Since 1975, Federal law has encouraged the incorporation of children with special needs into the regular classroom, under the supervision of regular classroom teachers (Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975). To better accommodate this Federal policy of "inclusion", the State of Georgia mandated in 1981 that all teachers certified to teach students from kindergarten through grade twelve must take an introductory special education course on the characteristics and behaviors of special students (Special Education Services Act). The latter law is enforced by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission for teachers who wish to become certified, reinstate expired certificates, add new teaching fields, or update certificates.
The goals of the inclusion policy include: a) improving the socialization of special students, b) providing special students access to mainstream educational resources, and c) accomplishing these enhanced educational opportunities at a reasonable cost. Many decisions to include or exclude special students will depend upon the willingness of classroom teachers to accept and support those students. In order for inclusion policy to succeed, it is important that regular classroom teachers have realistic expectations of the special students and their ability to deal with those students. Further, it is highly desirable that teachers' expectations remain realistic with the passage of time and experience.
In the two decades that the above mentioned Federal and Slate laws and their more recent permutations have been in effect, there have been no published reports in which teachers' long-term attitudes towards special students have been quantified. This issue was addressed by the present study. We tested the hypothesis that, in the years following the teachers' completion of the State-required introductory special education course, there would be an erosion of their willingness to manage special students. Willingness to include special students into the regular classroom was quantified using a survey form in which the teachers evaluated specific classroom scenarios.
The survey population was full-time, regular-classroom teachers who took the course "Identification and Education of Exceptional Students in the Regular Classroom" at Georgia Southern University between September 1987 and December 1991. The survey was originally administered to the teachers immediately after completing the class, and again after they had experienced a minimum of three years in teaching. The survey consisted of 60 classroom scenarios, representing varying degrees of challenge. An example of a scenario in which little difficulty would be anticipated is as follows:
David squints through his eyeglasses, even when he sits at the front of the room. He cannot read the blackboard or his book quite as rapidly as many of the other children.
An example of a scenario in which intermediate difficulty would be anticipated is as follows:
Chuck doesn't seem to catch on to things as quickly as most students. He needs to have things explained over and over again. Eventually he appears to learn everything the others do, even though it has taken longer.
An example of a scenario in which much difficulty would be anticipated is as follows:
Flora has neither bladder nor bowel control and must be taken to the bathroom at frequent intervals.
After reading each scenario, teachers were asked to assess their comfort in coping with the situation, using the 5-point scale on Table 1.
The individual scores for each question were calculated for the respondent cohort. Additionally, the effect of classroom teaching experience on the response to each question was calculated using the following formula:
Response change = final score - initial score.
For example, if a respondent initially scored a scenario as 2, and the final score was 4, this would represent response change of +2 (i.e., a pessimistic shift). Alternatively, if the initial score was 4 and the final score was 2, this would represent a response change of -2 (an optimistic shift).
Parametric data were expressed as mean [+ or -]SD.
Twenty-eight teachers (22 females, 6 males) responded to both the initial and follow-up surveys and were included in the final data analysis. The elapsed time between the two surveys, and hence the classroom experience of the teachers between the two surveys, was 5.0 [+ or -] 1.5 years (range = 3 - 8 years; median = 5 years).
In both survey sessions, each score of 1,2,3, or 4 was attributed to at least 12% of the scenarios [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. This validated that the survey contained a wide range of scenarios of challenging students suitable for education in a public education system, provided the proper resources were available. Of the 60 scenarios evaluated, and in both the initial and final surveys, the teachers scored more than 86% as grades 1-3 (i.e., students that could be included into the public school systems' regular classrooms). An additional 12-13% of the scenarios were identified as appropriate for special education in the public school system (score = 4). Less than 1% were viewed as inappropriate for public school education (score = 5).
There was minimal change in teachers' responses between the initial and final surveys [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED]. Specifically, 47% of the responses to a given scenario did not change as a result of classroom experience. When the teachers changed their impression of a scenario between the initial and final surveys, the migration from one score to another appeared to be evenly divided among optimistic (25%) and pessimistic (28%) shifts [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED].
Table 1 5-point scale of comfort in coping with situations Score assignment Response description 1 I feel I could handle such a student in my regular classroom without any fundamental change in my present procedures. 2 I feel I could handle such a student in my regular classroom, provided advice from a specialist or consultant was occasionally made available whenever I felt a need for such aid in dealing with a particular problem. 3 I feel I could handle such a student in my classroom, provided there was a full-time specialist available at my school who could provide frequent consultation for me and supplementary training for the student. 4 I feel that such a student would benefit most by being assigned to a special class or school. 5 I feel that such a child cannot be handled profitably within the context of regular or special public education.
In both surveys, students viewed as least appropriate for inclusion into the regular classroom (Grades 4 and 5) included those with severe or profound disabilities.
Our research investigated the willingness of regular classroom teachers to participate in a program of inclusion of special students. In a full inclusive model, students with disabilities, no matter how severe, are taught in the regular classroom of their home school with their age and grade peers, for the full day, with support services provided within that classroom (National Association of State Boards of Education, 1992). Inclusion differs from mainstreaming in that the latter term usually refers to integrating children with disabilities and non-handicapped children for only a portion of the day, which may be during nonacademic times.
An inclusion policy should be more successful when teachers are familiar with the characteristics and behaviors of special students and the students' specific needs within the regular classroom environment. This familiarity can be facilitated by appropriate teacher education. Evidence of successful teacher education might include: a) a willingness to accept a wide variety of challenging students, and b) stability of the teachers' attitudes with time. In the population of regular classroom teachers we surveyed, both of these end-points were observed.
The results of our study provide an extension to the research of Center and Ward (1987). The latter authors reported that teachers were positive about integrating special students into the regular classroom, provided the disabling characteristics were not likely to require extra instructional or management skills on the part of the teacher (p.41). Specifically, children with mild to moderate degrees of physical disability were considered suitable for placement in regular classes if the school was easily accessible, if parental help was provided, or if adapted instructional materials were available. Teaching children with mild sensory disabilities did not appear to cause anxiety for the teachers they evaluated, possibly because itinerant teachers were available to assist children who were hearing and visually impaired (p. 43). In contrast, all children likely to demand extra teacher competencies (e.g. the child needing medical monitoring, catheterization, etc.) were less welcomed by the teachers. The Center and Ward data strongly suggest that teachers are reluctant to have children in the regular classroom who have profound sensory disabilities, multiple physical handicaps, or meaningful behavioral or intellectual impairment.
Similarly, in our study, teachers were willing to include a wide range of challenged students into the regular classroom; however, they scored as least acceptable students who had physical limitations that would detract from the activities of the regular classroom (i.e., students with multiple handicaps who would require constant help with personal needs).
Rice (1985) has argued that the success of incorporating special students into the regular classroom also is dependent upon not alienating the affected teachers within their educational system. One approach is to facilitate communication between regular and special educators. As reported by Dileo and Meloy (1990), having the two types of educators visit each other's classrooms during an in-service program on mainstreaming resulted in an improvement in attitude and respect for each other's jobs.
Incorporation of special students also is facilitated when regular teachers have available instructional policies that are adapted to meet a wide range of individual needs, coupled with appropriate teacher training and a supportive school environment (Slavin, Leavey, and Madden, 1984; Wang and Walberg, 1983). Working with on-site itinerant teachers may positively affect teachers' attitudes; however, the mere presence of a resource teacher on staff had no significant effect upon teachers' tolerance of mainstreaming (Center and Ward, 1987).
Forced inclusion of special students into the regular classroom may force teachers to reassess their professional roles. In a public school in a suburb of a large city in Texas, four teachers exited the school by the mid-year, and one-fifth of the teachers surveyed said they were considering resigning their jobs at the end of the year because of forced inclusion (Baines, Baines with Masterson, 1994). The survey also revealed that few teachers had received any training that would help them deal with special education students. More than half had never taken a special education course, either through a district in-service training program or at a university (Baines et al., 1994). In contrast, in our study of 28 regular classroom teachers (all of whom received an introductory college course on the characteristics and behaviors of special students), there was no erosion of teachers' willingness to accept special needs students over a study period of 3 to 8 years.
As efforts continue to better prepare teachers and school systems to accommodate inclusion policies, there is ongoing debate as to which of the nation's four million disabled children currently enrolled in special education classes (Algozzine, Morsink, and Algozzine, 1988) will make their way into the regular classrooms. The Learning Disabilities Association of America has argued against full inclusion for all children with disabilities (McCarthy, 1994). In contrast, the Council for Exceptional Children has advocated more extensive inclusion of disabled students into neighborhood schools. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) called for a moratorium on the placement of disabled children in regular classrooms until educators review how to make inclusion placement work. Similarly, the National Association of Educators (NEA) has contended that schools must train teachers and allow them additional time to plan for disabled students (McCarthy, 1994).
One of the driving forces behind this debate is the so called "least restrictive environment" (LRE) provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (Education of the Handicapped Children Act Amendments of 1990). The LRE provision states that the disabled child should be placed in the educational environment that provides the least restriction to their progress. The limits of LRE provisions have not yet been defined, and probably will depend on judicial clarification. Such an interpretation, within the Federal. Courts system, is anticipated in the near future (McCarthy, 1994).
Until these issues are properly debated and adjudicated, in-regions where inclusion of disabled students is legislatively encouraged, any efforts of local school districts to exclude select students from the regular classroom should be accompanied by proper documentation. Specifically, the districts should provide evidence that the student's disabilities are so severe that: a) he or she will receive little or no benefit from inclusion, b) the child is so disruptive that the education of others will be impaired, or c) the costs are so significant they will have a negative effect on other students (McCarthy, 1994).
In summary, the success of a program to include special students into the regular classroom will involve the selection of students whose disabilities do not overwhelm the resources of the teachers and their environment. Inclusion is enhanced when: a) there is a supportive school environment (perhaps including supplemental professionals to assist with the more challenging students), b) appropriate teaching materials are available, c) there are pre-established policies for dealing with special situations, and d) there is ample opportunity for communication between regular and special classroom teachers. Teachers' willingness to accept special students into the regular classroom, and their effectiveness in dealing with those students, may be strengthened by appropriate classroom education on the characteristics and behaviors of special students (CEC Today, 1994). Our study suggests that, when teachers are provided such education, their enthusiasm for accepting special students into the regular classroom will remain stable with time and experience.
Algozzine, B., Morsink, C.V., & Algozzine, K. (1988). What's happening in self-contained special education classrooms? Exceptional Children, 55 259-265.
Baines, L. & Baines, C. with Carol Masterson. (1994). Mainstreaming: one school's reality. Phi Delta Kappan, 76(1), 39-64.
CEC Today, September, 1994, p. 14.
Center, Y. & Ward, J. (1987). Teachers' attitudes towards the integration of disabled children into regular schools. The Exceptional Child, 34(1), 41-55.
Dileo, J. & Meloy, F. (1990). Project mainstream: improving teacher attitudes. Teaching Exceptional Children, 23(1), 56-57.
Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-142). (1975). United States Statutes at Large 89 STAT 773-796.
Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1990 (Public Law 101-476). (1990), United States Statutes at Large 104 STAT 1103-1151.
McCarthy, M. (1994), Inclusion and the law: recent judicial developments, Phi Delta Kappa Research Bulletin, 13.
National Association of State Boards of Education. (1992). Winners All: A Call for Inclusive Schools. Alexandria, VA: NASBE.
Rice, A. (1985). A note on teachers as obstacles to the implementation of integration. The Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 2(2), 16-17.
Slavin, L. Leavey, M. & Madden, N. (1984). Combining cooperative learning and individualized instruction. Elementary School Journal, 84(3), 409-422.
Special Education Services Act. (12981). Official Code of Georgia, Section 20-2-201.
Wang, M. & Walberg, H. (1983). Adaptive instruction and classroom time. American Educational Research Journal, 20(4), 601-626.
Figure 1: Distribution of scores for 60 classroom scenarios evaluated by 28 teachers. Initial survey responses (A) resulted from a survey completed by the teachers immediately after they had completed an introductory special education class. The final survey responses (B) resulted from completion of the same survey after the teachers had a minimum of three years additional classroom experience. A score of 1 suggests that students could be readily included into the regular classroom. A score of 5 suggests that the described student could not be handled profitably within the context of regular or special public education. A full description of scores is provided in the text.
Figure 2: Changes in teachers' responses between the initial and final surveys. 28 teachers were surveyed on 60 scenarios. When compared to the initial survey responses, a change of +1, +2, or +3 indicated student scenarios viewed as less amenable for inclusion into the regular classroom. A change of -1, -2, or -3 indicated scenarios viewed as more amenable for inclusion into the regular classroom. Zero refers to no change between the initial and final surveys.
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