Key Takeaway: DeVries, Knickenberg, and Trygger report complex relationships between student characteristics (ie. the presence of learning differences), and self-perceived inclusion and academic self-regard. Both the novel and supported results reveal a gap, even in inclusive classes, and the need for educator and administrator-implemented inclusion interventions for at-risk students. – Emmy Thamakaison
Jeffrey DeVries (TU Dortmund University), Margarita Knickenberg (University of Bielefeld), and Maria Trygger (Saltsjöbadens Samskolan) share their cross-sectional study examining the association between student characteristics (gender, grade-level, special-education needs (SEN) status, and self-identified academic difficulties) with academic self-concept and perceptions of socio-emotional inclusion among fifth and eighth-grade students in an inclusion school. Additionally, they test the validity of the Perception of Inclusion Questionnaire (PIQ) in measuring emotional inclusion, social inclusion, and academic self-concept.
Academic self-concept, or the way an individual regards their academic abilities, has conventionally been believed to be lower among students with SEN (ie. cognitive difficulties, learning disabilities), regardless of their inclusive educational context. DeVries et al. find this is the case not only for students with SEN diagnoses (p = 0.004), but also for students with self-reported difficulties yet no formal diagnoses (p = 0.007).
- Grade level in combination with gender can significantly influence students’ academic self-concept. Regardless of SEN status, lower levels of self-concept were found for female students in eighth grade compared with that of female students in fifth grade. Male students, however, did not display such differences.
- In explaining this decline in academic self-concept, the authors cite “a decrease in maths-specific self-concept” for general female students and “different interactions with teachers and classmates”1 and “self-efficacy”2 for females with SEN.
In terms of social and emotional inclusion, SEN status and grade were found to play an important role in determining students’ relative levels.
- Along with lower levels of academic self-concept, students with SEN diagnoses experienced lower levels of emotional inclusion. This cross-sectional data contradict that of a longitudinal study, which demonstrates a “boost to both emotional inclusion and academic self-concept over time” among students with SEN.3 Taken together, this suggests that “effective techniques” that address “the extent of students’ social inclusion in their classes and emotional wellbeing” may alleviate “the effects of SEN on academic self-concept “ and “emotional inclusion” over time.4,5
- Similar to students with SEN, students with undiagnosed difficulties experienced lower levels of emotional inclusion. Interestingly, they also reported experiencing reduced social inclusion as well—a finding not seen in the SEN population. DeVries et al. suggest that this may demonstrate the comparable “lack of some inclusive support” for students with undiagnosed difficulties.
- Additionally, children in eighth grade reported significantly lower levels of social inclusion (p = 0.041). No significant variations due to gender were found for both social and emotional inclusion.
Fulfilling one of the main objectives of this study, the authors provided further validation for the PIQ as an effective and easily understood tool; this 3-factor model of social inclusion, emotional inclusion, and academic self-concept was described to “demonstrate good psychometric properties,” which included measurement invariance (the extent to which items measure equivalently across different groups) and reliability.
Ultimately, DeVries et al.‘s research provides useful insights into the relationship between student characteristics and levels of perceived socio-emotional inclusion, or academic self-concept. Much of these results (ie. students with SEN experiencing lower levels of emotional inclusion and self-concept) are supported by pre-existing research and emphasize the importance of interventions in alleviating some of the effects described above. This study’s finding of children with self-reported difficulties feeling less emotionally and socially included, as well as having a lower academic self-concept, poses some novel implications and questions; though “more research is needed to examine the exact nature and causes of these differences,” educators and administrators should “work to ensure that such at-risk learners feel included within the classroom.”
DeVries, J. M., Knickenberg, M., & Trygger, M. (2021). Academic self-concept, perceptions of inclusion, special needs and gender: evidence from inclusive classes in Sweden. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/08856257.2021.1911523
Summary by: Emmy Thamakaison—Emmy is a recent high school graduate attending Stanford University and is an enthusiastic advocate of MARIO Framework.
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- Huang, C. (2012). Gender differences in academic self-efficacy: a meta-analysis. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 28(1), 1–35. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-011-0097-y
- DeVries, J. M., Voß, S., & Gebhardt, M. (2018). Do learners with special education needs really feel included? Evidence from the Perception of Inclusion Questionnaire and Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 83, 28–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2018.07.007
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