Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



College of Education and Human Services


Special Education

Committee Chair

Barbara Ludlow.


For more than 30 years, research on moral development has been dominated by the work of Lawrence Kohlberg and James Rest who have sought to construct and validate a universal model of moral development. The administration of either the Moral Judgment Inventory (MJI) or the Defining Issues Test (DIT) has been the primary, and frequently the only, methodology used to examine the moral reasoning abilities of various professions. Based on these tests, teachers have shown a disturbingly low level of moral reasoning. Using Rest's Four Component Model of moral deliberation, the study was designed to test the hypothesis that teachers' low mean scores on the MJI and the DIT do not give an accurate picture of their moral development. A Delphi study was conducted to develop a broad picture of the moral experience and moral perceptions of preschool special needs teachers as a group. This was followed by two interviews each of four preschool special needs teachers to gain an in depth picture of their individual perceptions of moral agency. It was found that these teachers face a wide range of moral challenges. They use very little moral language in discussing those challenges, and feel isolated with few options for advice or assistance. The participants showed a marked preference for reasoning about dilemmas based on the outcomes of various options available to them. While there was no evidence that their reasoning corresponds to any of Kohlberg's stages, there was slight evidence of a moral stance similar to an ethic of care. This suggests that, rather than showing poor moral reasoning abilities, teachers may reason in a manner that is not encompassed by Kohlberg's stage theory. It was also found that Rest's Four Component model does not adequately reflect the processes of deliberation used by these preschool special needs teachers.