Principals' perceptions of classroom structure and academic effects: How middle school students with disabilities are affected

Khalek Abdul Jamahl Kirkland, Fordham University


Research indicates that a significant number of middle school students with disabilities perform better academically in classrooms with teachers who possess strong content knowledge and high expectations for their students. This mixed-method case study was designed to explore with a sample of principals their perceptions of why some middle school students with disabilities score higher on both standardized exams and report cards, based on the classroom structure to which they are placed. The rationale for this study emanated from the researcher's desire to uncover the optimal classroom structure for middle school students with disabilities. The purposefully selected sample was composed of six principals who were supervising schools that demonstrated both high and low levels of academic success for their students with disabilities from each structure. These principals were all supervising middle schools that contained grades 6–8. The primary data collection method was in-depth interviews. A supportive method of data collection was the use of a survey. The data were coded and organized according to the research questions. This research revealed that students with disabilities enter middle school with reading, writing and Math skills that are far below grade level. To combat this problem, principals must provide students with disabilities with a content area specialist. The principals also expressed that destigmatizing middle school students with disabilities was important for their academic growth. Finally, the principals of middle schools where students with disabilities showed academic success were able to identify high expectations for teachers as an important factor for student success. These findings were supported by the interview data. The researcher did not find significant differences on standardized exam scores based on the classroom structure. However, when combining the departmentalized and semi-departmentalized mean scores, there was a significant difference in Mathematics for Grade 7 students with disabilities. Recommendations were offered for principals, school administrators, and central administrators. Given that multiple factors influence academic success for students with disabilities, and a variety of classroom structures exists within middle schools, the recommendations put forth should be considered for their appropriateness on an individual basis.

Subject Area

School administration|Special education

Recommended Citation

Kirkland, Khalek Abdul Jamahl, "Principals' perceptions of classroom structure and academic effects: How middle school students with disabilities are affected" (2011). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3461880.