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Inclusion Improves Academic Outcomes for Students with Disabilities, IU Study Shows

Indiana students with disabilities included in general education classrooms do significantly better on Indiana state assessments than their peers placed in separate special education classrooms, an Indiana University research study concludes.

The study, conducted by the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at IU Bloomington, followed a cohort of Indiana students with disabilities, from third through eighth grade, to assess the relationship between academic success and special education placement in high-, mixed- and low inclusive classrooms. By comparing the outcomes of students included in general education classrooms with similar students in separate special education classrooms, the study determined the impact of inclusion upon student state assessments.

The study defined high inclusion as a student spending 80 percent of the time in a general education classroom; mixed was defined as sometimes being in a general education classroom 80 percent or more; and low inclusion was defined as being in the general classroom less than 80 percent of the time. Additionally, students were matched on their third-grade ISTEP and IRead scores and their primary disability. Academic measures used included ISTEP+, English/language arts and math scores.

The key findings of this study include:

  • ISTEP outcomes for students with high-inclusion placements were higher than their peers in mixed or less inclusive placements.
  • In all but two of the analyses, the results are significant, meaning that the improved scores for students included in general education classrooms may be attributed to their classroom placement. Had students been placed in less inclusive classrooms, their test outcomes would have been less favorable and in line with the poorer outcomes of their peers in the more segregated placements.

"This is one of the first studies to find such conclusive evidence in favor of inclusion," said Sandi Cole, co-author of the study and director of the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning.

She said that over 340 Indiana schools are designated for targeted or comprehensive school improvement because of the poor achievement of students with disabilities.

"As schools and districts make decisions on how best to improve their outcomes for students with disabilities, these findings should inform key decisions in the school improvement process," Cole said. "And, for educators and parents who struggle with making the right decision, this study provides greater certainty that inclusion has a strong relationship to academic achievement for students with disabilities."

Knowing that inclusion results in better student academic outcomes can help educators focus on the best ways to include opportunities for students with disabilities in general education classrooms. This research has implications for teacher pre-service training as well as in-services professional development.

"Never before has education so clearly defined the pathway to success," said Hardy Murphy, study co-author and a clinical faculty member in the School of Education at IUPUI. "In this sense, the opportunity for all students to be included is nothing less than a civil right. This should be kept in mind in all decisions regarding student placement and delivery of services."

Additionally, the study's conclusions can inform the school improvement process and improve the integration of best practices in the design, delivery and evaluation of instruction into the placement process. Such data-driven research offers guidance and support regarding decisions to include students with disabilities in general education classrooms.

Inclusion Improves Academic Outcomes for Students with Disabilities, IU Study Shows was originally published on the Indiana University Bloomington website.