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Inclusive Education

TASH National Agenda priority: Increasing the placement of students with disabilities in inclusive education settings and use of high quality inclusive education practices as intended in IDEA and ESSA.

Teenagers sit in a school assembly. On the front row there is a boy with Down syndrome smiling and posing with three girls.

Public Access Research Papers on Inclusive Education

Special education consists of specially designed services available for students with disabilities, and should be available across placements. Students with the most significant disabilities continue to be taught in restrictive settings, despite accumulating evidence suggesting their special education services can be delivered effectively in general education settings. Every individualized education program (IEP) must contain a statement describing how the student will be provided a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. The present study used content analysis to examine least restrictive environment statements of 88 students’ IEPs to determine what factors, including supplementary aids and services, were considered in making placement decisions. We further analyzed the classes and activities in which students participated in general education settings. Findings reveal supplementary aids and services were not considered in placement decisions, although a number of factors centering on curricular considerations, environmental demands, student deficit, and personnel requirements were noted in making placement decisions. We further found students primarily participated in non-academic instruction while in general education settings. Implications for policy, practice, and research are included.

Recent Research on IE

This manuscript highlights a major finding from a larger study conducted in the United States that used phenomenological interviews with adults with autism who typed to communicate. Participants shared their United States educational experiences before and after learning to type. This finding focused on how disability studies in education and the development of inclusive spaces, such as those designed for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) students, may change the way in which educators support students with autism in developing and sustaining natural and meaningful friendships. Thus, this paper examined the social experiences of one participant who had an inclusive education from preschool through college graduation, and whose experience with participation in a social club, described as an acceptance coalition for the LGBTQ community, can influence the way in which educators provide support for building relationships with peers beginning in the elementary school setting.

The inception of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) in 1975 provided hope and the opportunity for equitable educational experiences for individuals with disabilities. Forty-five years later, the United States remains in a deficit-driven, medical model educational system with deeply rooted inequities continuing to segregate students because of their disability. A disability studies in education framework allows for complex components of teaching and programming for students with disabilities to be explored in a practical way that promotes inclusive education for all students. Examining special education practices through a social model of disability with a focus on ability and access can eliminate the existing narrative. When impairment is viewed as a difference rather than a deficit, it compels educators to consider alternatives to pedagogy and programming. More importantly, it allows educators to focus more on access to curricula and less on students overcoming their disability. This manuscript examines how educational leaders can shape school culture, guide special education processes, and influence educators in their teaching practices, with a disability studies in education framework to address the educational injustices students with disabilities continue to face in our educational system.

Learning center models offer students with disabilities learning experiences in general education classrooms, while retaining support and services from special education personnel. The learning center approach examines existing educational perspectives, practices and structures, surrounding access to general education for students with disabilities. This study used a document analysis, a qualitative data method, to examine how two California school districts developed a learning center model to transform special education programming from segregated special education classrooms and practices to placement and access to general education. The findings inform educational programming for students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment, to comply with the American federal mandate. Findings suggest that the deep structure of educational practices complicated the ease of a change in practices for both general and special educators. However, the community approach of the learning center model, where all teachers assume the educational responsibilities for all students, forced these educators to be flexible, reexamine structures and practices, and challenge the ethos of traditional schooling. 

Benefits of inclusive education for students with extensive and pervasive support needs (ESN) have been documented over the past several decades. However, simply placing students with ESN in general education settings does not constitute inclusion, nor does this necessarily result in positive outcomes for students. This study utilizes ecobehavioral analysis to provide an understanding of the characteristics of general education academic classes that include students with ESN and explores differences in characteristics between different schooling levels and students with and without complex communication needs. Findings indicate inclusive placements for students with ESN provide an engaging academic environment with adaptations to access content and low levels of distractions. Implications for practice, future research, and policy are discussed.

Given the wide range of academic content and 21st-century college and career readiness (CCR) skills that need to be targeted in secondary classrooms, teachers must be prepared to plan and implement a variety of strategies to ensure the progress and participation of each student, including those with extensive support needs. We describe a planning form, known as the Unit Co-Planning Guide (UCPG), to guide teachers to (a) plan academic content with integrated development opportunities for CCR skills, such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity; (b) consider the needs of all students with universal design for learning (UDL); (c) identify specific student goals and preferences; and (d) design individualized supports, including embedded instruction, curricular adaptations, peer supports, and personnel supports. The intended use of the UCPG is to support collaboration between teachers in the design of academic and nonacademic content delivered to inclusive secondary classes with particular focus on the supports necessary to facilitate involvement and progress for students with extensive support needs.

Federal laws require equitable access to education for students with disabilities through educational placement in the least restrictive environment (LRE). However, research has determined students with significant support needs (SSN) are overrepresented in segregated educational placements. This study explores justifications of LRE placement decisions for students with SSN through a critical qualitative analysis. We evaluated how individualized education program (IEP) teams interpret LRE and justify placement decisions for students with SSN. Additionally, we sought to understand how the interpretation of LRE permits or restricts access to general education for students with SSN. Students with SSN are those who require support across multiple domains and often have disabilities in the categories of autism, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, and deaf-blindness. We used a qualitative methodology situated in a critical geography framework. Data were derived from the LRE statements found in IEPs of students with SSN. Each statement included in this study was used to identify the three power relationship spaces derived from critical geography theory: utopia, dystopia, and heterotopia. Three types of placement decisions were identified. Students with SSN were most often offered conditional placements and less frequently closed or open placements. Rationales for LRE decisions revealed barriers to accessing general education contexts related to hidden power dynamics, attempts to maintain social norms, and the use of ambiguous terminology. Data analysis also revealed that LRE justifications generate special education heterotopias that create illusive access to the general education context and content for students with SSN. The application of critical theory assists in understanding the continued overrepresentation of students with SSN in placements that limit access to general education. Findings from this study suggest the discontinuation of the continuum of special education placements to dismantle the inequitable structures of special education for students with SSN.

Trends in the supplementary aids and services (SAS) written in individualized education programs (IEPs) for students with significant disabilities (a) in different educational placements, (b) with and without behavior support plans (BSP), and (c) with and without complex communication needs (CCN) are examined using multivariate analysis of variance. Results show no significant differences in SAS for students across separate, resource, and inclusive placements. Students with BSPs had significantly more collaborative and behavior SAS than those without BSPs. Students with CCN had significantly more social-communication SAS than those whose IEPs indicated little to no communication support needs; however, 51.1% of students with CCN had no social-communication SAS. Findings raise concern around the extent to which SAS are considered before placement decisions, the high frequency of paraprofessional support for students with BSPs, and the low frequency of social-communication SAS written for students with CCN. Implications for policy, practice, and future research are provided

Limited research exists on teaching social studies content, including intervention research, in inclusive settings for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The purpose of this exploratory project was to evaluate the use of participation plans for supporting students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in inclusive high school social studies classrooms. The study addressed two questions: (1) To what extent can students with IDD learn prioritized social studies content and skills in inclusive secondary settings? and (2) How do participation plans support students in learning prioritized social studies content and skills in inclusive general education settings? A university research team supported a public high school staff to employ a single-case, multiple baseline design across prioritized skills (knowledge of content, vocabulary, and summarization) and participants. Results showed students’ correct responses increased across prioritized skills after the team began using the participation plans. This discreet intervention exhibits promise for school staff (i.e., teachers, paraprofessionals) needing mediating tools for effective inclusive education. We discuss implications for future research and practice.

Every child has the right to an education, including children with disabilities. Research findings from across the globe have shown the benefits of inclusive education, and mandates for providing accessible, inclusive education can be found in national policies and international agreements as well. This article explores the perspectives of 11 international experts on the state of inclusive education in countries spanning 5 continents. Experts participated in a focus group discussion at Inclusion International's 17th Annual World Congress 2018 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Participants shared multifaceted factors impacting inclusive educational practices. Based on their experiences, participants also discussed strategies that were deemed effective or ineffective depending on varied contextual elements. Implications for policy, research, and practice are discussed.

While legislation and research have promoted inclusive education and the importance of literacy instruction for students with extensive support needs, the majority of literacy instruction research continues to occur in separate self-contained special education settings. This article is a call to action to the educational research community to elicit research on literacy instruction strategies, including collaborative planning, teaching, and material preparation related to grade-level general education curriculum in general education school settings. Findings from current research on literacy instruction in separate special education and general education settings are presented. Suggestions for future research and action are discussed.

The purpose of this article is to discuss the use of participation plans, an organizational strategy that educators can use to support the systematic use of research-based practices for disabilities. Participation plans include ecological assessment, curricular supports (i.e.,instruction, and standards-based instruction focused on prioritized skills. By considering these critical elements, general and special disabilities in general education classrooms. Designed as a matrix, participation plansinformation to support educators to Mr. Parker, an 11th-grade history teacher, and Ms. Yu, a high school special education intellectual disability, is enrolled in Mr. Parker’s U.S. history class. Mr. Parker is looking for guidance to ensure that his classroom and instruction are accessible. Ms. Yu suggests that participation plan, to support Emily in the progress in your U.S. history class and support

Placement decisions for students with severe disabilities have often been based less on the students’ unique learning needs but more on beliefs and presumptions about student learning, entrenched school district policies that restrict program delivery options, and other variables unrelated to student needs. In light of the benefits associated with inclusive practices for students with severe disabilities, this article examines the foregoing factors to better understand how they affect placement decisions and to identify barriers to implementing at a national level more inclusive placements. The article also addresses systems change solutions, and several new federally funded initiatives that could contribute to authentic changes in placement practices.

Limited research has been conducted that examines trends, predictors, and decision-making processesregarding educational placement practices for students receiving special education services in American schools. Of the literature available, studies suggest that students with autism and intellectual disabilities are included in general education settings at some of the lowest rates compared to students with other eligibility labels. In contrast, students with specific learning disabilities are educated in general education settings at the highest rates. Moreover, urban regions and regions with higher percentages of Black and Latinx students have significantly lower general education placements rates. The present study had two aims: (1) to examine the variability in educational placements across three eligibility categories (autism, intellectual disability, and specific learning disability) and (2) to determine the extent to which student level and district and neighborhood-level factors are associated with educational placement.

Administrative data from the 2016-2017 school year were utilized to conduct the analyses. Results indicated that students with learning disabilities were included to a greater degree than students with autism, and both were included more than students with intellectual disabilities. Students identified as Black, Latinx, English Language learners, and eligible for free and reduced meals were less likely to be included in general education classrooms. District region and neighborhood income were also factors associated with lower odds of being included in general education classrooms. These findings corroborate and extend earlier data suggesting that the system has not made appreciable improvements in the last ten years. Future studies need to delve into why these data are stable by examining the policy and local decision-making processes concerning segregation and inclusion for students with disabilities.

Other Suggested Reading

Gee, K., Gonzalez, M. and Cooper, C. (2020) ‘Outcomes of Inclusive Versus Separate Placements: A Matched Pairs Comparison Study’, Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 45(4), pp. 223–240.

This quasi-experimental study focused on 15 pairs of children with extensive support needs, matched across 12 characteristics based on their first complete Individual Education Program (IEP) in the school district. One child in each pair was included in general education for 80% or more of their day from their first IEP to the most current IEP at the time of the study. The other child in the pair was placed in a separate special education class, and was served there from the first IEP to the last IEP. All children were observed over a typical school day with time-sampling data collected on the types of activities, the contexts, and the types of engagement that occurred. In addition, outcome data from the first IEP to the most current IEP in the district were analyzed across three variables: communication levels, literacy levels, and numeracy levels. Results indicated that students in the general education classrooms had a significant, large effect size as compared with their pairs in separate classrooms on several variables. In addition, students in the general education classrooms demonstrated highly significant levels of progress as compared with the students in separate classrooms. Implications related to placement, disability characteristics, progress, and policy are discussed.

Polloway, E A., Bouck, E. C.; Yang, L., (2019) Educational Programs for Students with Intellectual Disability: Demographic Patterns, Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 54:1 30-40

This study analyzes national demographic data in the field of intellectual disability (ID). The data derive from the recent reports to Congress on IDEA by the US Department of Education (USDOE, 2015, 2016, 2017). The findings include data on school prevalence, ethnicity, educational environments, school exit patterns (i.e., diploma completion, dropout rates), and school disciplinary actions. Discussion focuses on these respective demographic areas and highlights information as related to participation in educational programs of students identified as ID. Particular emphasis is placed on the apparent status of mild intellectual disability in contemporary educational programs.

Other Suggested Reading

Books on Inclusive Education

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Support and Training

Organizations that provide support or training for Inclusive Education

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Supporting Inclusive Practices funded by the California Department of Education, Special Education Division, through Riverside County Office of Education and El Dorado County and Charter SELPA awards gransts to school districts and offers technical expertise.

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TIES Center is a federally funded national technical assistance center on inclusive practices and policies. It works with states, districts, and schools to support the movement of students with disabilities from less inclusive to more inclusive environments.

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The Teacher Leaders for Inclusion Project is a multi-year project that sparked from the relationship between the Johnson Family Foundation and the Department of Learning and Teaching at the University of San Diego

Club 21 Learning and Resource Center Equipping Educators Program offers training and support for schools including students with Down syndrome.

Think Inclusive exists to build bridges between families, educators, and disability rights activitsts to advocate for inclusive education.

Inclusive Schooling offers custom professional development for school leaders and paraprofessionals

Common Ground Society  'just two moms' offer presentations on inclusion for schools

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