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Promoting self-determination has become the best practice in special education. There remains, however, a paucity of causal evidence for interventions to promote self-determination. We conducted a group-randomized, modified equivalent control group design study of the efficacy of the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction to promote self-determination. Data on self-determination using multiple measures was collected with 312 high school students with cognitive disabilities in both a control and treatment group. We examined the relationship between the SDLMI and self-determination using structural equation modeling. After determining strong measurement invariance for each latent construct, we found significant differences in latent means across measurement occasions and differential effects attributable to the SDLMI. This was true across the disability categories, though there was variance across disability populations.
There has been considerable progress in research and intervention to promote self-determination since the construct was first introduced to the field of special education (Cobb, Lehmann, Newman-Gonchar, & Alwell, 2009). Such advances are important because research has linked student self-determination status to the attainment of more positive academic (Fowler, Konrad, Walker, Test, & Wood, 2007; Konrad, Fowler, Walker, Test, & Wood, 2007; Lee, Wehmeyer, Soukup, & Palmer, 2010) and transition outcomes, including more positive employment, recreation, and independent living outcomes (McGuire & McDonnell, 2008; Wehmeyer & Palmer, 2003; Wehmeyer & Schwartz, 1997), and more positive quality of life and life satisfaction (McDougall, Evans, & Baldwin, 2010; Shogren, Lopez, Wehmeyer, Little, & Pressgrove, 2006; Wehmeyer & Schwartz, 1998).
There have been numerous curricular and instructional models introduced to enable educators to provide this instructional focus (Test, Karvonen, Wood, Browder, & Algozzine, 2000) and research has documented, to some degree, the efficacy of many of these interventions. In a meta-analysis of single-subject and group design studies, Algozzine, Browder, Karvonen, Test, and Wood (2001) found evidence for the efficacy of instruction to promote component elements of self-determined behavior. Cobb et al. (2009) conducted a narrative meta-synthesis—a narrative synthesis of multiple meta-analytic studies—covering seven meta-analyses examining self-determination and concluded that there is sufficient evidence to support the promotion of self-determination as effective. Also, there are several norm-referenced, validated assessments of self-determination that are widely used (Shogren et al., 2008).
Recently, Wehmeyer, Palmer, Shogren, Williams-Diehm, and Soukup (in press) conducted a randomized trial control group study of the effect of interventions to promote the self-determination of high school students with cognitive disabilities. Students in the treatment group (n=235) received instruction using a variety of instructional methods to promote self-determination and student involvement in educational planning meetings over three years; students in the control group (n=132) received no such intervention. Self-determination was measured using two instruments across three measurement intervals. Using latent growth curve analyses, Wehmeyer and colleagues determined that students with cognitive disabilities who participated in interventions to promote self-determination over a three-year period showed significantly more positive patterns of growth in their self-determination scores than did students not exposed to interventions to promote self-determination during the same time period.
The Wehmeyer et al. (in press) study did not provide data on the effect of any single intervention, instead of providing evidence that efforts to promote self-determination using multiple interventions resulted in enhanced self-determination. As Cobb and colleagues (2009) noted in their meta-synthesis, self-determination is a multifaceted construct, and interventions that achieve the best outcomes are multi-component interventions. One such multi-component intervention that was implemented with all students in the treatment group for the Wehmeyer et al. study and has been linked to goal attainment and more positive adult outcomes for youth with disabilities through multiple single-subject and quasi-experimental design studies is the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI; Wehmeyer, Palmer, Agran, Mithaug, & Martin, 2000).
The SDLMI is a model of teaching (e.g., intended for teachers as end-users to guide and direct instruction) that supports teachers to enable students to self-regulate and self-direct the learning process and, as a result, engage in self-determined learning. Students who self-determine learning set educational goals based upon their own interests, abilities, and needs; meaningfully participate in decisions pertaining to the design of interventions to achieve this goal; implement strategies that enable them to modify and regulate their own behavior; and utilize strategies that support them to track their progress toward the goal and to modify either the goal or the action plan, as needed. The intent of any model of teaching is to promote student learning and the efficacy of such models, as such, must include evaluations of the effects of instruction on learning. Wehmeyer et al. (2000) also proposed that instruction using the SDLMI would have the additional benefit of promoting student self-determination. Numerous studies have examined the impact of the SDLMI on student educational goal attainment (Lee, Wehmeyer, Palmer, Soukup, & Little, 2008; Palmer & Wehmeyer, 2003; Palmer, Wehmeyer, Gibson, & Agran, 2004; Wehmeyer et al., 2000). Recently, Shogren, Palmer, Wehmeyer, Williams-Diehm, and Little (2010) used a group-randomized trial control group study to evaluate the impact of the SDLMI on academic and transition goal achievement and access to the general education curriculum. Students in the treatment group received instruction using the SDLMI for one academic year. Analysis by multilevel modeling for pre-and post-intervention data found that instruction using the SDLMI resulted in significant changes in goal attainment and access to the general education curriculum.
To date, however, there have been no studies that provide causal evidence testing the hypothesis that instruction with the SDLMI will also promote student self-determination. Only the Wehmeyer et al. (2000) study actually collected data on self-determination using a norm-referenced measure, and although there were promising results from that study, its design precluded making causal attributions about the SDLMI’s effects. The purpose of the current study was to evaluate if students with cognitive disabilities who received instruction using the SDLMI showed enhanced self-determination. We had two research questions. Do students in the treatment group show higher levels of self-determination after exposure to the SDLMI compared to the control group? And, when treatment is introduced to the control group in Year 2, does the control group demonstrate the same pattern of change in self-determination outcomes as the treatment group? We hypothesized that students exposed to the SDLMI in the treatment group would show larger increases in self-determination than students in the control group. Further, we hypothesized that when the SDLMI was introduced to the control group in Year 2, that group would show the same pattern of change in self-determination as the treatment group in Year 1.