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A student perspective on programs serving students with emotional or behavioral disorders

Ronald Stahley, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Individuals with emotional or behavioral disorders (E/BD) characteristically have experienced the least favorable outcomes of any group of individuals with disabilities. Learning disabilities frequently co-exist with E/BD and result in problems mastering academic content (Coleman & Vaughn, 2000). As a result of their academic difficulties, many students with E/BD do not finish high school. In fact, research shows that more than 50 percent of students with E/BD drop out (Chesapeake Institute, 1994, Rylance, 1997; U.S. Department of Education, 1998). This dissertation presents a student perspective on how well current practice allows for successful transitions for students with emotional or behavioral disorders from high school programs to post-high school educational and career opportunities. This study obtained the student point of view of program activities that they consider most important to high school completion and post-high school educational and employment opportunities. A phenomenological approach is used to investigate the research question related to program features leading to positive outcomes for students with emotional or behavioral disorders. The major source of data is semi-structured interviews of former students of E/BD programs. Phenomenological, qualitative research methods were used to examine student perceptions of E/BD program effectiveness with a focus on current services and program activities. The study found that those participants who graduated from a program and successfully entered college or the workforce have a strong sense of the intrinsic value of academics, strong pro-social skills and have been exposed to relevant career development programs. The findings identify program features that affect the quality of services and activities as perceived by the former students themselves. The use of an individual-interview process that focuses on the perceptions of students assumes that in order to be effective, interventions must respond to the perceived needs of the students. Programs that fail to foster such satisfaction may be inadequate, given the field's expressed ambition that students have access to an appropriate program tailored to their unique needs. The results have both practice and policy implications for program design that will result in improved outcomes for students with emotional or behavioral disorders.

Subject Area

School administration|School counseling|Special education

Recommended Citation

Stahley, Ronald, "A student perspective on programs serving students with emotional or behavioral disorders" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3325150.