Secondary psychiatric schools: Characteristics and approaches to curriculum
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Title: Secondary psychiatric schools: Characteristics and approaches to curriculum
Series Title: Gagnon, J. C., Van Loan, C. L., & Barber, B. R. (2011). Secondary psychiatric schools: Characteristics and approaches to curriculum. Preventing School Failure, 55, 42-52.
Physical Description: Journal Article
Creator: Gagnon, Joseph
Abstract: This study focused on approaches to curriculum, as well as school, principal, and student characteristics in secondary day treatment and residential psychiatric schools. A national random sample of 148 principals responded to a survey. No statistically significant differences existed between respondent and nonrespondent schools with regard to region, public versus nonpublic, enrollment, or locale. More than 80% of schools were accredited by their state department of education. The primary role of day treatment and residential schools was to help youth obtain a high school diploma. The most common basis for curriculum was the use of state curriculum or individual education programs. Math and reading curriculum, instructional materials, and professional development were rarely reported to align to a great extent with state assessments. The authors provide additional results and implications.
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Preventing School Failure, 55(1), 42-52, 2010
Copyright C Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1045-988X print
DOI: 10.1080/10459880903472827

Taylor & Francis Group

Secondary Psychiatric Schools: Characteristics and

Approaches to Curriculum

1 University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA
2Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, USA

This study focused on approaches to curriculum, as well as school, principal, and student characteristics in secondary day treatment
and residential psychiatric schools. A national random sample of 148 principals responded to a survey. No statistically significant
differences existed between respondent and nonrespondent schools with regard to region, public versus nonpublic, enrollment, or
locale. More than 80% of schools were accredited by their state department of education. The primary role of day treatment and
residential schools was to help youth obtain a high school diploma. The most common basis for curriculum was the use of state
curriculum or individual education programs. Math and reading curriculum, instructional materials, and professional development
were rarely reported to align to a great extent with state assessments. The authors provide additional results and implications.
Keywords: characteristics, curriculum, day treatment, residential schools

A major tenet of the No Child Left Behind At i ?i 1I2) is that
all youth should receive instruction on grade-level curricu-
lum and be assessed against grade-level achievement stan-
dards via state assessments (Quenemoen, Thurlow, Moen,
Thompson, & Morse, 2004; Ratcliffe & Willard, 2006). The
Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act
( 11114) regulations are aligned with No Child Left Behind
in that students with disabilities must be provided access to
the general education curriculum, as well as participate in
district and state assessments (Cortiella, 2006). Both fed-
eral laws support the notion that all youth can achieve at
high levels of performance via a high-quality education and
accountability for student learning (Hardman & Dawson,
2008). Providing access to the general education curricu-
lum relies on the assumption that students with disabilities
will have a greater opportunity to achieve positive aca-
demic and postschool outcomes if they have access to the
same curriculum as peers without disabilities (Hardman &
However, for students with disabilities, the notion of indi-
vidualization also inherent in Individuals With Disabilities
Education Improvement Act (2 1114) is an area of potential
conflict with the provision of a common rigorous curricu-
lum for all students. Significant controversy exists among

Address correspondence to Joseph Calvin Gagnon, Depart-
ment of Special Education, University of Florida, Educational,
Psychology and Early Childhood Studies, PO. Box 117050,
Gainesville, FL 32611, USA. E-mail: i-.I ! .1.', 1 i,. 1! ii.,II

researchers and teachers (Hardman & Dawson, 2008) con-
cerning the provision of services that meet unique student
needs while maintaining an emphasis solely on the general
education curriculum. In light of poor educational and
postschool outcomes for students with disabilities (e.g.,
exiting school without a diploma, postschool unemploy-
ment or underemployment, see Kaufman, Alt, & Chap-
man, 2001; Snyder & Sickmund, 2006; U.S. Department
of Labor, 2003), promoting future employment and inde-
pendent living for youth with disabilities may also require
a focus on vocational training or preparation for taking
the general educational development test. In fact, there is
a dearth of research supporting the assumption that ac-
cess to the general education curriculum and inclusion in
statewide testing systems improves longterm outcomes for
youth with disabilities (Hardman & Dawson). Researchers
(Thurlow, Altman, Cormier, & Moen, 2008) indicated that
almost 70% of youth with disabilities were below the profi-
cient level on state assessments in both reading and math;
two key areas where failure predicts dropping out of school
(Lane, Carter, Pierson, & Glaeser, 2006).
The controversy of access to the general education cur-
riculum versus curriculum individualization is particularly
complicated for youth with emotional or behavioral disor-
ders (EBD). For example, the emphasis on students pass-
ing state assessments may lead to the view that curric-
ula not directly related to academics are nonessential, de-
spite their potential appropriateness for youth with EBD
(Polsgrove & Smith, 2007). Consequently, pressures may ex-
ist to adhere to state or district curriculum, to the exclusion

Day Treatment and Residential School Curriculum

of providing other educational opportunities (e.g., voca-
tional, general educational development) and social sup-
ports (e.g., social skills training) to these youth (Wehmeyer,
Agran, & Hughes, 2000). Many well-respected researchers
have long held views that stress the need for providing
youth with EBD a functional curriculum that may in-
clude prevocational and vocational training, paid work
experience, and general educational development prepa-
ration (Carter, Lane, Pierson, & Glasser, 2006; Lane &
Carter, 2006; Rutherford, Quinn, Leone, Garfinkel, & Nel-
son, 2002). This debate of access to the general education
curriculum versus individualization is particularly evident
in a recent study by Wagner and Davis (2006), wherein
about 52% of youth with EBD received a somewhat mod-
ified curriculum and another 10% received a substantially
i,,, /ii, JI curriculum (Wagner & Davis).
Day treatment and residential (DTR) schools are two
psychiatric settings where principals are faced directly with
the controversy surrounding access to the general edu-
cation curriculum. Day treatment schools are defined as
"structured day programs that offer a combination of men-
tal health interventions and special education to children
and adolescents, as well as social and clinical support to
families" (Gagnon & Leone, 2006). Residential schools for
youth with EBD are therapeutic settings where students
have 24-hr monitoring, as well as mental health and ed-
ucational services (James et al., 2006). At present, no na-
tional information exists with regard to curriculum poli-
cies, practices, and philosophies in DTR schools, and it is
unknown whether more schools emphasize an individual-
ized approach than emphasize the promotion of general
education access for all students. For example, it is un-
clear whether DTR schools place a high priority on stu-
dent progress toward a high school diploma or whether
alternative curriculum pathways (e.g., vocational educa-
tion, general educational development test preparation)
are a central focus. Moreover, it is noteworthy that cur-
rent accountability systems are grounded in the idea that
to provide effective schooling, alignment should exist be-
tween curriculum (i.e., what students are expected to learn
and do) and required state assessments (Roach, Niebling,
& Kurz, 2008). However, the alignment of resources (e.g.,
math curriculum, reading curriculum, instructional mate-
rials, professional development) and supports (e.g., school
supervision to ensure alignment of curriculum and assess-
ments, communication between the school and local edu-
cation agency and state education agency to support and
promote alignment between curriculum and state assess-
ments) is currently unknown.
School characteristics may ultimately be combined with
information on youth to provide an important foundation
for developing more effective policies, programs, and ser-
vice systems, particularly with regard to curriculum (Wag-
ner, Cameto, & Guzman, 2003; Wagner, Kutash, Duch-
nowski, Epstein, & Sumi, 2005). For example, anecdo-
tal evidence suggests that there is an increasing trend for
DTR schools to obtain state education agency accredita-

tion (Carman, Dorta, Kon, Martin, & Zarrilli, 2004). The
trend toward accreditation may have a positive effect on
accountability for student learning (Katsiyannis, 1993), in
that secondary DTR schools that are accredited may be
more likely to adopt uniform curriculum policies on the
basis of the local or state education agency. In addition,
student characteristics provide another important context
for consideration of DTR school curriculum policies and
practices. For example, the existence of an unusually high
percentage of youth with disabilities in DTR schools may
lead principals to alter their school's approach to curricu-
lum (Byrnes, 2004). Specifically, educating a student popu-
lation that includes a high percentage of students with EBD
holds several inherent difficulties with regard to curricular
decisions, because these youth commonly have serious so-
cial and academics difficulties that limit their school and
postschool success (Landrum, Tankersley, & Kauffman,
2003; Wagner & Cameto, 2004; Wagner et al., 2005). At
present, there is a paucity of information concerning stu-
dent disability in secondary DTR schools and information
is limited to a single study of 85 students in which 93%
of students were classified as EBD (Duncan, Forness, &
Hartsough, 1995).


In light of the controversy between federal educational re-
form that guarantees youth with disabilities access to a
rigorous grade-level curriculum and the need to individ-
ualize curriculum for students with disabilities, there is a
disturbing lack of information concerning secondary DTR
curriculum policies, practices, and philosophies, as well as
the relation between school characteristics and school-level
approaches to curriculum. An understanding of the effects
of key student characteristics is also lacking, as DTR prin-
cipals are faced with the tremendous challenge of enact-
ing federal policy within their school context (Gagnon,
2010; Weatherly & Lipsky, 1977). It is clear that principal
leadership is a critical factor in compliance with federal
education reform and provision of appropriate special ed-
ucation services (Crockett, 2008). At present, it is unclear
how principals in DTR schools balance the individual cur-
ricular needs of the troubled student population with the
current emphasis on access to the general education cur-
riculum. Thus, the purpose of this study concerning private
and public secondary DTR schools was to conduct a na-
tional survey of principals to answer the following research
questions: (a) What are the school and student character-
istics? (b) How does school organizational structure (i.e.,
public, private nonprofit, and for-profit) compare across
school accreditation by the state department of education?
(c) What are the primary responsibilities of the school?
and (d) What are the curriculum policies, practices, and
philosophies, and how does the basis of curriculum com-
pare across school accreditation by the state department of

Gagnon, Van Loan, and Barber


Survey sample and participant selection
For the present study, the sampling frame was provided by
Market Data Retrieval. Although Market Data Retrieval is
a comprehensive database, there is no complete list exclu-
sively of DTR schools. As such, a multiple screening pro-
cess was used to ensure schools were eligible for the present
study and address sampling error. Initially, there was a
universe of 1,204 schools nationwide. From the universe
of schools, 50 were deleted due to missing data that were
needed to compare respondents and nonrespondents. The
resulting 1,154 schools were called to verify they met the
requirements for participation. For participation, schools
were required to meet the following criteria: (a) school was
considered a day treatment or residential school for stu-
dents with EBD; (b) criteria for student admission were
based primarily on existence of an EBD; (c) school pro-
vided both mental health (e.g., psychiatrist or psychologist
is available, students have individual or group therapy) and
educational services; (d) if program was considered a hos-
pital, there was also a day treatment or residential program
separate from the hospital; and (e) educational services
were provided for students in any of Grades 7-12. As a
result of the phone interviews, 276 schools did not meet all
the criteria for the study and were excluded.
On the basis of the exclusion of schools with incomplete
information in the database (n = 50), and excluding the
276 schools that did not meet participation criteria, the
total universe of potential DTR schools was 878. To en-
sure an adequate sample size and remain within budget,
401 DTR schools were randomly selected for the study. To
obtain a 95% confidence level and a 5% confidence interval
from the 878 schools, it was necessary to achieve a sample
of 267 responding schools. It was anticipated that the 401
randomly selected schools would provide a sufficient num-
ber of responses given the expectation that two-thirds of
schools would respond to the survey.
To minimize sampling error, questions on the first page
of each survey (and initial site "page" in the corresponding
online survey) asked principals to verify that their school
was a day treatment or residential school and qualified for
the survey. Definitions of both day treatment and residential
schools were also provided. Despite the initial phone call
screening of the 401 randomly selected DTR schools, 52
principals noted on the survey that they were inappropri-
ately included in the sample. One other school had either
changed location or closed. As a result, 348 schools were
included in the final sample.

The survey was developed from a consideration of cur-
rent education and special education reform, a review of
literature, an advisory group of researchers, and a prin-

cipal focus group. The present study represents one com-
ponent of a larger national survey of DTR schools serv-
ing students with EBD that also investigated school-level
assessment and accountability policies and practices (see
Gagnon, Haydon, & Maccini, in press). The larger survey
included questions that focused on (a) school, principal,
student characteristics; (b) curriculum policy, practice, and
philosophy; and (c) assessment and accountability policy
and practice.

Reliability of data entry and survey validity
Several procedures enhanced survey reliability and validity.
First, principal surveys maintained a standardized format,
directions, and questions (Fink, 1995). Consistent with re-
searcher (Litwin, 1995) recommendations, the investigators
also used a codebook to maintain consistency and record
decisions during data entry Reliability checks were con-
ducted on data entered for 30% (n = 44) of the 148 returned
surveys. Reliability was calculated by dividing the number
of agreements by the number of agreements and disagree-
ments and multiplying by 100%. Data entry reliability for
principal surveys was 99.96%.
Three methods were used to increase the validity of the
survey instrument. Initially, research questions were devel-
oped on the basis of a review of the literature, consideration
of current educational reform, and expert opinions. Next,
an advisory group reviewed and made recommendations
regarding the survey and study methodology. Also, princi-
pal focus groups commented on the format and content of
the surveys. The survey was modified based on the advisory
group and focus group feedback.

Data collection
Specific procedures were followed to increase response rates
and minimize nonresponse error. Consistent with research
(Heberlein & Baumgartner, 1978), several procedures were
used to positively affect response rate. Procedures included
the following: (a) multiple contacts and reminders to par-
ticipants (i.e., an introductory letter, five survey mailings,
follow-up phone calls beginning after the second mailing);
(b) directions for completing both online and hard copy
formats of the survey; (c) multiple ways for respondents to
complete the survey (e.g., hard copy, online); (d) govern-
ment sponsorship was identified on all project documents;
and (e) incentive provided at the time of the first survey
mailing (i.e., each survey in the first mailing included a two
dollar bill).

Respondents and nonrespondents
A total of 148 (42.5%) surveys were returned. One hundred
and forty respondents completed a hard copy of the sur-
vey, and another eight respondents completed an identical
online version. Respondents included principals from 42

Day Treatment and Residential School Curriculum

Table 1. Principal Characteristics
( .., ... 1.., .. . , N o. ( o)

Female 89 (60.5)
Male 58 (39.5)
Educational level
Undergraduate 11 (7.5)
Graduate 135 (92.5)
Education certificationsb
None 4 (-)
Principal, administrator, or supervisor 122 ()
Special education teacher of students with 56 (-)
emotional/behavioral disorder or learning
Special education teacher, general or 55 (-)
Elementary teacher 38 (-)
Secondary teacher 33 (-)
School psychologist 12 ()
Other 18(-)
aTotal number may not be consistent with the total number of respon-
dents because some principals did not answer every question.
bPercentage could not be calculated because question asks respondents
to "choose all that apply."

states (excluding Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Mississippi,
Montana, Utah, Texas, and Washington) and the District
of Columbia. No schools were identified as meeting the cri-
teria for the study within the original sample universe from
Hawaii or Montana.
Table 1 represents information on principal character-
istics. In addition to noting their certification from the
survey choices, respondents identified 27 "other" certifi-
cations. Authors reviewed these certifications and recorded
nine into existing categories. The remaining 18 other certifi-
cations reported were categorized as follows: (a) counselor
(n = 5); (b) other teacher such as physical education or
music (n = 7); (c) social work (n = 4); and (d) speech and
language therapy (n = 2).
Respondents and nonrespondents were compared at the
school level. Comparisons were made across U.S. Cen-
sus Bureau region (e.g., Midwest, Northeast, South, West),
public (e.g., county or state schools) versus nonpublic (i.e.,
private non-Catholic or private catholic schools), student
enrollment (e.g., 1-99, 100-199, 200-299, 300-999), and
locale (e.g., rural, suburban, urban). No statistically signif-
icant differences were noted for any variable when conduct-
ing chi-square comparisons across respondents and nonre-
spondent schools.

Data analysis
Descriptive statistics were used to answer research ques-
tions focusing on school, principal, and student charac-
teristics, as well as to identify the primary responsibilities
of DTR schools and curriculum policies, practices, and

philosophies. In addition, other research questions required
use of chi-square analysis (e.g., How does school organiza-
tional structure compare across school accreditation by the
state department of education? How does the basis of cur-
riculum compare across school accreditation by the state
department of education?). For each chi-square analysis,
effect sizes (coefficient phi) were also calculated. In cases
where more than 20% of the cells had an expected value
less than 5 or the minimum expected frequency was less
than 1, logically related rows or columns were collapsed, if
appropriate (e.g., private nonprofit and for-profit schools;
NoruSis, 2007). For chi-square analysis, a common alpha
was set at .05.
Five survey questions provided an opportunity for re-
spondents to write in an "other" response. Analysis of data
from open-ended responses was completed by the follow-
ing procedure: (a) the second author identified preliminary
categories through a review of responses and coded each
response into one or more categories; (b) data was indepen-
dently placed into categories by the third author and cate-
gories were modified, as needed; (c) the authors discussed
areas of convergence and divergence; (d) categories were
adjusted, added, or deleted, as needed; (e) each author re-
coded the data; and (f) a final discussion and calculation of
reliability was completed (Goetz & LeCompte, 1984; Lin-
coln & Guba, 1985). Reliability for open-ended responses
was 100%.


School and student characteristics
School characteristics. Table 2 includes data ordered ac-
cording to organizational structure (i.e., public, private for-
profit, nonprofit, other) and totals for each response. Most
responding principals were from public (n = 59, 42.1%)
and private non- or for-profit (n = 81, 57.9%) schools. Also,
81.5% (n = 119) of schools were accredited by their state de-
partment of education. Concerning schools for which there
was a method of state department of education accredita-
tion, private schools (n = 71, 93.4%) were more frequently
accredited by the state department of education than public
schools (n = 42, 82.4%). However, there was no statistically
significant difference when comparing frequency of accred-
ited public versus non- and for-profit private schools, X2(1,
N = 128)= 4.777,p = .029, ES = .193).
Due to the fact that most respondents noted that their
school was accredited by the state department of education,
there was insufficient cell size to conduct chi-square analysis
for accreditation and basis of curriculum policies.

Student characteristics. Table 3 represents descriptive data
on student characteristics. It should be noted that some
principals did not answer certain questions and totals may
vary. Data indicate that male students (n = 7,696, 73.9%)

Gagnon, Van Loan, and Barber

Table 2. School Characteristics

School's organizational structure

Private school
(nonprofit and
Public for-profit) Other Total

Characteristics N % N % N % N %*

Type of services
Residential 13 22.0 16 19.8 1 33.3 33 22.4
Day treatment 36 61.0 33 40.7 1 33.3 71 48.3
Both day treatment and residential 10 16.9 32 39.5 1 33.3 43 29.3
School accredited by the state department of education
Yes 42 71.2 71 88.8 3 100 119 81.5
No 10 16.9 5 6.2 0 0.0 15 10.3
No system 7 11.9 4 5.0 0 0.0 12 8.2

Note. Totals may differ from individual rows and columns because some respondents may not have answered both questions (e.g., respondent
identified school organization structure, but did not identify population served).

outnumbered female students (n = 2,716, 26.1%). Students
were most commonly Caucasian (n= 5,173/10,721, 48.3%)
or African American (n = 3,655/10,721, 34.1%). To obtain
a general understanding of the frequency students are clas-
sified with disabilities, a comparison of gender sums (n =
10,412) and the sum of youth with disabilities (n = 10,730)
reveals that practically all students in DTR schools have a
disability. Of the students with disabilities, youth were over-
whelmingly classified as EBD (7,282/10,730). Analyzing
data solely on the basis of placement (i.e., day treatment or

residential) showed that slightly more students were served
in day treatment (n = 6,957) than residential (n = 4,906)
schools. Also, on average, students were enrolled for more
than 1 year (e.g., day treatment: n = 14.80 months; residen-
tial: n = 19.77 months).

Curriculum policies, practices, and pliiilh.plhi.'s

Respondents identified the primary responsibility of their
school (see Table 4). The response most commonly noted
as the first priority was to assist youth in obtaining a high

Table 3. Student Characteristics


Specific learning disability
Emotional disturbance
Mental retardation
Other special education label
Ethnic group
African American
Asian/Pacific Islander
Native American/American Indian
Students Served
Day treatment
Average length of enrollment for residential
students (months)
Average length of enrollment for day treatment
students (months)

Number of
























Note. Of respondents, 16 schools identified that they do not have a day treatment program, 17 schools identified that they do not have a residential

Day Treatment and Residential School Curriculum

Table 4. Primary Responsibility
( I. .... ..... ' .....,. Frequency of ranking

School's primary responsibilities for students with 1 2 3 4
emotional/behavioral disorders or learning disabilities

Help students earn a high school diploma 91 23 9 4
Help students earn a general equivalency diploma 2 25 58 19
Help students with vocational training 15 64 37 6
Note. "1" refers to most important.

school diploma (n = 91) and the most common second
priority was to provide vocational education to students
(n = 64). Respondents also had the opportunity to write in
an "other" response (n = 24). In some cases, the respon-
dents who noted Other included more than one category
of response. Other responses were grouped into categories
rather than based on ranking, and included the follow-
ing: (a) assisting students with behavioral stability (n = 7),
reintegrating into public school (n = 23), academic reme-
diation (n = 6), instructing social skills (n = 10), improving
independent living skills (n = 5), mental health treatment
(n = 3), responding to individualized needs (n = 3), and
facilitating transition to life after high school (n = 4).
Data on the nine questions concerning curriculum poli-
cies, practices, and philosophies are represented in Table 5.
For the question that asked about the basis of curricular
policy, most principals reported using a state or local educa-
tion agency curriculum (n = 51, 48.1%). In addition, 67.1%
(n = 98) of respondents asserted that grade-level expecta-
tions should not apply to students with EBD or learning
disability in their school. Also, respondents reported on the
extent to which certain variables were aligned, promoted
alignment, or were barriers to alignment with state assess-
ments. For these questions, mean and standard deviation
were calculated using a 4-point Likert-type scale ranging
from 1 (not at all) to 4 (to a great extent). The first five ques-
tions included the following: (a) math curriculum aligned
with state assessments (M = 3.54, SD = 0.58); (b) read-
ing curriculum aligned with state assessments (M = 3.60,
SD = 0.53); (c) instructional materials aligned with state
assessments (M = 3.48, SD = 0.60); (d) school supervised
to ensure alignment of curriculum and state assessments
(M = 3.38, SD = 0.77); and (e) professional development
provided to ensure alignment of curriculum and state as-
sessments (M = 3.38, SD = 0.68). Principals also reported
the extent to which level of communication between school
and local/state education agencies was a barrier affecting
alignment of curriculum and state assessments (M = 2.40,
SD = 0.99).


The results of the present study provide the first national
data on secondary DTR school and student characteris-

tics, as well as school-level curriculum policies, practices,
and philosophies. Results indicated specific characteristics
and important issues that must be considered to further
the discussion of curriculum in DTR schools. The discus-
sion focuses on the following topics: (a) school and student
characteristics; and (b) curriculum policies, practices, and
philosophies. Limitations of the present study and future
directions are also noted.

School and student characteristics
In the present study, more than 80% of all
respondents-and 71 out of 76 private schools-noted that
their school was accredited. The high percentage of accred-
ited DTR schools would likely indicate that schools adhere
to federal guidelines, such as No Child Left Behind and
Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. However, as
noted in the section on curriculum that follows, data from
the present study indicate that schools continue to struggle
with adherence to federal law as they attempt to individ-
ualize curriculum for students. Although state education
agency accreditation has the potential to exert a positive
influence on school adherence to federal requirements, a
lack of oversight by local and state education agencies may
be at the heart of inconsistencies that occur in school-level
curriculum decisions. In fact, in other research (Gagnon,
2010) only 28% state education agency directors of spe-
cial education reported that DTR schools were supervised
"to a great extent." What remains largely unknown is the
existence of formal or informal adjustments to the require-
ments for accreditation of DTR schools, and the methods
by which these schools are held accountable for maintain-
ing accreditation.
Respondents reported important student information in-
cluding the percentage of students with various disabilities
and their length of stay. Data indicate that DTR schools
have an overrepresentation of youth with disabilities, and
in particular youth with EBD. Students with disabilities
account for about 12% of students in U.S. schools (Stizek,
Pittsonberger, Riordan, Lyter, & Orlofsky, 2007). In con-
trast, estimates indicated that all students were classified
with a disability in DTR schools. Further, results of the Na-
tional Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (Wagner, Cameto,
& Guzman, 2003) indicated that youth with EBD represent

48 Gagnon, Van Loan, and Barber

Table 5. Curriculum Policies, Practices, and Philosophies

Characteristics N %

School's curricula policy
Local education agency approved curriculum 16 15.1
State curriculum 35 33
School-developed curriculum 16 15.1
Use of student individualized education programs to determine curriculum 33 31.1
Individualize each student's curriculum (not based on individualized education program) 4 3.8
Done not have policy 1 0.9
Don't know 0 0.0
Other 1 0.9
Should grade-level expectations apply to every student with emotional/behavioral disorder or learning disability?
Yes 48 32.9
No 98 67.1
Math curriculum aligned with state assessments
Not at all 1 0.7
Very Little 3 2.0
Somewhat 58 39.5
To a great extent 84 57.1
Don't know 1 0.7
Reading curriculum aligned with state assessments
Not at all 1 0.7
Very little 0 0.0
Somewhat 55 37.4
To a great extent 90 61.2
Don't know 1 0.7
School's instructional materials aligned with state assessments
Not at all 1 0.7
Very little 5 3.4
Somewhat 62 42.5
To a great extent 76 52.1
Don't know 2 1.4
School supervised to ensure curriculum aligned with state assessments
Not at all 4 2.8
Very little 13 9.0
Somewhat 51 35.4
To a great extent 76 52.8
Don't know 0 0.0
Teacher/principals provided professional development to ensure curriculum aligned with state assessments
Not at all 0 0.0
Very little 16 11.0
Somewhat 57 39.3
To a great extent 71 49.0
Don't know 1 0.7
Communication between schools and local/state education agency is a barrier to alignment with state assessments
Not at all 31 21.7
Very little 41 28.7
Somewhat 48 33.6
To a great extent 19 13.3
Don't know 4 2.8

11% of secondary students classified as special education. regard to curriculum selection and implementation. Re-
However, in the present study, almost 70% of students with searchers (Wagner et al., 2006) noted that having an unusu-
disabilities in secondary DTR schools were classified with ally high percentage of students with EBD in a school might
EBD. adversely affect students' access to the general education
The high percentage of students with EBD in DTR curriculum, as many of these youth are academically behind
schools most likely provides additional challenges with their peers and require remediation (Fessler, Rosenberg, &

Day Treatment and Residential School Curriculum

Rosenberg, 1991; Trout, Nordness, Pierce, & Epstein, 2003;
U.S. Department of Education, 2006). In addition to aca-
demic difficulties, students with EBD have a host of so-
cial and emotional difficulties that may inhibit their ed-
ucational progress (Mattison, Spitznagel, & Felix, 1998;
Newcomer, Barenbaum, & Pearson, 1995; Oseroff, Oseroff,
Westling, & Gessner, 1999; Pianta & Walsh, 1996; Wagner
& Cameto, 2004; Wagner et al., 2005). The high percentage
of youth with EBD in DTR schools, coupled with student
need for curricula promoting prosocial behavior further
complicates the issue of curricular access versus individu-
alization (Wagner & Davis, 2006). It is clear that principals
in DTR schools are challenged to balance the potentially
competing demands of federal requirements concerning ac-
cess to the general education curriculum with student need
for emotional and behavioral support and training during
school hours (National Governor's Association Center for
Best Practices, 2001). The present study does not include
support for a causal link between the student population
in DTR schools and the curricular emphasis and addi-
tional research is greatly needed. Therefore, future research
should identify the extent to which curriculum decisions in
secondary DTR schools are a result of student behavior
and mental health issues.
Another student characteristic that provides a context for
school curriculum policy and practice is student length of
stay. In other secondary exclusionary school settings (e.g.,
juvenile detention facilities), youth may be enrolled for a
week to several months (Austin, Johnson, & Weitzer, 2005).
In these cases, curriculum policies may be driven more by
practicality and emphasize basic skills rather than the gen-
eral education curriculum (Krezmien, Mulcahy, & Leone,
2008). However, in the present study, the average length of
stay for day treatment students was 15 months and approx-
imately 20 months for students in residential placement.
As such, students are enrolled for a sufficient length of time
for them to fully participate in the regular curriculum or
meaningful alternatives, such as vocational education and
general educational development test preparation.

Curriculum policies, practices, and philosophies

Public schools are responding to the increased demand for
student academic success on state assessments by placing
a greater emphasis on access to the general education cur-
riculum for youth with and without disabilities. Views of
principals in the present study align with the emphasis on
access to the general education curriculum, as they over-
whelmingly identified assisting students with obtaining a
high school diploma as the main priority of their school.
However, data from the current investigation also indi-
cated inconsistencies across the United States with regard
to providing access to the general education curriculum
versus focusing on curriculum individualization. In fact,
52% of principals reported that their school uses a curricu-

lum other than those that are developed by the state or lo-
cal education agency. Using a school-developed curriculum
may not necessarily indicate an incongruity between DTR
school curriculum and state assessments. However, con-
cerns exist that DTR schools may not have the necessary
resources and expertise to develop a curriculum that pre-
pares students for state assessments (Gagnon & McLaugh-
lin, 2004).
One indicator of a greater emphasis on individualiza-
tion and principal misconception is the fact that more than
one-third of principals noted student individual education
programs as the basis for their school curriculum. The use
of the individual education program as the curriculum is
likely related to the view of respondents that youth should
be provided instruction on the grade level on which they
function. A reliance on the use of individual education pro-
grams as the basis for curriculum may be a practical matter
for principals, but this practice is contrary to the view that
the individual education program should "focus instead on
the necessary adjustments to be made in providing intensive
and specific instruction in academics and desirable behavior
so that students can appropriately access and participate in
the general curriculum, and to meet their disability-related
goa.l"l (Crockett, 2008, p. 263). Future research is needed
to identify the long-term effects of curriculum modifica-
tion, as well as the extent to which individualized curricula
differ from local and state education agencies curricula and
align with state assessments.
Also of interest is the contrast between the reported em-
phasis on helping students earn a high school diploma,
and the supports that are available to assist in this effort.
Specifically, approximately 40% of respondents reported
that math curriculum, reading curriculum, instructional
materials, professional development, and school supervi-
sion were only "somewhat," "very little," or "not at all"
aligned, or promoted alignment with state assessments.
Adequate support has been a longstanding problem for
schools. For example, Maccini and Gagnon (2111 2) reported
that inadequate materials were a concern of teachers and
may significantly affect the provision of standards-based
instruction and student access to the general education cur-
Additional research is needed concerning curriculum in
DTR schools and the relationship of curricular policies and
practices to local and state education agencies oversight
and assistance. Specifically, the emphasis of DTR schools
on assisting youth with earning a high school diploma, the
common individualization of curricula, and the frequent
lack of supports reported in the current investigation are
issues that require coordinated attention across school, and
local and state education agencies. For example, the empha-
sis on assisting youth with achieving a high school diploma
is a philosophy that DTR principals share with local and
state education agencies' directors of special education (see
Gagnon, 2008, 2009). However, a relatively large percent-
age of principals do not rely on local and state education

Gagnon, Van Loan, and Barber

agencies' curricula. If schools are to develop curricula, it is
clear that ongoing and coordinated local and state educa-
tion agencies' resources and professional development are
crucial for principals and members of school-level curricu-
lum committees. Moreover, there is troubling lack of state
monitoring of DTR schools (see Gagnon, 2008). As such,
there is a need for greater school accountability via state de-
partment of education accreditation policies to guarantee
that school-developed curricula are appropriately aligned
with state standards and assessments.
The high percentage of youth in DTR schools with dis-
abilities, and specifically with EBD, provides significant
challenges to developing a curriculum that meets student
individualized needs while providing the necessary content.
The present study does not address the instructional ap-
proaches needed to provide students with access to the gen-
eral education curriculum. However, youth in DTR schools
must have access to research-based instruction to succeed
in grade-level curricula and pass required state assessments.
Unfortunately, evidence suggests that secondary mathe-
matics and language arts teachers in DTR schools do not
necessarily use the array of empirically validated instruc-
tional techniques that would allow youth in DTR to suc-
ceed in grade-level curriculum (Maccini, Gagnon, & Strick-
land, 2009; Malmgren, Gagnon, Melekoglu, & Cakiroglu,
in press). As such, ongoing and comprehensive professional
development in effective instruction is an area that requires
attention. It is through the combination of access to the
general education curriculum and effective instruction that
the goal of youth earning a high school diploma will more
likely be realized.


Some limitations existed within the present study. First, the
response rate was lower than the expected response rate of
50% that has been recommended for mail survey research
(see Weisberg, Krosnick, & Bowen, 1989). However, there
were no statistically significant differences when comparing
respondent versus nonrespondent schools. A second limita-
tion inherent to survey research is the depth of information
that may be gathered using paper and online surveys. In ad-
dition, specific information regarding program differences
was not gathered. However, the current survey provides
an important first step in investigating the characteristics
and curriculum of DTR schools, and provides some in-
formation that is necessary to deduce key implications for
practice, and that can serve as a basis for future research.


There have been longstanding concerns that youth who are
educated outside of the general education environment are
not provided a rigorous grade-level curriculum (Gagnon
& McLaughlin, 2004). In the present study, it is appar-

ent that nationally there is variation in how DTR schools
are addressing the conflict between individualization and
access to the general education curriculum. Although diffi-
cult, DTR principals must attempt to address the complex
educational and emotional/behavioral needs of youth with
and without disabilities while adhering to federal and state
regulations (Carman et al., 2004). Current federal policy
requires DTR schools to ensure access to the general edu-
cation curriculum. However, clear federal policy is needed
that considers the unique needs and characteristics of youth
in DTR schools with regard to curriculum. "Failure to
adopt a coherent position is likely to lead to a hodge-podge
of competing initiatives rather than a broadened range of
educational opportunities" (Brigham, Gustashaw, Wiley,
& St. Peter Brigham, 2004, p. 300). Moreover, support to
DTR personnel is needed in the form of ongoing and com-
prehensive training, adequate materials, and an increased
oversight by and communication with local and state edu-
cation agencies (Byrnes, 2004). It is through these actions
and supports that secondary students in DTR schools will
have the greatest opportunity to continue their educational
progress and successfully integrate into public school, the
community, and the workforce (Shumaker et al., 2002).

Author notes

Joseph Calvin Gagnon is an assistant professor at the University of
Florida. His current research interests include curriculum, assessment,
and accountability in exclusionary schools settings.

Christopher L. Van Loan is an assistant professor at Appalachian State
University, and his research interests are teacher-student relationships,
social-problem solving, and emotional and behavioral disorders.

Brian R. Barber is a doctoral student at the University of Florida. His
research interests include the effects of cognitive and neuropsychological
characteristics on student education.


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