For Which Students with Learning Disabilities Are Self-Concept Interventions Effective?

NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 56 describes the following:

Title | For Which Students with Learning Disabilities Are Self-Concept Interventions Effective?

Author | Elbaum B., & Vaughn S.

Source Journal of Learning Disabilities, 36(2), 101-108

Year Published | 2003

We have previously conducted a meta-analysis of outcomes of school-based interventions aimed at enhancing the self-concept of students with learning disabilities (LD). This study extends the previous findings by analyzing intervention effect sizes in relation to students’ levels of self-concept prior to intervention. The results of these analyses indicated that only groups of students with documented low self-concept benefited significantly from intervention. For these students, intervention effects were much larger than the effects previously estimated from aggregations that included groups with wide-ranging or unknown levels of self-concept prior to intervention. These findings underscore the need for researchers and practitioners to identify students for self-concept intervention based on their documented need, rather than assuming a need based on the students’ identification as students with LD.

Children and adolescents benefit from having a positive self-image, and yet most struggle with issues of self-concept at some point during their school years. Students with Learning Disabilities (LD) tend to be especially vulnerable to low self-image, and are more likely to report low self-concept than their regular education peers. Research has shown that students’ self-concepts are related to their academic achievement, and for students with LD self-concept is often negatively impacted by the academic challenges they face. A previous meta-analysis by Elbaum and Vaughn showed that a variety of school-based interventions ranging from academic interventions to self-enhancement approaches could improve the self concept of students with LD. However, the question of which students benefit the most from these interventions was not explored. This meta-analysis picks up where the previous one left off, answering the question “For which students with learning disabilities are self-concept interventions effective?”

Research Questions

  1. Does the effectiveness of self-concept interventions for students with LD differ depending on students’ level of self-concept before the intervention?
  2. Are self-concept interventions more effective for students with a more pronounced need (i.e. low self-concept)?

Research Design

  • Number of Studies Included | 64
  • Number of Subjects | 390
  • Years Spanned | 1979-1994

Research Subjects
Students with LD who participated in self-concept interventions during school were compared to similar students who did not receive any intervention.

Age/Grade of Subjects
Students ranged from elementary school to high school grades.

Specified Disability
Learning Disabilities (LD)

Self-concept interventions were categorized as one of six types:

  1. Counseling: often based on therapeutic models these interventions focused explicitly on increasing students’ self-concepts.
  2. Academic: these interventions did not focus on self-concept directly, but instead taught interventions to increase students’ knowledge or develop learning strategies.
  3. Mediated: instead of working with students directly, these interventions taught teachers or parents ways to boost children’s self-concept.
  4. Physical: sports, recreation, fitness, motor-skills, and dance programs.
  5. Sensory-Perceptual: provided by occupational therapists these programs involved sensory integration and/or perceptual-motor therapy.
  6. Other: any program that did not fit within one of the first 5 groups described, including music and art therapy programs.

Duration of Intervention


  1. Students who had low concept before participating in self-concept interventions had large gains in self-concept after the interventions. Students who began interventions with low self-concept benefited more than 3 times as much from interventions as students beginning with average or high self-concept.
  2. Though children with low self-concept at any age or grade level benefited from interventions, middle school children with low self-concept benefited the most.
  3. Elementary school children benefited the most from interventions designed to raise self-concept by increasing academic skills. While middle school students benefited most from counseling-type interventions.

Combined Effects Size

  1. The mean-weighted effect size across all samples was 0.50.
  2. Mean-weighted pre-post effect sizes were determined for groups that had either high, average or low self-concept before the intervention. Students who had high or average self concept before the intervention displayed low effect sizes (0.23 and 0.29 respectively). Students beginning with low self-concept showed very strong effect sizes for the intervention (1.22 on average).
  3. Elementary school students with high, average, and low self concept before intervention had effect sizes of 0.60, 0.44, and 0.17, respectively.
  4. Middle school students with low and average levels of self-concept had effect sizes of 1.89 and 0.12. There were no middle school groups with high self-concept, so a combined group of elementary and middle school students was used as an approximation of middle school students in that category. Their effect size was 0.27.

Self-concept interventions can be very effective when used with groups of students with low self-esteem. However, self-concept interventions may have negative effects on students with LD who do not suffer from low self-concept. First, students with LD who have average to high self-concept may benefit more from academic interventions than self-concept interventions, and may suffer academically if pulled out of classes to work on self-concept interventions. Additionally, some researchers point out that students with LD who have inflated self-perceptions tend to act out more in the classroom and avoid situations which might threaten their ego or their perceived competence. Therefore, inappropriately high self-concept may have adverse effects on students with LD, resulting in students being less likely to attempt academic challenges and more likely to demonstrate inappropriate behavior and moods.

The research base for this meta-analysis focused on groups of students who were identified as having LD and low, average, or high self-concept and clearly demonstrated as a group students with low initial self-concept benefit most from interventions. Elbaum and Vaughn point out the importance of future research examining students not only in groups but as individuals to determine which students benefit the most from self-concept interventions, and what types of interventions work best with individual students.


* Meta-Analysis | A widely-used research method in which (1) a systematic and reproducible search strategy is used to find as many studies as possible that address a given topic; (2) clear criterion are presented for inclusion/exclusion of individual studies into a larger analysis; and (3) results of included studies are statistically combined to determine an overall effect (effect size) of one variable on another.

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