The Most Commonly Asked Questions Regarding
the Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in General Education
What is education which is inclusive?
Education which is inclusive involves placement in the home school and in the general education environments(s) with appropriate supports, aid(e)s, and curricular adaptations designed individually for each student eligible for special education services. This educational practice most closely follows the wording and intent of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requiring each public agency to insure,
…that to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who do not have a disability, and special classes, separate schooling or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environments occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. (Section 612)
Another term for education which is inclusive is supported education, meaning one educational system for all students. Successful schools regard all students as rightful members of the school they would attend, and the class(es) in which they would participate if they did not have disabilities. Each student is provided instructional curricula to meet their individual needs and learning styles.
Experience tells us that where inclusive education is successful there are no prerequisites for participation. Standards vary with each child and all educational staff share responsibility.
Who are the students involved in education which is inclusive?
Students with moderate and severe disabilities with whom education which is inclusive started are often-times referred to as “inclusion students” in the “inclusion classroom.” While the IDEA requires districts to label students in order to receive funds, we are increasingly seeing school districts restructuring to, on a yearly basis, look at the needs of the entire student population. Increasingly, districts are moving away from referring to the “inclusion program” and the “inclusion students.” We are also seeing groups of teachers taking responsibility for groups of students with all learning styles and labels at a particular grade-level. Special education teachers are represented on each of these grade level teams.
What is the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)? This term appears in the language of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) formerly known as The Education of All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142). This term, known as LRE, applies to the placement of special education eligible students in the educational environment which least restricts their interactions with students not identified as eligible. For most students, this would be an age-appropriate classroom in the school (s)he would attend if not identified as eligible for special education. Moving to a more restrictive placement can only be done where there is documentation that the student’s needs cannot be met in the general education classroom with necessary aids and supports.
What is the Regular Education Initiative (REI)? The Regular Education Initiative (REI) was first referenced by Madeline Will, former U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) Director when President Reagan was in office. Often called REI, this term refers to the unification of what has become two separate educational systems–regular and special education. REI efforts generally take two forms. First, for students not yet identified as eligible for special education, pre-referral intervention strategies are used in the general education classroom to avoid a referral to special education. Second, for students already identified as eligible, services are delivered in a less restrictive way. A way that utilizes methods such as collaboration, consultation and in-general-education-class, rather than pull-out resource services.
Are REI and education which is inclusive separate initiatives? Currently in Illinois, the REI and an education which is inclusive are separate initiatives. The logic behind their beginning as separate initiatives was to ensure that students with more significant disabilities had the opportunity to be educated in general education classrooms. The REI was an initiative for students with high incidence disability labels as described above. Most of these students were already in chronologically age-appropriate schools and mainstreamed into general education classrooms, where as students with more significance (low incidence) disability labels were not yet in general education classrooms and/or chronologically age-appropriate schools. As districts are working with REI grants or grants for educating students in inclusive environments, they are finding that the two initiatives are not mutually exclusive. Increasingly, educators are discovering that best practices in implementing REI and inclusive schools initiatives are good for all kids. All students learn best when instruction: • involves active participation of students, • is exciting and motivating to the students, • requires students to think and problem solve, • allows for the accommodation of individual learning styles, • provides students with opportunities to learn from, and teach one other, • assists students in making “connections” between content areas and previously learned, knowledge and skills, • considers student interests, and • involves different methods of student “output” and evaluation – authentic assessment. While the federal laws and the IDEA requires districts to label students in order to receive funds, we are increasingly seeing school districts restructuring on a yearly basis to look at the needs of the entire student population. Increasingly, districts are moving away from referring to the “inclusion program” or the “inclusion students.” Students with moderate and severe disabilities with whom inclusive education started are oftentimes referred to as “inclusion students” in the “inclusion program”.
What is mainstreaming? Mainstreaming was a term popularized after the passage of PL 94-142 which has been generally used to describe the process of placing a student with mild to moderate disabilities into one or more general education academic classes. Students who are mainstreamed are usually expected to meet the same standards as non-identified students with minor modifications in curriculum or methodology. Prerequisite skills are generally felt to be necessary since the same standards for success are being applied for all students. This delivery model identifies the child as a “special” rather than a “regular” education student. This practice has not typically been associated with students who are identified as having severe disabilities.
What is integration? Integration involves placement out of a special education environment for part of the school day. Integration is utilized most frequently with students who have labels of moderate and severe disabilities, because, typically, students have not been associated with mainstreaming efforts. If done for academic purposes, the practice has been that the student must generally meet certain prerequisites before s/he is felt to be appropriate for integration and the general education curriculum. If done for social purposes, the student does not necessarily meet the same standards as required of other students. While the student may receive necessary assistance and support when integrated, a problem often occurs when the student’s case manager is a special education teacher for a self-contained classroom who must remain there with the other students. This delivery model identifies the child as a “special” rather than a “regular” education student. This practice has not typically been associated with students who are identified as having mild disabilities.
What is the home school? The home school is the school the child or youth would attend if s/he did not have a disability, that is, the same school that brothers, sisters, neighbors and friends attend. For preschool-aged children with disabilities, the home school is the community daycare, preschool or other community environment the child would attend if s/he did not have a disability.
What is the home school in an urban area where there are magnet schools and racial desegregation orders? In this instance, the home school definition applies. The child or youth would attend the school s/he would attend if s/he did not have a disability. Therefore, if the parents choose a magnet school and/or if students are assigned to certain schools away from their neighborhood because of racial desegregation efforts, this would be the home school for the child or youth with a disability.
What is a cluster program? A cluster program involves the identification of a specific school and classroom for students with a specific disability label. When cluster programs are utilized, most or all of the students do not attend their home school and students are frequently transported long distances away from their homes.
What is an age-appropriate placement? An age-appropriate placement refers to the general education classroom for students who are the same chronological age. For preschool-aged children, age-appropriate placements are the settings in which other children of their same chronological age attend.
What are homogeneous and heterogeneous groupings? Homogeneous groupings refers to the practice of arranging instructional groups of children and youth based on an identified label. This practice is utilized in general education when children and youth are placed in “tracks” such as “basic”, “average” and “accelerated”. In special education, homogeneous groups are frequently formed based on disability labels. The premise behind the use of homogeneous groupings is that children and youth who are perceived to experience the same difficulties with learning should be taught together. Heterogeneous groupings refers to a practice of arranging instructional groups to ensure that children and youth of diverse abilities are represented in each classroom and/or activity. The premise behind the use of heterogeneous groups is that children and youth of various abilities, talents and gifts benefit from learning together, by teaching and learning from one another. The research of Oakes, Goodlad, Slavin, and others, clearly indicates that grouping and tracking promotes inequity and does not result in an overall increase in achievement. Our work with students and teachers in Illinois has shown us that grouping students with disabilities homogeneously, places limits on their capacities to grow and learn. Teachers and parents across the state have frequently reported that when student with disabilities are educated in heterogeneous general education classrooms they meet their IEP goals and objectives early in the school year.
What does natural proportion mean? The proportion of all people with disability labels in the general population is about 13% to 15%. People with the most severe disabilities represent less than 1% of the general population. When students with disability labels attend their home school, there is generally a natural proportion represented. School buildings should consider the natural proportion when assigning students to classrooms. Classrooms which consider the natural proportion will not have more than 15% of its members who have disability labels and no more than one of these students will have a label of severe disabilities.
What are supplementary services? ”Supplementary aids and services,” as defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) at 20 U.S.C. 1412(5)(B), are supports for a student to achieve educational benefit in the general education environment. Supports are the accommodations made for students with disability labels in order to increase their independence and participation in general education classes. Past experiences of successful classrooms show that supports in an education that is inclusive can be as simple as changing the student’s seating assignment to accommodate a vision, hearing, motor or attention need. The supports can also be as complex as an electronic augmentative communication system with trained paraprofessionals available to assist a student in all classes. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) process assists the team members to determine supports by identifying each individual student’s needs. After the needs are identified, the possibilities for supports are seldom an exhaustive list. Carbon paper for a fellow student to take notes, special equipment and furniture, peer tutors (buddies), assistive technology, adapted curriculum, adapted tests and materials, individual assistants, certified staff consultants, or textbooks on audiotapes are but a few. Being creative is the key to generating, developing and implementing supports for a student’s success and benefit in the educational system. Sometimes it is difficult to separate “student supports” from “teacher supports” because most high technology or additional trained personnel, adaptations to curriculum or materials, and consultation or team teaching by staff with certain expertise, though written as specific aid(e)s for a student, inherently support and assist the teacher in providing instruction.
This manuscript was developed in part by the Illinois Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities grant, “Inclusive Education for Children and Youth with Severe Disabilities with support from Project CHOICES/Early CHOICES, an initiative of the Illinois State Board of Education. Opinions expressed in this manuscript do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of either agency and no official endorsement by those offices should be inferred.
Nancy J. Keiser
Northern Illinois University
Special Education Association
Rene Christensen –
Illinois Planning Council on
DuPage Intermediate Educational Cooperative
Illinois State Board of Education
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
The questions about inclusion of children with disabilities in general education for which we have developed some answers are those that have been asked by parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, other school personnel and community members throughout the state of Illinois. The Illinois Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities (IPCDD) has sponsored informational meetings that have become known as the “road shows.” At each “road show,” the questions asked were recorded and some answers appear here. Additionally, educational consultants with Project CHOICES and staff from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) provided us with questions also. This is a revised addition. We have added some new strategies, information on collective bargaining, a legal opinion on grading and so forth.
Finally, we would again like to thank all the general and special educators and families throughout the state of Illinois who are providing us with the answers. Brave families and risk taking educators will lead the way. If any of you find answers of which we are not aware, please continue to find a way to share them.
Sharon Freagon for the Authors