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Can Teachers' Global Ratings Identify Children with Academic Problems?


Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: June 2001 - Volume 22 - Issue 3 - pp 163-168
Original Articles

Physicians often elicit ratings from teachers when making diagnostic, treatment, or referral decisions. The purpose of this study was to view the relationship between teachers' ratings and children's academic skills, assess the utility of teacher ratings in detecting academic problems, and thus determine whether physicians can depend on teacher ratings when making decisions about patients' needs. Subjects were a national sample of 80 teachers and 934 children between 6 and 13 years of age participating in a test standardization study. Families were representative of United States demographics in terms of parental level of education, income, and ethnicity, and sites were geographically diverse elementary schools. Children were administered the Comprehensive Inventory of Basic Skills-Revised (CIBS-R), a diagnostic academic achievement test. Teachers rated children's academic performance on a five-point scale ranging from far above average to far below average and were blinded to the results of the CIBS-R. Teacher ratings varied significantly with children's performance for all academic domains. Logistic regression revealed that teacher ratings were best predicted by children's performance in basic reading skills, followed by math skills, and were not influenced by race, parents' level of education, history of retention, or gender. Participation in Title I services, testing in winter or spring, and parents who spoke a language other than English produced significantly lower ratings. Nevertheless, teachers rated as average many students with mild to moderate academic difficulties. School system personnel and health care providers should avoid sole dependence on global teacher ratings when deciding which students need special education referrals or other services. Supplementing teacher ratings with standardized screening test results is needed to ensure accurate decision-making.

School psychologists, principals, parents, and primary care providers often ask teachers to provide a global rating of children's school performance (e.g., below average, average, or above average).1,2 Depending on the response, children may then be nominated for programs or evaluations, including gifted services, special education, or speech-language therapy. As a consequence, teachers' global ratings can play a significant role in whether children with unique learning needs are correctly identified and referred for special services.

Do teacher ratings accurately reflect school functioning? Research on the topic, although reasonably extensive, is marked by conflicting findings. In some studies, teacher ratings were found to be reliable, predictive, and not readily influenced by factors other than academic performance.3-6 Indeed, several researchers concluded that teacher ratings were sufficiently predictive that they could replace the psychoeducational batteries typically required for the determination of disabling conditions.3-5 Other researchers qualified the value of teacher ratings and concluded that they were more accurate when children attended school regularly,7 were high achievers,8 were boys tested in the spring,9 or were of higher socioeconomic status, older, or firstborn.10 A third set of studies raised substantive questions about the validity of teacher ratings. Teachers were found to have difficulty identifying intellectual giftedness when children had poor grades11 and rated the performance of girls more favorably than boys.12 Such research also showed that teachers had difficulty identifying which skills children had mastered13 and that ratings may be influenced by ethnic stereotypes.14 Some studies concluded that teacher ratings were poor predictors of current problems15 and identified as few as 50% of children with learning disabilities.16

Given the apparent contradictions across studies, additional research is needed. Few prior studies included a wide range of potentially influencing factors in viewing the accuracy of teacher ratings. Fewer still determined the percentage of children with and without problems correctly identified. These issues are addressed in the study presented here. The objectives were to evaluate the relationship between teachers' ratings and children's academic skills and to identify variables that influence teacher ratings. Additional goals were to assess the utility of teacher ratings in detecting academic problems and clarify conflicts in existing research.

Department of Pediatrics, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

Address for reprints: Frances P. Glascoe, Ph.D., 25 Bragg Drive, East Berlin, PA 17316.

© 2001 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.