U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a plea for special education students at a March 15 conference of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). He asked that they not only be included in the general education environment, but that their schools be held accountable for their performance. He said, "We can no longer celebrate the success of students if another group of students is still struggling. We have to be open and honest about where we fall short." To accomplish this, Duncan urged more inclusion in the classroom and an end to the "2 percent rule," which disguises the performance of students with special needs to boost a school's scores.
Since 2007, states have been allowed to adopt the 2 percent policy, formally known as the alternate assessments on Modified Academic Achievement Standards, a provision under No Child Left Behind. The policy allows schools to give students with cognitive disabilities alternate assessments. Nationally, the provision appears to affect only a small portion of students—2 percent—but special education advocates argue the curriculum these children follow is modified as well and less rigorous than it should be.
Duncan said the Department of Education will not issue another policy like the 2 percent rule in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Inclusion of special education students in the classroom has also been increasing over the years. At the AAPD conference, Duncan noted that 60 percent of students with disabilities spend 80 percent of their time in the regular school environment nationwide—although he would like to see those numbers keep rising.
George Giuliani, executive director of the National Association for Special Education Teachers (NASET), considers the trend to be positive and says that inclusion in the classroom is now being viewed as the norm.
"The idea of inclusion is now commonplace and not something that we look at and say 'Why?' or 'How?'" says Giuliani. The benefits of inclusion are both academic and social, he says. "Academically, inclusion is allowing [students with disabilities] to strive to meet their full potential. Too often, students are placed in classrooms with students that have other disabilities. Now, by being in the general education classroom setting, they are learning the same social skills by working with their peers."