E/BD. The majority of these studies were conducted with students younger than 12 years of age. The need for additional research in the area of reading instruction is particularly true for adolescents with E/BD.

The reading failure of secondary students with behavioral problems has been consistently documented and, as reported in the findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study (Malmgren, Edgar, & Neel, 1998), these reading deficits likely contribute to the dismal outcomes for these students such as high dropout rates, grade retention, and overall poor achievement. In addition, the absence of empirically derived reading practices for older students with E/BD is particularly problematic given the current emphasis on achieving state curriculum standards and participating in content-area learning (Deshler et al. 001).

As noted earlier, students identified with E/BD typically show significant deficits in the area of reading. This is particularly true for secondary-age students with this condition. In a recently completed study (Wehby, Lunsford, & Phy, 2004), 21 high school students with E/BD were compared to a sample of typically developing students, matching on the grade-level reading ability of the high school students. Given the reading deficits of the high school students, the matched sample consisted of students in second through sixth grade.

Results showed that the secondary group of students with E/BD performed significantly lower on word attack skills, reading fluency and accuracy, and overall reading rate. In a related study, Wehby (2004) reported that students with E/BD educated in a self-contained school scored significantly lower on a variety of academic measures, including reading, when compared to a similar sample of students with E/BD who were placed in self-contained classrooms located on general education campuses.

From these data, it appears that older students with E/BD and those placed in restrictive settings have a history of academic failure associated with their existing instructional programs. As a result, studies are needed that document the responsiveness of this population to intense, instructional procedures using empirically validated techniques. Although researchers are aware of the reading failure that secondary students with E/BD frequently experience, the empirical research on how to intervene effectively to improve the reading deficits exhibited by these students is sparse.

The studies that do exist have utilized interventions that range from single component programs that focus on a particular skill level to more comprehensive reading curricula (Malmgren, 1998). Even though some positive results have been reported, a number of methodological limitations inhibit the ability to make generalized statements about reading instruction for secondary students with E/BD.

Thus, although suggestions for improving the reading performance of younger elementary-aged students with E/BD have been developed (Coleman & Vaughn, 2000), a specific set of guidelines does not exist for these students in junior high or high school settings. Although there is limited work in the area of reading instruction for older students with E/BD, there is some evidence that students with high incidence disabilities do respond to explicit reading programs.

Corrective Reading is a comprehensive reading program specifically designed for students in upper elementary school, middle school, and high school who have deficits in reading recognition and comprehension. Based on the principles of Direct Instruction, this program provides an instructional script that enables teachers with varying degrees of experience to direct the lessons consistently and with higher integrity (Harris, Marchand-Martella, & Martella, 2000).

Corrective Reading has demonstrated efficacy in increasing the reading achievement of adolescent students both with reading deficits and with identified disabilities such as emotional disturbance and learning disabilities. In one such study (Malmgren & Leone, 2000), Corrective Reading was implemented as a significant component of an intensive 6-week reading intervention with a group of 45 incarcerated adolescents with reading deficits.

Analysis of the results of pre- and posttest standardized assessments revealed that significant gains were noted in the areas of oral reading rate, accuracy of oral reading, and rate and accuracy of oral reading combined. No marked improvement was exhibited on the comprehension subtest, indicating that more intervention time may have been warranted to effect change in this particular area. Although older students with E/BD exhibit a range of reading problems, a hallmark characteristic of poor readers is the inability to read text fluently.

As noted in National Reading Panel Report (2000), fluency is a key component in the effort to improve reading achievement. Meyer and Felton (1999) noted the need for fluency training alongside decoding and word identification training for poor readers. Specifically, reading fluency influences overall reading ability in several important ways. First, increasing the speed and accuracy with which a person reads affects how well he or she is able to comprehend the text.

When poor readers expend most of their energy and attention on decoding individual words, they often have trouble remembering what they have read and the meaning of the text gets lost in the process (Homan, Klesius, & Hite, 1993). As such, increased fluency is necessary for readers to focus on reading for meaning. In particular, several studies have documented the correlation between increases in fluency and reading comprehension in students with learning disabilities. Second, reading fluency can affect a student’s motivation to read.

The greater the difficulty a student experiences with reading more quickly and accurately, the more likely that student is to lose the motivation to read, resulting in fewer reading opportunities for these students when compared with their grade level peers (Perfetti, 1992). Unfortunately, exposure to a single standard reading curriculum may not be sufficient to address the significant deficits that students with E/BD exhibit. Although the research base on improving the reading fluency of students with E/BD is limited, there has been some research in this area.

These studies incorporated a variety of reading fluency interventions from using a taped-word intervention to improve sight word reading to the use of peer tutors in teaching students to read fluently. Two of these studies investigated the effect of previewing on oral reading performance, and another implemented a repeated reading intervention to improve reading fluency (Scott & Shearer-Lingo, 2002). Skinner, Smith, and McLean (1994) investigated the effect of an immediate and delayed time interval to increase speed in word reading.

Collectively, the results from these studies revealed that students were able to read more words correctly per minute as a result of the various interventions. One intervention that has been found effective in improving the reading fluency of students with and without disabilities is repeated reading. Repeated reading is the rereading of a short, meaningful passage several times until a satisfactory level of fluency is reached. Since its development, repeated reading has been investigated by many researchers using variations from the original definition to determine the effectiveness of this intervention for improving oral reading fluency.

Research has been conducted on the most effective number of re-readings and the effectiveness of assistance or modeling when conducting repeated reading. Results of interventions using repeated reading with elementary age readers have been promising (Levy et al. , 1997) but there is limited information on the utility of this intervention implemented with middle and high school students with high incidence disabilities. Students with E/BD experience numerous difficulties including significant struggles in the area of reading.

Although there have been a number of reading interventions that have been empirically validated with students identified as having wading disabilities, little of this work has been conducted with students identified as E/BD. The E/BD research literature becomes even narrower when examining the academic needs of junior high and high school students with E/BD. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of a repeated reading intervention, used in conjunction with a systematic reading package, on the oral reading fluency of junior high students receiving services for E/BD.

The studies conducted in this area demonstrated that supplementing a standard reading curriculum with fluency building activities can improve the reading performance of students with E/BD. These researches extend the existing research on the effectiveness of Corrective Reading and repeated reading programs by applying these approaches to older students with reading and behavior problems. Strength of the studies is that psychologists were able to determine students’ responses to a consistent, teacher-implemented reading program prior to evaluating the effects of the repeated reading program.

Previous researches have noted the lack of instructional programming in classrooms for students with E/BD (Wehby, 2003). Although the teacher in the present study implemented the CR intervention, she needed assistance by our research team in initiating the reading program. Future research should investigate the barriers to the implementation of effective academic programming in classrooms for students with E/BD. There has been speculation that some of the inappropriate behavior of students with E/ BD is related to the academic difficulties characteristic of this population.

It has been stated that research needs to be conducted to determine the effect of academically based interventions on inappropriate social behavior (Popkin & Skinner, 2003). Although not reported, extensive behavioral recordings were conducted on the aggressive and disruptive behavior of the participants during reading instruction and little change was found in the frequency of these behaviors. Possible reasons for this finding include insensitive observational measures or the absence of significant increases in reading levels.

Despite the lack of behavioral improvement, we believe that continued work in this area is needed to better understand the relation between problem behavior and academic achievement. Finally, as noted above, fluency plays an important role in both the ability to read as well as the ability to comprehend what has been read. Improvements were observed in both of these areas with the use of repeated reading. As implemented in this study, the repeated reading intervention was relatively straightforward.

However, given the complexities of working with this population of students, outside resources were needed to execute the fluency intervention. Future work in this area should investigate the ability to use existing classroom resources to provide the supplemental instruction needed for this population of students. Summary Reading is an area of great concern for junior high school students with E/BD. It is hoped that research on reading fluency, reading comprehension, and reading strategies will lead to a greater focus on the academic needs of this population.

School psychologists could play a valuable role to this end by using the empirical literature addressing the reading needs of students with E/BD to make recommendations to teachers on how to incorporate these validated practices in their classrooms. The reading intervention outlined in this paper demonstrates that positive growth in reading can be obtained for junior high students with E/BD. Despite the limitations mentioned previously, this research offers a promising direction for research in the area of E/BD.

Specific areas for future investigation should focus on the most effective means of improving the reading rate and comprehension in students with E/BD. This might include additional supplemental programs in combination with contingent reinforcement procedures for both fluency in and comprehension of reading material. The discouraging outcomes often associated with students with E/BD necessitate the need for effective academic instruction that supports and enables these students to experience greater success in the school environment.

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