Dr Danielle Tracey
Danielle Tracey completed her PhD through the SELF Research Centre in 2003. Her thesis investigated the self-concepts of pre-adolescents with mild intellectual disability, with particular reference to structural and measurement issues, and the impact of the inclusion movement as supported by the big fish little pond effect. Other research interests include the social and emotional development of children with special needs, and transitions such as returning to school after serious illness and starting school.
A major concern facing special education researchers, policy makers, and practitioners is how best to educate students with mild intellectual disability. Debate has raged as to whether regular classes or special classes are the ideal educational placement for these students. Fundamental to this debate are the anticipated effects of placement on students’ self-concepts with opposing rationales being advocated based upon two competing self-concept theories. The big fish little pond effect (BFLPE) based on social comparison theory predicts that students with mild intellectual disability will have higher academic self-concepts when in a special class with other students with similar disability. In contrast, labeling theory predicts that placing students with mild intellectual disability in special classes will lower their self-concepts. Research has not resolved the validity of these disparate theories due to methodological problems inherent in this field of investigation.
The purpose of this study was to address some of these issues by capitalising on and extending recent advances in self-concept theory and research to preadolescents with mild intellectual disability by: a) identifying a psychometrically sound, multidimensional self-concept measurement instrument for this population; b) critically examining the structure and nature of self-concepts for this population; c) fully investigating the effects of regular class placement and special class placement upon students’ self-concepts, social comparison processes, academic achievement, and stigmatisation in the context of a sophisticated research design; and d) evaluating the legitimacy of the competing theories of the BFLPE and labeling theory.
Studies 1 and 2 were based on the self-concept responses of 211 students with mild intellectual disability in Years 2–6 (7 to 13 years of age). Study 1 evaluated the psychometric properties of the Self Description Questionnaire I – Individual Administration (SDQI-IA) and examined the structure and nature of self-concepts for this population. Study 2 tested the competing theories of the BFLPE and labeling theory by comparing the self-concepts of students with mild intellectual disability placed in regular classes (n=98) with those placed in special classes (n=113). For Study 3, the self-concepts, social comparison processes, and academic achievement of 39 students with mild intellectual disability were measured on three occasions as they experienced change in educational placement. Study 3 provided a further test of the BFLPE and labeling theory in the context of a strong longitudinal design.
The results of Study 1 demonstrated that the SDQI-IA was a valid and reliable multidimensional self-concept measure for preadolescents with mild intellectual disability. Results of Study 2 provided support for the BFLPE in that students placed in special classes reported significantly higher Reading, Mathematics, General-School, Peer Relationships, and General self-concept compared to their counterparts placed in regular classes. Results of Study 3 revealed that students moved to special classes reported higher academic self-concepts and more favourable social comparisons than their counterparts in regular classes.
These findings have important educational implications in that whilst the inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classes continues to gain international momentum, the results of the current study question the appropriateness of this movement and demonstrate that placing preadolescents with mild intellectual disability in regular classes is detrimental to their academic self-concept.
Marsh, H., Tracey, D. & Craven, R. (2006) Multidimensional self-concept structure for preadolescents with mild intellectual disabilities: A hybrid multigroup-MIMIC approach to factorial invariance and latent mean differences. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 66, 795-818.
Tracey, D., Marsh, H. & Craven, R. (2003) Self-concepts of preadolescents with mild intellectual disabilities: Issues of measurement and educational placements. In H. Marsh, R, Craven, & D, McInerney (Eds) International Advances in Self Research. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Perry, B., Dockett, S. & Tracey, D. (1998) “At preschool they read to you, at school you learn to read”: Perspectives on starting school. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 23(4), 6-11.
Tracey, D. & Gleeson, G. (1998) Sense of coherence, loneliness and interpersonal concerns in adolescents with AD/HD: a comparison of adolescents’ and mothers’ perceptions. Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 8(1), 49-58.
Tracey. D. & Gleeson, G. (1998) Self-reported social and personal experiences of adolescents with ADHD. The Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 15(1), 23-33.