Educational Environments for the Pupil with Behavioral Disorders: A Best Evidence Synthesis

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NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 63 describes the following:

Title | Educational Environments for the Pupil with Behavioral Disorders: A “Best Evidence” Synthesis

Author | Schneider, B.H., & Leroux, J.

Source Behavioral Disorders, 19(3), 192-204

Year Published | 1994

Reviews 25 controlled studies comparing the progress of children with behavioral disorders* in different educational settings. Pupils in self-contained special programs displayed greater improvement in academic achievement than their counterparts in regular classes. However, the reverse pattern applied to changes in self-concept. Findings regarding behavioral improvement were more inconsistent. Follow-up data include enormous fluctuation in the success of special programs in assisting youngsters with behavioral disorders to reintegrate successfully into regular classes. Findings show that youngsters with behavioral disorders require more support than is available to the regular classroom teacher unassisted by at least resource room personnel.

Students with behavioral disorders often have deficits in self-esteem and academic abilities in addition to their behavior problems. This analysis explores the question of what environment (e.g., a self-contained special education classroom or a general education classroom) is most beneficial to students with behavioral problems in terms of their self-concept, academic success, and behavior.

Research Questions

  1. Do children with behavioral disorders show greater academic gains in regular or special education classrooms?
  2. Does the behavior of children with behavioral disorders improve more in regular or special education classrooms?
  3. What is the effect of being in a regular or special education classroom on the self-concept* of students with behavioral disorders?

Research Design
Best-Evidence Synthesis*

  • Number of Studies Included | 25
  • Number of Subjects | 1,270
  • Years Spanned | 1962-1986

Research Subjects
The subjects were students with emotional and/or behavioral disorders between the ages of 6 and 16 years old. The majority of participants were boys (approximately 85% on average in the studies that reported gender).

Age/Grade of Subjects
The majority of studies focused on children between 8 and 12 years old. However, a few studies also included students under 8 or over 12 years old.

Specified Disability
Behavioral Disorders. Learning Disabilities (LD). Emotional Disturbance (ED).

Students with behavioral and/or emotional disorders were placed in different educational environments (i.e., regular classroom, self-contained classroom, separate special education school, or treatment center/hospital) and compared in terms of academic achievement, behavior, and self-concept.

Duration of Intervention


  1. Students with behavioral disorders required more support than could be provided by a single unassisted regular classroom teacher.
  2. Most students with behavioral disorders required ongoing support for a number of years and had difficulty fully reintegrating into the regular classroom environment.
  3. Special education classes (e.g., resource rooms) and special education schools had larger positive effects on academic achievement and behavior than regular classroom settings.
  4. Students taught in regular classrooms had the largest gains in self-concept.

Combined Effects Size
The results of this study were displayed as bar graphs, so the effect sizes* can only be estimated. The studies that used random samples of students with emotional and behavioral disorders showed weak to moderate effects (between 0.20 and 0.40) in favor of special schools or resource classes over regular classrooms. The authors cautioned against interpreting the results of the studies that used nonrandom or nonequivalent samples.


The studies in this meta-analysis were conducted before inclusion was widely practiced in U.S. public schools. There is a need for new research now that schools have more experience integrating students with behavioral disorders and other special needs into regular education classrooms.

This meta-analysis found that, overall, students with behavioral disorders improve more academically and behaviorally in special education settings, such as resource rooms and special education classrooms, than they do in regular education classrooms. It is in regular education classrooms, however, that students make the largest gains in self-concept.

Schneider and Leroux suggest that research should be conducted on how to improve the self-concept* of students served in special education settings in order for those students to benefit from the academic and behavioral support of the special education environment without reducing their self-esteem.

The reverse of authors’ suggestion may also be effective—determining ways to provide successful academic and behavioral supports to students with behavioral disorders in regular education classrooms. This latter approach could allow students to be educated in the environment shown to be most beneficial to their self-esteem without reducing their academic and behavioral achievements.


* Best-Evidence Synthesis |  A research method that combines a meta-analytical approach to synthesizing quantitative findings with a narrative review of related qualititative studies.

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