A Qualitative Analysis on How Administrators Understand Learning Difficulties

Allington, Frazen and Schick (1997) in their qualitative analysis of “How administrators understand learning difficulties” tried to determine the different ways in which school administrators define learning difficulties and how they have respond to the needs of students with learning difficulties in their own schools.

The researchers interviewed administrators and principals in six different school districts that had a record of increased retention and transitional grade placements as well as having at-risk students in learning disabilities classrooms. Previous literature on learning disabilities has showed that the trend of the identification of students as learning disabled had been increasing over the last 20 years and continues to do so at present. It has been found that the number of students identified as learning disabled have grown to alarming proportions.

A number of researchers have proposed that the increase in the number of students identified as learning disabled have been due to the more valid and reliable assessment tools available to schools, the influence of special interest groups and the actual presence of students who do need special education services.

Moreover, it has been observed that whenever funding for remedial programs decline, enrollment in special education classes increase indicating that some students identified as learning disabled may actually be placed in special education classes out of necessity. This study therefore attempted to provide evidence that school administrators and principals place at risk students to special classes for students with learning difficulties based on funding and tests scores.


The researchers developed a system which enhanced the validity of the data gathered in this study considering that it is a qualitative design. The researchers conducted their data gathering procedure by prolonged and persistent fieldwork that included interim data analysis and collaboration to maintain the accuracy of research findings and participant reality by utilizing and analyzing a series of data sets generated as part of a larger study (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 1992a, 1992b, 1995; McGill-Franzen 1994; McGill-Franzen & Allington, 1993 found in Allington, Frazen & Schick, 1997).

This was in response to the researcher’s observation that the internal validity of their data might be compromised since over the years principals and administrators have remained in their positions and the school system in general have remained unchanged while the social culture and economic status of their students have been transformed through the years.