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Disabled students may exhibit no more problem behaviors in mainstream classrooms than do their nonhandicapped peers--even though their teachers may judge them differently.

That conclusion is suggested in a new study by researchers at the University of Minnesota. The researchers sent observers into classrooms in suburban Minneapolis-area elementary schools to watch students for about an hour and note the number of times they displayed behaviors their teachers considered bothersome. The behaviors, numbering 60 in all, ranged from lying down to looking out the window to rolling pencils.

Observers were also asked to rate the students' behavior separately to determine whether their perceptions of the students were related to the actual data they collected.

The pupils observed included 35 at-risk, 30 handicapped, and 35 nonhandicapped students.

In both observational data and on behavior ratings, the observers saw no differences in the frequency of bothersome behaviors exhibited by all three groups. They did find, however, that boys tended to be more disruptive than girls in the classes.

There were clear differences, however, between the groups in the teachers' ratings of students. The teachers said, for example, that the nonhandicapped students spent significantly less time than both at-risk students and disabled students staring out the window, daydreaming, or engaging in other behaviors the researchers classified as "passive withdrawal."

The teachers also reported more problem behavior in boys than in girls.

"What we found seems to support the model that the children are not viewed as disturbed, but as disturbing to those who work with them," said Karen J. Roschelle, the doctoral student who presented the study this month at a meeting of the American Educational Research Association in Chicago.

She noted that the issue was important because teacher perceptions help determine whether students are classified as handicapped.

"Clearly," she stated, "further research is needed to explore the complex relationship between teacher tolerance, teacher-identified bothersome behaviors, and special-education referral."

Intended to resolve special-education conflicts between parents and school officials, "due process" hearings appear to leave few participants satisfied, according to a new study.

"Our findings indicate that hearings aren't achieving fundamental fairness," said Steven S. Goldberg, an associate professor at Beaver College. "School officials believe the process is more fair than parents do, but neither group feels positively about the experience."

The hearing process was established under the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act as an added measure to protect the rights of handicapped children. The purpose of the hearing is to give parents a formal means of contesting their children's special-education placement without having to go to court.

For their study, which is scheduled to be published next month in the journal Exceptional Children, Mr. Goldberg and Peter J. Kuriloff, a professor in the graduate school of education at the University of Pennsylvania, collected data from participants in 50 such hearings held in Pennsylvania over the past five years.

Only 35 percent of the parents and 70 percent of the school personnel they surveyed said they were satisfied with the outcome of the hearings. More than half of school officials also said they had negative feelings about the experience.

Moreover, the researchers found, one-quarter of the parents said they never received the school records to which they were entitled, and slightly more than half said schools did not explain what the records meant.

The researchers said the hearings could be avoided altogether if "schools became more sensitive to ... the feelings of parents about their children's development."

"Parents just want administrators who will listen," said Mr. Goldberg.

The U.S. Education Department's office of special-education programs came under sharp criticism two years ago for long delays in its process for monitoring states' compliance with federal special-education law.

In 1990, with a revamped monitoring system and new leadership in place, the process was streamlined considerably. But, according to a progress report issued last week by the General Accounting Office, much remains to be done.

The report, prepared at the request of Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, indicates the office has made great strides in reducing a huge backlog of monitoring reports owed to the states and in decreasing the amount of time between investigators' initial visit to a state and the issuance of a final report.

But, the report says, the gap between regular monitoring visits to states is still twice as long as department officials had hoped. The goal of Assistant Secretary Robert R. Davila is to monitor each state every three years. Currently, the gao says, those visits take place every five to six years.

"It may be that the office requires additional funding for travel or to make additional changes," said Robert Silverstein, director of the Senate Subcommittee on Disability Policy, which Mr. Harkin chairs. He said the panel would continue to track the progress of the office.

--dv

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