One of the biggest debates in special education at the moment is around least restrictive environments, specifically inclusion versus self-contained. Some people tend to believe that students with disabilities will do better in classes specifically designed for them and others believe they do better in a general education setting. A new study Indiana University supports the latter.
Research from Indiana University found that Indiana high school students with disabilities who spent more time in general education classes performed better on state reading and math exams and were more prepared for college and careers than their classmates in less inclusive settings such as self-contained or resource rooms. The study looked at the outcomes for Indiana students in grades 3 through 8 who had cognitive, learning, emotional difficulties, autism spectrum disorder, blindness, and deafness as their principal disability.
Specifically, the study found that all of the students who spent more than 80% of their time in a general education setting scored higher on the state ISTEP assessment as compared to their counterparts who spent more time in low-inclusion settings. The students who spent more than 80% of their time in gen-ed settings were also more likely to graduate with a Core 40 diploma without requiring a waiver. This is significant because the Core 40 diploma is the one that actually means you are ready for post secondary options like college, technical school, or the military. In many cases, it is in fact a prerequisite for those post high school paths.
In general, the law already requires that students be in the “least restrictive environment.” While some people often interpret this to be an endorsement of separate classrooms for students with disabilities, it really means that every student should be in the general education classroom as much as possible unless there is a strong or compelling reason to place them otherwise. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) even requires students who occasionally receive pullout instruction to still be receiving a fair amount of instruction in a regular classroom setting.
Even before this growing body of research emerged, many schools were already moving towards systems and set-ups where special education students were in general education settings. Many school districts are rethinking their resource-room structure and turning into a place that supports the general education class as opposed to replacing it.
Even while the research is pointing in one direction, general-education teachers often lament that they feel like they aren’t properly serving students with disabilities in their classrooms. However, the growing body of evidence suggests that those anecdotal feelings don’t align with the results.