Aggressive disruptive students in restricted educational placements: Moderated influence of placement history on adolescent outcomes

Open Access
Powers, Christopher
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 14, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Karen Linn Bierman, Dissertation Advisor
  • Karen Linn Bierman, Committee Chair
  • Cynthia L Huang Pollock, Committee Member
  • Thomas W Farmer, Committee Member
  • Donna Coffman, Committee Member
  • aggressive-disruptive behavior
  • restricted educational placement
  • special education
  • propensity scoring
  • causal inference
Students who enter school displaying aggressive-disruptive behavior frequently also have co-occurring learning difficulties that significantly interfere with their academic and social adjustment. In order to meet these children’s needs and also prevent their disruptive behavior from detracting from other children’s educational experiences, these children are frequently educated in restricted settings outside of mainstream classrooms. Previous studies of the effectiveness of this practice suggest that restricted placements have a limited to iatrogenic effect, but the validity of these results is questionable because prior studies have significant methodological short-comings. The present study uses a large sample size and casual inference methodology to address the most problematic methodological short-comings observed in previous studies. The purpose of this study was to examine the long-term impact of placing children with aggressive-disruptive behavior into restricted placements and to further examine the characteristics of students who experience different educational placement histories. The moderating effects of the severity of aggression and learning problems, as well as placement timing (elementary, secondary, and sustained placements) were examined. Students in restricted placements were found to have broad arrays of risk factors across multiple domains. Causal modeling using propensity scores indicated that secondary, but not elementary, restricted placements resulted in increased high-school dropout, depressive symptoms, and conduct problems. The iatrogenic impact of secondary placement was more pronounced for students with greater academic ability. Implications for educating behaviorally at-risk students and future directions for research are discussed.