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Special Education Studies

In 2012, a general population survey was conducted of Minnesota heads of household and a parallel survey of households with a son/daughter with a developmental disability to compare changes in attitudes about developmental disabilities over the past 50 years Findings regarding education revealed a significantly more negative outlook from households with a family member with a developmental disability about the near term future of education services. 

In followup, a qualitative research study was conducted in 2013, K-12 Education Study for Students with Developmental Disabilities, to help determine the basis for these findings. A Narrative Research approach was used. Over 200 stories were collected from 110 individuals that provided an understanding of the current state of public education from the perspective of students, parents, case managers, teachers, public education administrators, and others. 

Seven themes emerged from the stories and anecdotes that described the special education experiences of participants  – emotional roller coaster, special education in its own bubble, through the cracks, fear of parental empowerment, education heroes, integration to inclusion, and transformation. Focus group participants were then asked to identify elements that would best describe a best case and worst case scenario as it applies to special education services for students with developmental disabilities and families. These elements created two paths, one leading to a desirable outcome and one leading to an undesirable outcome for special education.

Insights gained from the 2013 study guided the design of the 2014 quantitative study, Special Education Experience Survey, done in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Education, Special Education Division. The purpose of the 2014 study was to obtain benchmark measures of overall quality perceptions and satisfaction with the special education experience from the perspective of parents, advocates, and the students themselves.

Survey results showed that 74% of families with a student receiving special education services were satisfied; however, only 43% were very satisfied and 20% were very dissatisfied. Satisfaction measures were usually higher in the elementary grades, and lower in middle school and secondary grades.

The majority of respondents provided detailed comments about the reasons for their satisfaction and dissatisfaction ratings.  About 54% of comments were positive and 43% were negative. Respondents then rated 39 experience statements and those were rank ordered and specific action items identified that would have the most impact on the overall quality of a student's educational experience.