Thus far we have described diverse quantitative methods that have been highly effective in addressing key issues relevant to the self-concept and which have been critical to the conduct of our overall research program. However, we have not yet addressed the potentially illuminating role of qualitative methods in combination with quantitative research. We argue that qualitative methods provide complementary, nonoverlapping advantages beyond those that quantitative methods can provide (and vice versa). Tracey, Marsh, and Craven (2003) demonstrate this complementarity in illuminating, conceptualizing, extending, and clarifying quantita tive findings in research into inclusion and segregation of students with mild intellectual disabilities. Moreover, through follow-up qualitative work it was possible to refine existing theory and inform current practices relevant to student intellectual disabilities.
Tracey et al. (2003) contrasted two competing perspectives—labeling theory and the BFLPE based on social comparison theory—on the impacts of separation from or inclusion in regular classes. Labeling theory suggests that placing these students in special classes with other students with disabilities will lead to lower self-concepts, whereas the BFLPE (see earlier discussion) predicts that this same placement will enhance the self-concepts of students with disabilities. Tracey et al. (2003) evaluated the impact of educational placement in regular classes and special education classes on the self-concepts, using a combination of cross-sectional and longitudinal studies based on both quantitative and qualitative data. Their path models showed that students with mild intellectual disability placed in a special class reported significantly higher peer relationships, reading, mathematics, general school, and general self-concept factors than students with mild intellectual disability placed in regular classes. Whereas the negative effect of inclusion into regular classes was predicted a priori for the academic and self-esteem self-concept scales, the negative effect on peer self-concepts was, perhaps, unexpected. Taken together, these findings supported the BFLPE and contradicted labeling theory (and current policy practice in many countries).
In the qualitative component of this research, interviews were conducted with students from both regular and special classes who had a mild intellectual disability. The aim of the qualitative phase was to determine key themes that underpinned the quantitative findings and to explore how, through children's eyes, the BFLPE was "played out" in their lives. Whereas the quantitative findings showed that BFLPEs were relevant to students with mild intellectual disabilities, the aim of the qualitative data was to show how BFLPEs were manifested. Through a process of "pattern coding" (Miles & Huberman,
1994), four broad themes or constructs emerged. Particularly relevant was the theme of peer relationships. Interestingly, students in regular and special classes both experienced negative peer relationships, but the sources of those difficulties were different. Students in regular classes reported negative social interactions with students within their own class as well as those from other classes, whereas students in special classes reported negative interactions with students from other classes. These data suggested that students with mild intellectual disability in special classes had their own class as a safe haven, whereas students with mild intellectual disability in regular classes did not feel acceptance in any context.
These qualitative findings supported quantitative findings, but the qualitative data provided insights not gained through the quantitative phase. In particular, the qualitative results offered an explanation of why placement in regular classes (inclusion) had negative effects on peer self-concept and informed the nature of stigmatization in regular and special-class settings. More generally, the study demonstrates how multimethod research in the form of qualitative-quantitative synergies can contribute insights to interpretation that might not be possible through the application of either research methodology in isolation.
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