Why Inclusion of Special Needs Students Works
By Matthew Lynch
Students with mild disabilities are generally part of a regular classroom and some may spend short periods of time each day in a resource room receiving specialized education. Referred to as “pull-out” programs, these programs have been under fire because they separate and label children, yet they do not produce the required improvements in the students’ academic performance. In light of this, more mainstream classroom inclusion has become a popular choice for students with special needs. With inclusion, the child is fully included in the regular class for the entire day. A special education teacher works with the special needs children in the classroom, and all resources needed by the child are brought to the regular classroom. Inclusion has its share of nay-sayers however who voice concerns about the inclusion programs. Teachers of regular classes have concerns, which include:
- A lack of support services for students when they are moved into a regular classroom;
- Lack of training for even the most experienced teachers when it comes to supporting and working with disabled students;
- Limited content and field experiences in teacher education programs focused on learning disabilities;
- Limited involvement of regular teachers during creation of the IEP;
- Concerns expressed by parents of “regular” students in the inclusive classroom that their children would not get the attention they need.
Inclusion is directed at ensuring that students with disabilities are able to benefit from the best learning situations possible. Prior to change a made to NCLB in 2003, educational progress of children with disabilities was not tracked. In 2003, NCLB required that states include the achievement scores of 95 percent of all special education students in their annual progress reports. Hence another level of inclusion was instituted, one designed to ensure that special needs students were progressing. States were allowed to include accommodations for special needs students taking the test, such as extended test time, one-on-one testing, and helping students to write answers. Students with severe cognitive disabilities were also allowed to take an alternative test.
Despite concerns expressed by some teachers and parents about inclusion, evidence suggests that it works. Teachers have testified to the benefits that their students have received in terms of increased performance and comprehension. Prior to testing these students, they fell by the wayside and there was no way to tell what they were learning or even if they were learning. The exposure to the testing has given these students a place in the educational arena and exposure to more attention, opportunities and self-sufficiency.
There is another aspect to inclusion of students with special needs that is important too, and that is how it positively impacts mainstream peers. Rather than remove students who are different from classrooms, there is a blending of them and it teaches the mainstream students more about compassion, understanding and that every student learns in a different way. These are traits that cannot be taught from a book, but must be learned in the classroom through experience – and they are important.
I think the move to include more special needs students in daily classroom settings is a smart one, and the accompanying testing enforces it. Perhaps this generation of K-12 students will be the highest-achieving yet.