Navigation efficacy among parents of public school children with special needs

Cloth, Allison Hope
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This study explored the effect of parent racial affiliation and educational attainment on feelings of efficacy navigating the special education referral, assessment and placement process for parents of children with special needs. This study also examined the relationship between perceived efficacy and parent Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting attendance. Parents of children currently receiving special education services in public schools responded to an investigator-developed survey (N=139). Reliability for the School Navigation Survey (Cloth, 2002) was excellent, α = .946. Qualitative data were also collected through four focus groups (N=22). Findings from quantitative data analyses did not reveal significant effects of parent racial affiliation and educational attainment on levels of perceived efficacy in the special education process. No significant correlation was detected between low levels of efficacy and low rates of IEP meeting attendance. Overall, participants reported high levels of IEP meeting attendance. Other characteristics of parents with low levels of efficacy are discussed. An additional analysis of the impact of socio-economic status, as measured by child receipt of a free or reduced price lunch, on levels of efficacy was also not significant. However, this analysis did reveal a trend suggesting total efficacy scores of parents of children receiving a free or reduced price lunch were lower than parents of children not receiving this economic assistance. Qualitative data revealed impacts on efficacy mirror those proposed by Bandura (1977), including emotional arousal, vicarious experience, encouragement and accomplishment. Recommendations for future research include replication of this study with greater diversity of respondents and translation of the survey into languages other than English. Additionally, future research might include school-based inquiries concerned with general and special educator attitudes towards special education family-school involvement in the current No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability era. Implications for policy and practice are discussed and recommendations are made to school professionals to encourage family-inclusive practices.