Trends and issues in the highly cited research on learning disabilities : a content analysis 1975-2013
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This investigation examined the emerging trends and issues in the field of special education, especially as they relate to learning disabilities (LD) by analyzing the content of impactful, highly cited (100+) and potentially promising (25 to 90 citations) published literature. This content analysis used four scholarly journals including Exceptional Children, Journal of Learning Disabilities, Learning Disability Research and Practice, and Learning Disability Quarterly. These journals were chosen as they focused specifically on LD and included one broad, cross-categorical journal recognized for its impact in the field. The analysis spanned four decades, starting with the passage of PL 94-142 in 1975 and ending with publications current as of 2013. Articles were indexed in a customized EndNote database and were coded to analyze the content, design, year of publication, citation count, and for patterns in disaggregation for participants with learning disabilities. In addition to analyses across topic and type, patterns in authorship were also reviewed. The most highly cited articles in the database were compared to previous analyses of seminal works in the field of special education, especially those with a particular focus on learning disabilities. Results indicated patterns in article topic, with literature addressing reading as the most common across the database followed by special education service delivery, learning disability identification, mathematics, and behavior/ social emotional topics. Commentary papers made up the largest proportion of article type. Trends in both type and topic were frequently articulated and impacted by changes to education policy.