Reading Psychology, 21:271–282, 2000 Copyright © 2000 Taylor & Francis 0270–2711/00 $12.00 + .

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ATTITUDES TOWARD READING EXPRESSED BY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STUDENTS DIAGNOSED WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES
BELINDA DAVIS LAZARUS and THOMAS CALLAHAN University of Michigan-Dearborn, Dearborn, Michigan, USA

Attitude toward reading affects student’s achievement. While conventional wisdom and comparisons with low-skilled, non-disabled students suggest that students with learning disabilities have negative attitudes toward reading, few studies exist to support these inferences. The present study uses the Elementary Reading Attitude Survey (McKenna & Kear, 1990) to describe elementary students’ diagnosed with learning disabilities attitudes toward academic and recreational reading and to compare their attitudes with those expressed by their non-disabled peers. The findings show that students with learning disabilities who received reading instruction in special-education, resource rooms expressed reading attitudes that equaled or exceeded those expressed by low and average non-disabled students in a nationwide study conducted by McKenna and Kear (1990). The findings also indicated that the students’ diagnosed with learning disabilities attitudes remained more stable across grades 1 through 5 than those expressed by their non-disabled students in the McKenna and Kear (1990) study.

Reading attitude fulfills a pivotal role in the development and use of lifelong reading skills. Richek, List, and Lerner (1989) stated that “the ultimate success of instruction is strongly affected by the reader’s attitude” (p. 20). Lipson and Wixson (1992) concluded that “the student’s attitude toward reading is a central factor affecting reading performance” (p. 141). Several researchers have postulated that attitudes affect one’s motivation and subsequent reading achievement by increasing or decreasing the amount of time that learners engage in reading (Beck, 1977; Engin, Wallbrown, & Brown, 1976; Mullis & Jenkins, 1990; Richek, 1983– 1989). Others have noted that even accomplished readers with

Address correspondence to Belinda D. Lazarus, School of Education, 4901 Evergreen Road, Dearborn, MI 48128-1491.

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D. 1988. while all students’ academic-reading attitudes declined similarly regardless of their ability level. 1988. but steadily. However. Kear. 1984. Gottlieb & Budoff. Walberg & Tsai. Reading theorists have attempted to describe students’ attitudes toward reading for decades.272 B. 1972) and ignored subject areas. The 242 LH stu- . McKenna. 1992. In fact. McKenna et al. To date. 1984. age (Martin. 1993. 1973. McLeskey. Martin. and developmental changes. & Prichard. Neuman. few studies have attempted to describe their attitudes toward reading. ethnicity (Saracho & Dayton. McKenna. and Ellsworth (in press) found that first and second graders expressed positive attitudes toward academic and recreational reading regardless of their reading ability. declined across the elementary school years. extensive evidence has consistently linked reading attitude with ability and reported that poor and remedial readers express more negative attitudes than better readers (Askov & Fishback. 1976. Martin.) have produced inconsistent results. Kear. Swanson. Lazarus and T. Balow. & Ellsworth in press. 1979). Widaman. Vance. Callahan average to poor attitudes toward reading may not read when other options such as television viewing are available (Beentjes & Van der Voort. McKenna. 1988).140 eighth graders whom they classified as Learning Handicapped (LH). Kirk & Elkins. Norman & Zigmond. Mathewson. 1975. 1991). types of tasks. and Little (1992) examined the attitudes towards school of 1. 1984. 1990). Kear. 1984. all students’ overall reading attitudes gradually.185 students in grades 1 through 6. most studies of students with disabilities’ school-based attitudes have attempted to relate the students’ educational placement with their attitudes (Budoff & Gottlieb.. 1972. Wallbrown. in press. studies that have examined attitudes in relation to such factors as gender (Mullis & Jenkins. Recently. Lipsky. Richards & Bear. In a study that included a national sample of 18. in press. the low-ability students’ attitudes toward recreational reading yielded the sharpest decline across the grade levels. Further. Although reading deficits remain a commonly reported characteristic of students diagnosed with learning disabilities (Kavale & Reese. However. Ransbury. Neuman. and Educationally Marginal (EM). 1983. 1982. & Ellsworth. MacMillan. and televiewing (Martin. Regular Class (RC). 1980). 1992. 1985. 1986. Hemsley.

What differences exist in the students’ attitudes towards recreational and academic reading across grades 1 through 5? . mild handicap. Although the small and cross-categorical LH sample in the MacMillan et al. and math were negligible. “Given the importance placed on attitudinal outcomes as educational goals. and many questions remain.Learning Disabled Students’ Attitude Toward Reading 273 dents were described as having “learning and behavior disorders [that] can be associated with a neurological handicap. It appears that inferences derived from studies of low-achieving and remedial-reading students as well as “conventional wisdom” have led to the perception that students diagnosed with learning disabilities harbor more negative attitudes towards reading than their non-disabled counterparts. learning disability. or . 1990) to describe the attitudes toward reading of students diagnosed with learning disabilities. differences in the LH and RC students’ attitudes toward social studies. study limits the generality of their findings to learning disabilities populations. 40). studies are lacking that describe the attitudes toward reading of students diagnosed with learning disabilities. The LH students spent most of their school day in the regular classroom and received special education instruction in “pull-out” programs. however. They expressed slightly lower attitudes towards reading than the RC students. Specifically the following research questions were addressed: 1. and to compare their attitudes with those expressed by their non-disabled peers. science. What are the attitudes toward recreational and academic reading of students diagnosed with learning disabilities? 2. mental retardation” (p. While these inferences may have some validity. . 41). . we agree with their conclusion that. What attitudes toward reading do children diagnosed with learning disabilities express when they enter school? How do their attitudes change as they progress through school? Do the attitudes expressed by students diagnosed with learning disabilities differ from the attitudes expressed by their non-disabled peers? Method The present study employed the Elementary Reading Attitudes Survey (McKenna & Kear. emotional disturbance. we are surprised by the dearth of research on school attitudes of mildly handicapped students (p.

The 39 teachers had an average of 6 years of learning-disabilities teaching experience. Instrumentation The Elementary Reading Attitudes Survey is a norm-referenced measure that contains 20 statements about reading.to 30-point standard score discrepancy between a student’s academic achievement and aptitude and evidence that environmental and physical conditions were not the primary causes for the delays in their achievement. All 4 states used categorical labels to identify students with disabilities.274 B. and Michigan were randomly selected from a pool of 63 learning-disabilities teachers to administer the Elementary Reading Attitudes Survey (McKenna & Kear. A diagnosis of a learning disability required a 20. 28% contained grades K through 6. the remaining 13 were cross-categorical. Lazarus and T. and received reading instruction in either learning-disabilities or cross-categorical resource rooms. read at least 2 years below agemates. In the cross-categorical rooms.g. only the students diagnosed with learning disabilities participated in the study. The proportion of male-to-female students in the study closely resembled the composition of the learningdisabilities population (e. Callahan 3. 75% males to 25% females). Forty-one of the resource rooms were learning-disabilities categorical rooms. Seventy-two percent of the schools housed grades K through 5. Ten of the statements relate to recreational reading and 10 relate to academic (school-related) reading. The elementary schools were located in urban and suburban areas of each state. Kansas. Georgia. Table 1 further describes the sample. 1990) to 522 students diagnosed with learning disabilities who were randomly selected from 54 grade 1 through 5 resource rooms. The sample exhibited many of the characteristics that are associated with the general learning-disabilities population. Examples of recreational items on the . The students were diagnosed according to each state’s criteria for determining learning disabilities. How do the attitudes of the students diagnosed with learning disabilities compare with non-disabled students’ attitudes? Participants/Setting Thirty-nine learning-disabilities certified teachers from 42 elementary school schools in Ohio.. D.

and very upset Garfield. the values 4. Number of Students Diagnosed with Learning Disabilities in the Study and Mean Chronological Age and Reading Age Equivalents by Grade Level Grade 1 2 3 4 5 Mean CA 6–4 7–2 8–5 9–7 10–6 N 23 103 121 121 138 %M 73 67 77 68 73 %F 27 17 23 32 23 Reading AE* 4–3 4–11 6–1 6–11 7–8 *Measured by the Woodcock-Johnson Psychoeducational Battery-Revised (Woodcock & Johnson. Normative data were collected from 18.Learning Disabled Students’ Attitude Toward Reading 275 TABLE 1. “How do you feel about spending free time reading?” and “How do you feel about starting a new book?”. For scoring purposes. survey are. respectively. etc. The survey may be administered to small or large groups of children and may be read independently by the children or read to the children. Examples of academic items are. (1995) reported that 16 were . McKenna et al.g. upset. happy. “How do you feel about learning from a book?” and “How do you feel when the teacher asks you questions about what you read?”.) with sample members’ scores. TV watching time. Construct validity was established by comparing various student characteristics (e. 1989) or the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement (Kaufman & Kaufman. Of the 18 coefficients computed for the two subscales and composite at each grade level. library card ownership. because of the widespread practice off full inclusion. Cronbach’s (1951) alpha was used to measure internal consistency with coefficients ranging between .. for a possible 40 points apiece for the recreational and academic subscales. and 1 were assigned to the very happy. Each statement is followed by four pictures depicting Garfield the cat with facial expressions ranging from “very happy” to “very upset” and students are instructed to circle the cat which best expresses their feelings about the statement.80 or above. the authors contend that students with disabilities were represented. The raw scores may be converted to percentile ranks for comparison with the national normative sample. and 80 points for the total reading score.89. 2. Students with disabilities were not identified or eliminated from the sample and.74 and .138 students in 78 school districts in 38 states. 1985). The authors reported that the stu- . 3.

Data Analysis To describe the students’ attitudes towards reading. compared their results. and skill level. and to respond honestly to all statements.. recreational scores were 2. Lazarus and T.85. type of reading. 2. and academic . Callahan dents’ scores varied predictably according to the characteristics (e. Procedures The learning disabilities teachers read each survey item to small groups of students in the special-education rooms and scored each protocol.92.96. 3.98. Stratton. Results The comparison of the participants’ mean scores to the 4-point scale revealed an initial “happy” rating for reading in each area with a decline occurring from second throughout fifth grades Total scores for grades 1–5 were 2.87. and investigated and corrected all disagreements.76. and 2.09. Finally.g. McKenna.98. Further. To minimize the teachers’ possible influence on the students’ responses. To control for scoring errors. in an additional study of the sample’s data. 2. each teacher surreptitiously monitored student responding. and 2. 2. would not be graded. 2.8. Students were told that the surveys were not tests.276 B. the raw score means of the students with and without learning disabilities were plotted on line graphs to compare their scores by grade. D.76. 2. and Grindler (1992) found that less than 10% of the variance in the sample’s responses at each grade level were due to the children’s desire to produce socially acceptable responses. library cardholders scored higher than students who did not own library cards). the investigator and a graduate student independently re-scored each protocol. A 2-tailed t-test was used to examine the differences between attitude toward recreational and academic reading. A oneway analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to examine differences across grade levels. raw score means for each grade level were compared with the survey’s 4point scale.

6 (31)* 28.8 58.8 (56. 277 .4 (61)* 59.8 SD M SD Total Reading T-values significance 1.TABLE 2.6 (25.5*) 6.05 Recreational Reading Grade N M SD 1 2 3 4 5 23 103 121 121 138 29.6 (28.7 (28. 1990).9 (30)* 29.5 13.5)* 27.7 (27. Statistics Describing and Comparing Students’ Attitudes Toward Reading Academic Reading M 28.9 14.8)* 27.6 (59.31 4.8 (31)* 30. McKenna (personal communication).2 6.8 11..1 6.4 (26.5 6. Source: Michael C.01 .6 6.78 3.4 (29.8)* 27.4 8.4 6.5 (30)* 28.1)* 57.2 12.8)* 26.2 (57.48 2.2 *Mean raw scores of students in the normative sample of the Elementary Reading Attitude Survey (McKenna et al.8)* 54.001 .1 7.31 2.8)* 55.03 NS NS .2 (54)* 12.8)* 7.6 6.

278 B.75. These data show that students expressed an overall positive attitude towards reading in general and a more positive attitude toward recreational reading than academic reading. Finally. F-ratios for Differences in Recreational and Academic Reading Attitudes Between Primary-level (Grades 1–3) and Intermediate Level (Grades 4–5) Students with Learning Disabilities.5740 1.87. 2.001 NS scores were 2. D. Differences in attitudes toward recreational and academic reading were significant at grader 3 [t = 3. and 5 [t = 2.68. the students diagnosed with learning disabilities scores closely resembled the low.1) across all grade levels. and 3 participants’ attitudes toward recreational reading was significantly higher than grades 4 and 5 [F = 4. and declined more gradually across the grade levels.48].86. but declined more gradually across the grades than the high. total reading attitude scores produced by the students diagnosed with learning disabilities (range = 59. In fact. and 2.78. Callahan TABLE 3. . Second. First. non-disabled readers.03]. closely resembled the average. while the students diagnosed with learning disabilities were well behind age level in reading. Finally. 2.3) closely paralleled the non-disabled students’ scores (range = 61–54. non-disabled readers. a simple comparison of the mean raw scores produced by the students with and without learning disabilities revealed several interesting findings. and low readers’ scores. non-disabled readers. No significant difference between recreational and academic reading was found for grades 1 and 2. 4 [t = 2.2954 significance . nondisabled readers’ scores. 2.57]. Academic reading was not significantly different across the grades [F = 1. average. Analysis of variance showed that grades 1.31].6–54. 2. for academic reading. Lazarus and T. their attitudes toward recreational reading exceeded the low. Attitude Type Recreational Reading Academic Reading F-ratio 4.29]. the attitudes expressed by the fourth and fifth grade students diagnosed with learning disabilities were similar to those expressed by the high and average non-disabled students and exceeded the attitudes expressed by the low.

average.. 1990). Discussion While conventional wisdom and comparisons with low-skilled readers suggest that students diagnosed with learning disabilities in reading have negative attitudes towards reading. Recreational and academic reading attitudes expressed by students diagnosed with learning disabilities and the low. the results of this . and high readers in the normative sample of the Elementary Reading Attitude Survey (McKenna et al.Learning Disabled Students’ Attitude Toward Reading 279 FIGURE 1.

Television’s impact on children’s reading skills: A review of research. Finally. and their relationship to students diagnosed with learning disabilities attitudes. T. (1973). Budoff. 73–78. 23. 1–11. M. no differences across the grades were found toward academic reading. comparisons of the kinds of instruction and support that are present in each environment. H. However. only the high. & Gottlieb.. however. J. M. exceed. what factors in special-education classrooms account for these findings? Also. References Askov. 81. but remain stable for academic reading. in light of the current trend towards full inclusion. the implications of the study warrant further investigation. E.. 389–413. Callahan study indicate that they report more favorable attitudes. An investigation of primary pupils’ attitudes toward reading. Special class students mainstreamed: A study of aptitude (learning potential) × treatment interaction. 41. or remain more stable than their non-disabled peers. What are pupils’ attitude toward the school curriculum? Elementary School Journal.. Primary-grade children diagnosed with learning disabilities appear to like recreational reading more than fourth and fifth graders. (1976). 78(2). (1988). In view of the lack of research on the reading attitudes of students diagnosed with learning disabilities and the limited sample size in this study. T. Lazarus and T. For example. 1–7. D. W. J. (1977). if students diagnosed with learning disabilities who receive reading instruction in resource rooms express reading attitudes that equal. Beentjes. may reveal important factors that improve the attitudes of all students. & Van der Voort. to examine the impact of each setting on their reading attitudes. J. Beck. & Fishback. American Journal of Mental Deficiency. For total reading. Journal of Experimental Education. A. The students diagnosed with learning disabilities in this study expressed attitudes that were similar to and more stable than their non-disabled peers. . This finding indicates that the attitudes toward recreational reading of the students diagnosed with learning disabilities may decline across the primary and intermediate grades.280 B. Reading Research Quarterly. non-disabled readers’ scores exceeded the scores that were noted for the students diagnosed with learning disabilities. the findings must be viewed as preliminary. studies are needed comparing the attitudes of students diagnosed with learning disabilities who receive reading instruction in either resource rooms or general-education classroom.

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