School life -histories of at-risk learning -disabled students: A retrospective study of detained and committed juveniles
Learning disabled youth represent the largest portion of special education youth in juvenile corrections. Race, gender, poverty, and urban living are all factors shown to increase the likelihood of being classified as learning disabled and identified for placement in special education, and at-risk for school failure. Research demonstrates that at-risk youth are often several years below grade level in one or more academic areas, have higher absenteeism rates, increased grade-level retention, higher dropout rates, and poorer post-school outcomes, including lower levels of meaningful employment, and higher arrest, incarceration, and recidivism rates. While research has identified a variety of factors linking academic failure and delinquency, it has been grounded in the identification of person-centered factors rather than external factors such as those found in the home, school, and community. The present study is a qualitative inquiry of adolescent learning disabled youths' perceptions of their past public schooling experiences. The study expands an examination of schooling to include the additional high-risk contexts of the youths' home and community. In-depth interviews were the primary data collection tool used for accessing the stories of these adolescent juveniles. The findings of the study suggest that youth responded and made decisions relative to their needs and socially stigmatized positioning as learning disabled students; key events co-occurring with the tasks challenges, and coping abilities of adolescence contributed to their interrupted school careers; and, persistent home, school, and community risk factors exceeded protective factors available to these adolescent students, limiting their ability to successfully adapt and respond. The distal impact of these factors on their development is demonstrated in their poor educational outcomes and increased incidences of court involvement. Students receive insufficient opportunities in their risk-prone contexts for a level of social development that lays the groundwork for adjustment and competence in adolescence and as they move toward adult roles.