Abstract

This study investigated special education teachers' perceptions of the benefits, barriers, and components of community-based vocational instruction (CBVI). Participants included special education teachers (N  =  68) from randomly selected high schools in Illinois who had experience delivering vocational curriculum to students with disabilities. Data collection occurred via a survey. Special education teachers perceived CBVI to result in numerous benefits for students with disabilities. Limited resources, requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, and student issues were identified as barriers to implementation. Incongruence existed between teachers' ratings of the importance and use of the components of CBVI. Years of teaching experience, types of students with disabilities served, size of school, and experience with CBVI affected teachers' perceptions of CBVI.

Work is a critical part of adult life. Being a productive member of society engaged in paid employment is no less significant for individuals with disabilities than for those without disabilities. Individuals who are employed during adulthood contribute to the economy by purchasing goods and paying taxes, which in turn enhances their self-worth and connection to the community and decreases their need for government support (Hanley-Maxwell & Collet-Klingenberg, 2004; Test, Aspel, & Everson, 2006; Wehman, 2006).

Schools play an essential role in preparing students for employment. Transition from school to work became a national priority in 1984 under Madeline Will, then assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). This national priority, coupled with subsequent funding for demonstration projects, paved the way for the development of policies surrounding transition and the eventual mandate of transition services as part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990. Successive reauthorizations of the Act in 1997 and 2004 have reiterated the importance of vocational education, integrated employment, and community participation as important activities that should be addressed within the coordinated transition services offered by a school. In addition to IDEA, legislation such as the Vocational Rehabilitation Act (1973), the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), Goals 2000: Educate America Act (1994), the School-to-Work Opportunities Act (1994), the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act (1998), and the Workforce Investment Act (1998) have encouraged the preparation of all youth for successful transitions from school to work. With these laws, the government has affirmed the rights of individuals with disabilities and expanded their opportunities to be involved in the community and workplace.

Although these pieces of legislation have strengthened the emphasis on vocational preparation for students with disabilities, employment is still a significant concern after students graduate from high school (Fredricks, Bullis, Nishloka-Evans, & Lehman, 1993). Adults with disabilities face serious unemployment and underemployment (Brown, Shiraga, & Kessler, 2006; Harvey, 2002). Across all age groups, the employment rate of people with disabilities has been far lower than the employment rate of people without disabilities (Benz, Yovanoff, & Doren, 1997; LaPlante, Kennedy, Kaye, & Wenger, 1996; Newman, Wagner, Cameto, & Knokey, 2009; Wehman, 2006). The employment rate gap appears to be even wider when it comes to people with severe intellectual disabilities compared with other disabilities (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996; Frank, Stilington, & Carson, 1995; McDermott, Martine, & Bytkus, 1999; Newman et al.; Wagner & Shaver, 1989). For example, 60% to 80% of adults with learning disabilities were competitively employed 1 year after they had graduated from high school (Haring, Lovett, & Smith, 1990; Frank et al.). For students classified as having an intellectual disability, only 10% to 30% were employed 1 to 2 years after high school (Wagner & Shaver). These figures are consistent with findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (Newman et al.), which found that 50% to 60% of youth with learning disabilities, emotional disturbance, other health impairments, or speech impairments were employed after graduating from high school compared with only 30% of youth with intellectual disabilities.

One of the purposes of IDEA (2004) is to prepare students for additional education, employment, and independent living (Section 601[d]). IDEA also clearly indicates that all students with disabilities must have access to the general curriculum and participate in statewide achievement tests, mandated through the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, 2002). Access to the general education curriculum is often associated with access to a curriculum aligned with the state learning standards (Nolet & McLaughlin, 2005; Ryndak & Billingsley, 2004). In most cases, state learning standards focus on academic content and high-stakes testing linked to the standards, making it incumbent on schools to funnel resources toward teaching skills that enable students to pass the state tests. A possible unintended outcome of the recent focus on the general education curriculum may be that vocational curricula receive less attention and resources as schools strive to have students with disabilities pass the state achievement tests (Bouck, 2009; Dymond & Orelove, 2001).

Given the continuing low employment rates of individuals with disabilities and an educational agenda that focuses on addressing academic state learning standards, there is a need to determine whether past methods for teaching vocational skills to students with disabilities remain socially valid, as perceived by the teachers who provide vocational instruction. One such widely used method is community-based vocational instruction (CBVI). With CBVI, vocational instruction is provided in integrated community settings. Students sample a variety of jobs that increase career awareness, develop employment skills, and help to narrow the category of work that will be pursued during the final years of school (Banks & Renzaglia, 1993; Renzaglia, Hutchins, Dymond, & Sheldon, 2008; Test et al., 2006; Wehman, 2006). CBVI consists of paid and nonpaid work experiences (ranging from competitive employment to volunteer work) and may include short-term experiences such as job shadowing or long-term experiences such as internship programs (Test et al.). These experiences should culminate in employment prior to or on graduation (McDonell & Hardman, 2010; Renzaglia et al.; White & Weiner, 2004).

High-quality CBVI is recognized as an effective instructional approach for teaching vocational skills to individuals with disabilities (Agran, Snow, & Swaner, 1999; Clark, Field, Patton, Brolin, & Sitlington, 1994; Cook, 2002; Inge & Dymond, 1994; Renzaglia et al., 2008; White & Weiner, 2004). Training in real work environments is critical for students with disabilities, because they may not generalize skills learned in school to community work sites. By allowing exposure to diverse job tasks, CBVI can help students build vocational competence and appropriate work behaviors (Luecking & Fabian, 2000) and promote self-determination (Benz et al., 2004). In addition, CBVI provides opportunities to learn and apply academic knowledge, social skills, and general and specific work skills in the actual settings in which they will be used (Agran et al.; Benz et al., Cook; Hamill & Everington, 2002; Test et al., 2006; Wehman, 2006).

Several studies have examined the link between high school work experiences in community settings and competitive employment outcomes (Benz, Lindstrom, & Yovanoff, 2000; Benz et al., 1997, 2004; Colley & Jamison, 1998; Inge & Dymond, 1994; Inge, Wehman, & Dymond, 2005; Luecking & Fabian, 2000; Rabren, Dunn, & Chambers, 2002; Wagner & Shaver, 1989). These studies have revealed that youth who participate in CBVI are significantly more likely to be employed after high school (Benz et al., 2000; Colley & Jamison; Wagner & Shaver) and that having two or more work experiences during the last 2 years of school is particularly important (Benz et al., 1997). Fabian and his colleagues (1998) analyzed data from students with cross-categorical disabilities and found that among students who completed a CBVI internship program, 70% accepted a job offer and over 80% were competitively employed at a 6 month follow-up visit. Colley and Jamison (1998) noted that about one half of the students who had participated in CBVI in high school worked full time after graduation as compared with about one third of those who did not have work experience.

Despite the link between CBVI and postschool employment outcomes, few studies have explored the perceptions of teachers about CBVI. Agran et al. (1999) conducted a survey of secondary special education teachers to obtain their opinion about the benefits of inclusive education and instruction in the community. All respondents indicated that they believed community-based instruction was important for preparing students for postschool life. In addition, more than 70% of the respondents believed the main benefits of community-based instruction were to increase social interactions and independence, to promote skills in a natural environment, and to generalize skills across settings. Langone, Langone, and McLaughlin (2000) collected data using multiple measures (i.e., surveys, interviews, observations) to understand special educators' views of community-based instruction for students with intellectual disabilities. They found that teachers who engaged in community-based instruction tended to develop more community-based activities and believed community-based instruction had a positive effect on students' feelings of self-worth and success. Barriers to implementing community-based instruction involved transportation, legal and liability issues, students missing classes, and funding. Teachers viewed administrative support as key to successful programming in the community.

Special education teachers' beliefs about curriculum content and instructional strategies have a great impact on what and how they teach their students (Agran et al., 1999; Chan & Chadsey, 2006; Pajares, 1992). Teachers play a significant role in planning and implementing educational reforms (Cook, 2000), and they make daily decisions regarding the balance of vocational instruction and academic content (Agran et al.). Understanding the extent to which special education teachers believe that CBVI is worthwhile is essential to understanding the social validity of the practice, particularly in light of recent legislation (i.e., NCLB, IDEA) that has increased the emphasis placed on aligning curriculum with academic state standards. In this study, we sought to investigate the perceptions of special education teachers regarding (a) the benefits of and barriers to implementing CBVI, (b) effective components of CBVI, and (c) the importance and use of the components of CBVI. We also investigated the relationships among teachers' perceptions of CBVI and years of teaching experience, school size, types of students with disabilities served, and experience with CBVI.

Method

Participants

The participants in this study consisted of high school special education teachers in Illinois with experience delivering vocational curriculum to students with disabilities. A list of public high schools was obtained from the Illinois State Board of Education and 25% (N  =  166) of all schools were randomly selected. Because a list of high school special education teachers was not available, a letter was mailed to the principal at each randomly selected school that explained the study and requested assistance with identifying the one special educator at the school with the most experience delivering vocational curriculum to students with disabilities. The principal was instructed to provide the teacher with the unsealed envelope that accompanied the letter. This envelope contained a letter inviting participation in the study and a prepaid postcard for the teacher to return indicating agreement or nonagreement to participate. Teachers who indicated they wished to participate were asked to provide their name, contact information, and preferred method for receiving the survey (e.g., paper-based, Web-based). Individuals who declined to participate were asked to place a check next to the reason that best described their reason for not wishing to participate. It should be noted that principals that did not want their school to participate or did not have a special education teacher meeting the study criteria were also asked to return the prepaid postcard and indicate the reason for nonparticipation in the study. When a postcard was not received from a school within 2 weeks, a postcard reminder was mailed to the school's principal encouraging him/her to remind the teacher who was selected to respond.

A total of 93 (56%) special education teachers and principals returned a postcard. Of the 93 respondents, 24 (i.e., 15 principals, 7 special education teachers, and 2 unknown respondents) declined to participate. Those who declined reported that their schools did not offer a vocational curriculum for students with disabilities (n  =  13), they had no experience in vocational instruction for students with disabilities (n  =  2), they were not interested in the study (n  =  1), they did not have time (n  =  1), they received the postcards too late to participate (n  =  1), or for other reasons (n  =  6). Of the 69 teachers who agreed to participate, 68 completed a survey (i.e., 41% of the sample). Participant demographics are described in Table 1.

Table 1

Participant Demographics (N  =  68)

Participant Demographics (N  =  68)
Participant Demographics (N  =  68)

Instrument

A survey was developed based on a review of the literature surrounding vocational curricula, community-based instruction, and CBVI. The survey consisted of four parts. Part 1 gathered information about participant demographics. Part 2 measured participants' beliefs about the importance of various components of CBVI identified in the professional literature and the extent to which the participants used the components when implementing CBVI. Part 3 assessed participants' beliefs about the benefits of CBVI, and Part 4 assessed participants' perceptions of the barriers to CBVI. The rating systems for Parts 2–4 of the survey were based on a linear, numeric six-point Likert scale, with the anchors labeled (e.g., 1  =  not important to 6  =  very important; 1  =  not a benefit to 6  =  extreme benefit; 1  =  not a barrier to 6  =  extreme barrier; 1  =  never to 6  =  always). When items are to be judged on a single dimension, a simple, linear, numeric scale with the extreme labeled appropriately is the most straightforward method of scaling (Alreck & Settle, 2003). The survey took approximately 15 minutes to complete.

CBVI was defined at the beginning of the survey. The following definition was provided: “Community-based vocational instruction (CBVI) is one method advocated for advancing the preparation of students with disabilities for postschool employment. With CBVI, students with disabilities receive repeated instruction on vocational and other job related skills in community settings.” Although CBVI includes many additional components, we purposely chose to define CBVI in a broad manner that emphasized two components that separate CBVI from other school-based vocational instruction: location and frequency of instruction. Participants who did not have experience with CBVI were asked to skip Part 2 of the survey.

Prior to data collection, the survey and cover letter were piloted with three special education teachers (who were not from schools selected for the study) and three university experts in CBVI to evaluate the clarity and relevance of the survey items, the content of the cover letter, the ease–difficulty of completing the survey, and the length of time needed to complete the survey. Minor revisions were made based on feedback from the pilot test.

Data Collection

Data collection was completed over a 9-week period. Two formats of the survey (i.e., paper-based and Web-based) were used. Surveys were distributed via mail or e-mail, depending on the respondent's preference, as indicated on the postcard. A combination of delivery methods was used because it has been shown to increase response rates (Czaja & Blair, 2005). In addition, a $5.00 incentive was mailed to all teachers who indicated their willingness to participate. This incentive was mailed on the same day that the survey was distributed. Prepaid incentives have been reported to be a more effective way to increase response rates than promised incentives that are contingent on responses (Berk, Mathiowetz, Ward, & White, 1987; Church, 1993; Gelman, Stevens, & Chan 2003).

Paper-based survey

Participants who selected to receive a paper copy of the survey were mailed a cover letter, the survey, a prestamped return envelope, and a $5.00 incentive. The cover letter explained the purpose of the survey, invited participation in the study, explained confidentiality and potential risks involved with participation, and provided an estimate of the time needed to complete the survey. Respondents were asked to complete and return the consent form and the survey within 2 weeks of receipt. Two weeks after the distribution of the survey, nonrespondents received a postcard reminding them to complete the survey. A second copy of the cover letter, survey, and a prestamped returned envelope were mailed to special educators who had not responded 2 weeks following the mailing of the postcard reminder. A total of 32% of the participants completed a paper copy of the survey

Web-based survey

An individual e-mail message was sent to those participants who chose to complete the Web-based survey. The email invited participation in the survey, indicated that a $5.00 incentive had been mailed to the participant, and provided a Web-site address that linked to the cover letter and survey. The online survey tool Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com) was used to create a unique uniformed response locator (URL; i.e., Web address) for the survey. Two weeks after the first distribution of the survey, a reminder e-mail was sent to teachers who had not answered the survey. After another 2 weeks, the survey URL was resent via e-mail to nonrespondents. A total of 68% of the participants completed the Web-based survey.

Data Analysis

As paper surveys were returned, data were entered into SPSS 16, a statistical software program for the social sciences. To increase the reliability of the data input, a second researcher randomly selected 15% of the cases and checked the data input for accuracy. Interrater reliability was 100%. Data from the Web-based survey were exported into an Excel spreadsheet and then transferred to the SPSS database and combined with the paper-based survey data.

Descriptive statistics (i.e., frequencies, percentages, means, standard deviations) were calculated to initially describe all data. In a Likert scale, a simple, linear, numeric scale with the anchor labels was used to compare means of groups. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to test for significant differences in participants' ratings of the benefits, barriers, and components of CBVI. When a difference was found, a Scheffé post-hoc test was performed to determine which means differed. To determine the relationship between importance and use of the components of CBVI, a Pearson product-moment correlation was used.

Previous research has found that various demographic variables affect perceptions and teaching practices, including years of teaching experience (Greenwald, Hedges, & Laine, 1996; Porter-Magee, 2004), types of students with disabilities served (Cook, 2001; Cook & Semmel, 2000; Neely-Barnes, Marcenko, & Weber, 2008), school size (Hudson & Shafer, 2002; Monk & Haller, 1993), and teachers' experience (Greenwald et al.; Langone et al., 2000). As a result, these variables were selected for analysis. An independent sample T test was used to determine if experience with CBVI and school size had a statistically significant influence on special education teachers' perceptions of the benefits of and barriers to CBVI. The impact of years of teaching experience and types of students with disabilities served on teacher perceptions of benefits and barriers was calculated using a multivariate ANOVA (MANOVA).

Results

The results are organized to describe the benefits, barriers, and components of CBVI. Within each of the three sections, we describe the relationship between teachers' perceptions of CBVI and years of teaching experience, school size, types of students with disabilities served, and experience with CBVI.

Benefits of Implementing CBVI

The overall mean rating score of teachers' beliefs regarding the benefits of implementing CBVI was very high (M  =  5.27; see Table 2). Mean ratings for each benefit ranged from 4.79 to 5.72 (SDs  =  0.54–1.24), with a mean difference of 0.97 between the highest and lowest ranking benefit. This small mean difference and high overall mean score suggest that, overall, teachers believed CBVI was very beneficial for high school students with disabilities.

Table 2

Special Education Teachers' Beliefs About the Benefits of Implementing CBVI (N  =  68)

Special Education Teachers' Beliefs About the Benefits of Implementing CBVI (N  =  68)
Special Education Teachers' Beliefs About the Benefits of Implementing CBVI (N  =  68)

Years of teaching experience

Significant group differences existed in perceptions of benefits of CBVI by teaching experience, F(3, 880)  =  7.34, p < .001. A Scheffé post-hoc test revealed that teachers who had 6 to 10 years of teaching experience (M  =  5.51, SD  =  0.75) rated the benefits of CBVI significantly higher than teachers who had less than 5 years (M  =  5.10, SD  =  1.0, p  =  .001) and teachers who had 11 to 20 years of teaching experience (M  =  5.17, SD  =  0.94, p  =  .001). No difference was found between teachers who had over 20 years of teaching experience (M  =  5.30, SD  =  0.83) and any other group. Differential ratings of individual benefits were evident for only one item. Teachers who had 6 to 10 years of teaching experience (M  =  5.93, SD  =  0.27) rated the benefit “helps students learn job skills” higher than teachers with 11 to 20 years of teaching experience (M  =  5.13, SD  =  0.85, p < .05).

School size

Teachers from schools that had 500 or more students (M  =  5.46, SD  =  0.78) rated the overall benefits of CBVI significantly higher than teachers from schools that had less than 500 students (M  =  5.08, SD  =  0.87), t(882)  =  6.42, p < .001. When comparisons were made between individual benefits and school size, only one item was found significant. Teachers from large schools (M  =  5.85, SD  =  0.44) rated the benefit “helps students learn work behaviors” significantly higher than teachers from small schools (M  =  5.59, SD  =  0.61), t(66)  =  −2.10, p < .05.

Types of students with disabilities served

Group mean differences in perceptions of benefits by type of students with disabilities served were compared using an ANOVA. Between-group differences regarding perceptions of overall benefits were significant, F(2, 1073)  =  4.32, p < .05. A Scheffé post-hoc test found that teachers of students with severe disabilities (M  =  5.51, SD  =  0.90) rated the benefits of CBVI higher than teachers of students with mild disabilities (M  =  5.23, SD  =  0.93, p < .05) or teachers of students with both mild and severe disabilities (M  =  5.24, SD  =  0.84, p < .05). MANOVA results found no significant differences between groups for each individual benefit.

Experience with CBVI

Teachers who had experience with CBVI (M  =  5.44, SD  =  0.78) rated the overall benefits of CBVI significantly higher than teachers who had no experience with CBVI (M  =  5.03, SD  =  0.98), t(882)  =  6.96, p < .001. Seven benefits were rated significantly higher by teachers with experience providing CBVI: (a) increases the likelihood that students will maintain a job after graduation, t(66)  =  2.80, p < .01; (b) increases students' independence, t(66)  =  3.80, p < .001; (c) increases students' self-determination, t(66)  =  3.23, p < .01; (d) helps students learn work behaviors, t(66)  =  4.14, p < .001, (e) promotes generalization of skills across settings, t(66)  =  2.12, p < .05; (f) provides opportunities for interactions with students without disabilities, t(66)  =  3.46, p  =  .001; and (g) prepares students for postschool life, t(66)  =  2.56, p < .05.

Barriers to Implementing CBVI

The overall mean rating scores of teachers' beliefs about the barriers to implementing CBVI ranged from 3.35 to 4.84, with an overall mean of 4.16 (see Table 3). Standard deviations demonstrated a moderate degree of variability in response values (range  =  1.22–1.67).

Table 3

Special Education Teachers' Beliefs About the Barriers to Implementing CBVI (N  =  68)

Special Education Teachers' Beliefs About the Barriers to Implementing CBVI (N  =  68)
Special Education Teachers' Beliefs About the Barriers to Implementing CBVI (N  =  68)

Years of teaching experience

Significant group mean differences existed in teachers' perceptions of the barriers to implementing CBVI by teaching experience, F(3, 1084)  =  5.72, p  =  .05. A Scheffé post-hoc test found that teachers who had 6 to 10 years of teaching experience (M  =  4.30, SD  =  1.42) perceived more barriers than teachers who had less than 5 years experience (M  =  4.03, SD  =  1.52, p  =  .05). No group differences existed among teachers who had less than 5 years experience (M  =  4.20, SD  =  1.38), teachers who had 11 to 20 years (M  =  4.03, SD  =  5.2), and over 20 years experience (M  =  4.14, SD  =  1.52). In addition, no significant main effect for years of teaching experience existed in teachers' perceptions of individual barriers.

School size

An independent sample t test found no significant group differences between school size and teachers' perceptions of barriers.

Types of students with disabilities served

Results of an ANOVA showed significant between-group differences regarding teachers' perceptions of the barriers of CBVI by teaching experience, F(2, 1073)  =  5.86, p < .01. A Scheffé post-hoc analysis indicated that teachers of students with severe disabilities generally experienced more barriers to implementing CBVI (M  =  4.44, SD  =  1.54) than teachers of students with mild disabilities (M  =  3.98, SD  =  1.59, p < .05) or both mild and severe disabilities (M  =  4.23, SD  =  1.36, p < .05). Results of a MANOVA showed that teachers of students with severe disabilities (M  =  4.75, SD  =  1.39), F(2, 1073)  =  3.21, p <.05, experienced significantly more parental concerns than teachers of students with mild disabilities (M  =  3.41, SD  =  1.18) or both mild and severe disabilities (M  =  3.8, SD  =  1.45).

Experience with CBVI

There were no differences between teachers who had experience with CBVI (M  =  4.17, SD  =  0.59) and teachers without experience (M  =  4.14, SD  =  0.69), t(1,086)  =  0.28, p  =  .78, regarding their perceptions of barriers. An analysis of individual barriers found that teachers without experience providing CBVI felt more strongly than teachers with experience that lack of funding was a significant barrier, t(66)  =  −2.56, p < .05. Alternatively, teachers with experience implementing CBVI believed more strongly than teachers without experience that the severity of students' disabilities was a significant barrier to implementing CBVI, t(66)  =  2.59, p < .05.

Components of CBVI

Teachers with experience providing CBVI (n  =  40; 58.8%) rated the importance of the components of CBVI cited in the literature and their use of those components (see Table 4). Teachers ranked two of the components in the top three for both importance and use (i.e., “providing students with CBVI more than two times a week” and “providing students with opportunities to interact with employees without disabilities”). The two components ranked least important and least frequently used were “choosing CBVI sites that reflected local labor market needs” and “providing CBVI to heterogeneous groups of students at the same time.” In some cases, a discrepancy existed between teachers' beliefs about important components and their use. For example, teachers believed that “offering opportunities for students to perform a variety of job tasks” was the most important component of CBVI, but it only ranked 7th in use. In addition, the component ranked 4th (i.e., provide students with a variety of work experiences) was ranked 11th in use.

Table 4

Special Education Teachers' Ratings of Importance and Use of the Components of CBVI (N  =  40)

Special Education Teachers' Ratings of Importance and Use of the Components of CBVI (N  =  40)
Special Education Teachers' Ratings of Importance and Use of the Components of CBVI (N  =  40)

A Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient was used to analyze the relationship between the importance and use of each component of CBVI. All components except for one (i.e., provide students with choices of work experience) showed a statistically significant positive correlation between importance and use. Coladarci, Cobb, Minium, and Clarke (2004) pointed out that statistical significance does not represent practical significance. They suggested that a correlation value of .7 to .9 indicates a strong association that is indicative of possible practical significance. The only items with a strong correlation between importance and use were (a) providing CBVI to heterogeneous groups of students at the same time (r  =  .75, p < .001) and (b) keeping a portfolio documenting students' CBVI experiences (r  =  .74, p < .001).

Years of teaching experience

Significant group mean differences were found in teachers' perceptions of the importance of the components by teaching experience, F(3, 639)  =  8.05, p < .001. A Scheffé post-hoc test found teachers with over 20 years of experience (M  =  4.93, SD  =  1.17, p < .001) rated the importance of the components significantly higher than teachers with 1–5 years of experience (M  =  4.23, SD  =  1.30) and teachers with 6–10 years of experience (M  =  4.79, SD  =  1.08, p < .05). In addition, teachers with 6–10 years of experience (M  =  4.79, SD  =  1.08, p < .05) rated the importance of the components significantly higher than teachers with 1–5 years experience (M  =  4.23, SD  =  1.30).

No mean differences existed among groups in their overall use of the components, F(3, 639)  =  2.0, p  =  .11. However, results of a MANOVA found that teachers with over 20 years of experience (M  =  5.46, SD  =  0.77) were more likely to keep a portfolio documenting students' CBVI experiences than teachers with 11–20 years experience (M  =  3.90, SD  =  1.50, p < .01).

School size

No significant differences in teachers' overall ratings of the importance of the components by school size were found. One component was differentially rated. Teachers from schools with less than 500 students believed that keeping a portfolio documenting students' CBVI experiences (M  =  5.47, SD  =  0.64) was significantly more important than teachers from schools with 500 or more students (M  =  4.56, SD  =  1.47), t(66)  =  2.25, p < .05.

More differences were evident in teachers' ratings of their use of the components than their ratings of the importance of the components. Teachers from schools with 500 or more students rated their overall use of the components of CBVI significantly higher (M  =  4.79, SD  =  1.08) than teachers from schools with less than 500 students (M  =  4.23, SD  =  1.30), t(174)  =  −3.16, p < .05. Teachers from schools with 500 or more students rated their use of the following three components significantly higher than teachers from schools with less than 500 students: (a) offer opportunities for students to perform a variety of job tasks (>500 students: M  =  5.00, SD  =  0.76; <500 students: M  =  4.33, SD  =  0.90), t(66)  =  −2.5, p < .05; (b) provide students with a variety of work experiences (>500 students: M  =  4.76, SD  =  1.10; <500 students: M  =  3.93, SD  =  0.88), t(66)  =  −2.50, p < .05; and (c) provide students with choices of work experiences (>500 students: M  =  4.72, SD  =  1.30; <500 students: M  =  3.73, SD  =  1.10), t(66)  =  −2.50, p < .05.

Types of disabilities served

Significant differences in teachers' perceptions about the importance of the components existed, F(2, 637)  =  3.45, p < .05. A Scheffé post-hoc test revealed that teachers of students with both mild and severe disabilities (M  =  5.18, SD  =  1.00) rated the overall importance of the components significantly higher than teachers of students with mild disabilities (M  =  4.95, SD  =  1.05, p < .05). Teachers of students with severe disabilities (M  =  5.71, SD  =  0.76) and teachers of students with both mild and severe disabilities (M  =  5.68, SD  =  0.48) felt that providing students with a variety of work experiences was a significantly more important component of CBVI than teachers of students with mild disabilities (M  =  4.82, SD  =  0.98), F(2, 637)  =  6.29, p < .01. In addition, teachers of students with severe disabilities (M  =  5.86, SD  =  0.38) and teachers of students with both mild and severe disabilities (M  =  5.32, SD  =  0.78) believed providing students with choices of work experiences was significantly more important than teachers of students with mild disabilities (M  =  4.64, SD  =  0.92), F(2, 637)  =  5.67, p < .01. No group difference existed among the teachers' ratings of overall use of the components or use of the individual components.

Discussion

In this study, we investigated special education teachers' perceptions of the benefits, barriers, and components of CBVI. The findings suggested that special education teachers believe CBVI is highly beneficial for high school students with disabilities (see Table 2). Even the item that teachers rated as the lowest benefit (i.e., decreasing high school dropout rates) still had a high mean score. Consistent with the literature (Agran et al., 1999; Inge & Dymond, 1994; Inge, Wehman, & Dymond, 2005; Luecking & Fabian, 2000; Test et al., 2006), this study suggests that both practitioners and researchers believe CBVI is a promising practice for preparing individuals with disabilities for success in life after school.

Teachers from the current study acknowledged that many barriers cited in the literature still exist when implementing CBVI. They noted that CBVI requires additional personnel, funding, access to transportation, and greater preparation time (Dymond, 2004; Langone et al., 2000; Test et al., 2006; Wehman, 2006). Limited personal experience, students' challenging behaviors, and the severity of students' disabilities were also identified as significant challenges (Inge & Dymond, 1994; Test et al.; Wehman). It is interesting that issues involving safety (including liability, parental concerns, and requirements of the child labor laws) were not identified by practitioners in this study as significant barriers to implementing CBVI. Traditionally, when students with disabilities are included in the community and workforce, some of the first concerns expressed by all parties (e.g., school administrators, teachers, parents, and/or employers) are safety and liability issues (Brady & Dennis, 1984; Langone et al.; Martella & Marchand-Martella, 1995). In fact, in certain jobs, acquiring work safety skills is a top priority to gaining and maintaining employment (Martella & Marchand-Martella). Unfortunately, in the present study, we did not investigate the actual vocational curriculum offered in each school or how schools handled safety issues, thus, it remains unclear why safety skills were not viewed as a significant barrier. Researchers have insisted on the inclusion of safety training in the employment preparation curriculum for students with disabilities over the past decade (Agran, 2004). Accordingly, it is possible that teachers, employers, and transition staff provide adequate work safety training to students prior to and/or during CBVI, thus, safety issues were not considered an obstacle. It is also possible that school systems cover CBVI through their insurance policies (Dymond), therefore resolving potential liability concerns, or that the teachers in this study were unaware of the importance of this curriculum area (Agran).

A new, significant challenge identified by teachers in implementing CBVI is federal legislation (i.e., NCLB and IDEA, 2004). Teachers reported four substantial barriers linked to changes in legislation. These included the requirements of NCLB, the pressures of high-stakes testing, inclusion in the general curriculum, and the alignment of standards-based content with vocational goals. A possible reason why teachers identified these barriers is that the inclusion of students with disabilities in large-scale testing requires teachers to allocate their limited time to developing alternative assessments and teaching test skills that will enable students to pass state tests (Nolet & McLaughlin, 2005). IDEA (2004) requires states to establish their individualized education program (IEP) goals based on grade-level academic content that aligns with state learning standards (Nolet & McLaughlin; Ryndak & Billingsley, 2004). The demands of addressing state academic standards may cause teachers to struggle to ensure that students with disabilities receive other forms of curriculum that prepare them for employment and independent living. Recent changes in legislation appear to be a barrier to implementing CBVI in the manner teachers deem most appropriate.

Overall, teachers believed that the components of CBVI identified from the literature are important, but the value they placed on using these components often did not align with their perceptions of the component's importance. Of particular interest, teachers recognized the importance of offering opportunities for students to perform a variety of job tasks, providing students with a variety of work experiences, and providing choices of work experiences, but they rated their use of these components much lower than they rated their importance. The emphasis in recent years on person-centered planning and self-determination supports the importance of embedding choice, student preference, and variety into all aspects of the curriculum, including vocational curriculum (Inge et al., 2005; McDonnell & Hardman, 2010; Renzaglia et al., 2008). Teachers clearly valued these components, although some of the barriers they identified to implementing CBVI (i.e., lack of preparation time, limited personal experience implementing CBVI, not enough staff) may have adversely affected their ability to create opportunities for students to sample various jobs that reflected their interests.

Factors Affecting Teachers' Perceptions of CBVI

There was a significant relationship between teachers' perceptions of the benefits and barriers of CBVI and their years of teaching experience. Teachers who had 6 to 10 years of teaching experience perceived more benefits and barriers to CBVI and rated the overall importance of the components of CBVI higher than teachers who had less than 5 years of teaching experience. It could be that this difference was due to a paradigm shift that has occurred regarding curriculum emphasis over the last 10 years. Recent federal legislation (i.e., IDEA 1997, 2004; NCLB 2002) has required all students with disabilities to make progress in the general curriculum, increased accountability through statewide testing, and mandated that secondary special education teachers become highly qualified in each of the academic courses that they teach. Teachers with 6 to 10 years of experience may represent a group of professionals who received greater preservice training in CBVI and life-skills instruction than those who entered the teacher profession more recently. As a result, they may experience more challenges reconciling their beliefs about the importance of CBVI in preparing students for employment with the more recent emphasis on academic instruction. Unlike teachers who have begun their career within the current era of standards-based education, teachers with 6 to 10 years of experience have had to realign their curriculum choices with those mandated by law. The outcomes they see for students based on curriculum emphasis may affect their views about the benefits and barriers of CBVI in a way that is quite different than beginner teachers.

School size clearly had a direct impact on teachers' perceptions of CBVI. Overall, teachers from large schools identified more benefits to CBVI than those from small schools. One possible explanation for the impact of school size is the difference in funding and resource availability between small and large schools. Educational resources have been shown to enhance the quality of educational experiences (Greenwood et al., 1994; Kozol, 1992; Skiba et al., 2008). It may be that teachers from large schools have access to more resources to support CBVI than teachers from small schools. The data from the present study appear to support this explanation. Of the respondents, 74% of the teachers from large schools reported that they provided CBVI compared with 44% of the teachers from small schools. Perhaps, school size demonstrates disparities in school funding and resources that impact inequity in educational opportunities and postschool outcomes for students with disabilities. Because of lack of resources to adequately meet the needs of students, teachers from small schools may be unable to provide sufficient amounts of CBVI to produce the high level of benefits reported by teachers at large schools. McDonnell, Hardman, Hightower, Keifer-O'Donnell, and Drew (1993) found a positive correlation between the amount of community-based instruction to which a student is exposed and postschool employment outcomes.

Although teachers from small and large schools agreed about the importance of the components of CBVI identified in the literature, teachers from large schools rated their use of several components significantly higher than teachers from small schools. These components included providing opportunities for students to perform a variety of job tasks, engage in a variety of work experiences, and make choices about work experiences. School size often reflects local community size; therefore, the variety and number of CBVI options available to teachers and students can be limited in small schools. Similar findings about the relationship between school size and curriculum choice have been reported in previous studies (Hudson & Shafer, 2002; Monk & Haller, 1993). For example, Hudson and Shafer found that urban and suburban schools provide more vocational courses and more choices in vocational courses than those offered by rural schools. In addition, the current study found that students with disabilities from small schools were, in general, taught by less experienced teachers. The majority (70%) of teachers with more than 20 years experience work at large schools. It is important to pay attention to the relationships between teaching experience and school size because experienced teachers may provide better quality education. Greenwald et al. (1996) used meta-analytic methods to assess the magnitude of the relationship between teacher variables and student achievement. They concluded that the quality of teachers, in terms of their education level and their teaching experience, were strongly associated with positive student achievement.

Teachers of students with severe disabilities rated the benefits and barriers of CBVI significantly higher than all other groups of teachers (i.e., teachers of students with mild disabilities and teachers of both mild and severe disabilities). It appears that the barriers to implementation must be surmountable and worthy of effort if teachers of students with severe disabilities believe so strongly in the benefits. CBVI was originally conceptualized as a method for assisting students with severe disabilities to learn work skills and obtain employment prior to graduation (Renzaglia et al., 2008; Wehman, 2006). Much of the literature on CBVI touts the benefits for students with severe disabilities as well as methods for overcoming barriers to implementation (see Dymond, 2004). The experiences of the teachers in the present study suggest that barriers to participation in CBVI still exist, particularly for teachers of students with severe disabilities. Of particular concern is that teachers of students with severe disabilities indicated that their students' parents were concerned about their children participating in the community. Previous research suggests parents of children with severe disabilities have low expectations for their children's achievement of vocational outcomes (Epps & Myers, 1989; Kraemer & Blacher, 2001).

Experience with CBVI had a clear impact on teachers' perceptions of benefits and barriers of CBVI. As might be expected, teachers with experience implementing CBVI rated the benefits of CBVI higher than teachers without experience. Langone et al. (2000) similarly found that teachers who had experience with CBVI believed that it had a positive effect on students. Perhaps more interesting was that teachers with experience implementing CBVI felt that the severity of a student's disability was a greater barrier than teachers without experience. Because most teachers in this study taught students with mild disabilities or a combination of mild and severe disabilities, it may be that their perceptions were more closely related to the types of students with disabilities they taught than their experience with CBVI. Langone et al. also found that teachers with no experience with community-based instruction relied heavily on traditional academic methods and were more concerned about students' behavior problems than teachers with experience.

Limitations of the Study

The findings of this study should be considered in light of several limitations. First, the small sample size (N  =  68) and geographic location of the participants (i.e., one state) limit generalization of the findings. Second, even though schools were randomly selected, the frequency of participants across groups was not equally distributed, particularly with respect to type of students with disabilities served. Teachers who served only students with severe disabilities consisted of 11.8% of all respondents; the small size of this group may limit the validity of the differences that were found between teachers based on disability type. Third, the definition of CBVI provided in the survey was broad. This may have resulted in more participants indicating they had experience with CBVI than if a more specific definition had been provided. Last, observation of CBVI at each school was not conducted in this study. Consequently, it was not possible to confirm the benefits, barriers, and use of components reported by special education teachers.

Implications for Practice

As shown by the results of this study, teachers supported the use of CBVI as an appropriate intervention for preparing students with disabilities for postschool employment outcomes. Teachers rated the following components of CBVI within the top 10 they used most frequently and believed are most important: (a) offering opportunities for students to perform a variety of job tasks, (b) providing students with CBVI more than 2 times a week, (c) providing students with opportunities to interact with employees without disabilities, (d) developing IEP goals for CBVI collaboratively with a team, (e) providing classroom-based instruction prior to community placement, (f) providing CBVI based on the needs of students, (g) providing experiences that reflect the specific job demands of the local business, and (h) providing instruction and/or supervision during CBVI at all times. Although these practices were rated highest, respondents indicated that all of the components identified from the literature were highly important and should be included in a CBVI program.

In small sized schools (i.e., <500 students), it appears that greater emphasis needs to be placed on providing students with input into the types of CBVI experiences in which they participate and increasing the variety of jobs available to sample. Teachers can increase the choices available to students by conducting a job market analysis, identifying jobs that match the labor market of the community, gathering data about students' goals, and developing CBVI sites that match student interests (McDonnell & Hardman, 2010; Renzaglia et al., 2008; Wehman, 2006). Although limited staff was identified as the greatest barrier to implementing CBVI in the current study, methods for using existing school staff and community members in nontraditional roles have enabled many schools to increase the frequency of CBVI and variety of settings targeted, thus allowing students greater placement choices (see Dymond, 2004).

In this study, we found that teachers with CBVI experience recognized more benefits and fewer barriers to implementing CBVI than teachers without experience. Preservice and inservice training on CBVI is essential to ensuring that teachers are successful in developing and implementing effective programs and possess the knowledgeable to overcome obstacles that may arise. Teachers from small schools experienced significantly more barriers to implementing CBVI than teachers from large schools, thus, strategies for implementing CBVI in various types of communities with differing resources (i.e., personnel, funding, transportation) should be addressed. In addition, training should include specialized strategies for educating students with severe disabilities through CBVI. In the current study, the severity of a student's disability was viewed by experienced teachers as a significant barrier to CBVI. If teachers with experience providing CBVI view severity of the disability as a barrier, we could also hypothesize that teachers without CBVI experience would also view it as a barrier after they began implementing CBVI.

Last, this study suggests that federal legislation (i.e., NCLB and IDEA 2004) has had an impact on vocational curriculum for secondary students with disabilities. The requirements of federal legislation were identified as strong barriers to implementing CBVI, especially for students with severe disabilities. Emphasizing the general education curriculum may be detrimental if students need more functional skills training, such as CBVI. If the general education curriculum is defined narrowly to focus solely on academic competencies, employment preparation for students with disabilities may be neglected. The type of curriculum addressed and the amount of time devoted to it should match the unique needs of the student and the goals and outcomes desired by the student and his/her family. Teachers must balance the need to demonstrate alignment of a student's curriculum with the state standards while meeting other individual needs that may not be addressed in the general education curriculum.

Directions for Future Research

Future research should seek to replicate and expand on the findings from this study. Using a random stratified sample would allow greater comparisons between respondents based on the variables investigated in this study. Limited research has been conducted on how the characteristics of students and teachers impact CBVI.

This study relied on a survey, and, thus, the data are based on teachers' perceptions and beliefs. Observations of teachers implementing CBVI could provide additional information about the extent to which teachers use the components identified from the literature and the barriers they face when conducting instruction in community settings.

Another important issue for additional study is the examination of the relationship between the current push for accountability (expressed in NCLB and IDEA) and CBVI. Although teachers identified current legislation as a barrier to CBVI, additional research is needed to determine if NCLB and IDEA requirements for access to the general education curriculum has had an impact on the employment outcomes of students with disabilities. Replications of studies conducted previously to examine the impact of CBVI on employment (e.g., Benz et al., 1997, 2000; Colley & Jamison, 1998; Wagner & Shaver, 1989) could provide useful information about the impact of NCLB. Future research should also examine the outcomes of students who participate in CBVI to determine whether the variables (i.e., teacher experience, school size, and type of disability) investigated in the current study and other possible variables (e.g., the amount of training time on CBVI, types of CBVI training) affect student employment success after school.

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Author notes

RahKyung Kim, PhD Candidate (E-mail: rkim5@illinois.edu), PhD Candidate, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Special Education, Champaign, IL 61820. Stacy K. Dymond, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Special Education, Champaign, IL 61820.

Editor-in-Charge: Steven J. Taylor