How can schools foster inclusivity in the classroom? Can students with disabilities thrive in such a general education setting? These questions serve as the framework for a recent study from Indiana University, which may indicate a need to create more inclusive schools.
The study, which was conducted by IU’s Center on Education and Lifelong Learning, focuses on Indiana high school students with disabilities and how time spent in general education classes impacted their learning.
Hardy Murphy, a clinical professor in the School of Education and co-author of the study, challenges schools to rethink how they place their students with disabilities. “Changing and elevating our expectations of what students with disabilities are capable of lies at the heart of people with disabilities contributing to and benefitting from being a part of our community experience beyond K-12 education,” she said in a statement. “Including students with disabilities in their school communities with their general education peers is an important place to begin this transformation.”
Using state student and school data, the researchers explored how high and low-inclusion educational settings impact academic performance among students with disabilities. High inclusivity was defined as having 80% or more time spent in a general education classroom, and anything lower than 80% was defined as low inclusivity.
Here are the study’s key findings:
- Students who spent 80% or more time in general education classrooms scored on average 24.3 points higher in reading and writing than their peers in low-inclusion environments. In math, they scored 18.4 higher.
- Those in high-inclusion environments were 22% more likely to graduate with a Core 40 diploma. According to the researchers, high inclusivity prepares students with disabilities for post-secondary and employment opportunities.
Giving special education students the opportunity to participate in general education classrooms, according to Murphy, is something administrators ought to consider. “These results show that is as much a moral and ethical question as it is an educational one,” she said.
Sandi Cole, director of the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community and the study’s lead author, calls for a radical transformation of K-12 education.
“We cannot, as a society, afford to continue to support policies and practices, academic failure, limited post-secondary options and continued separation and marginalization based on disabilities,” she said in a statement. “We can, however, accept the ambitious agenda to transform educational systems to create inclusive school environments, maximize student participation and increase the achievement of students with disabilities.”