Inclusion of Students with Learning Disabilities: An Examination of Data from Reports to Congress

Article excerpt

One of the most controversial issues currently facing special education is the extent to which students with learning disabilities should be included in general education classrooms (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1995; Marston, 1997; McLeskey & Pugach, 1995; McLeskey & Waldron, 1995; Roberts & Mather, 1995; Vaughn & Schumm, 1995; Waldron, 1997; Zigmond et al., 1995). Investigations and reviews of research have produced mixed results regarding the effectiveness of inclusive programs for these students (Baker, Wang, & Walberg, 1994-95; Carlberg & Kavale, 1980; Klingner, Vaughn, Hughes, Schumm, Elbaum, 1998; Madden & Slavin, 1983; Manset & Semmel, 1997; Marston, 1997; McLeskey & Waldron, 1995; Waldron & McLeskey, 1998; Zigmond et al., 1995). In addition, Vaughn and Schumm have pointed out that several organizations representing parents and professionals who work with students with learning disabilities have issued position statements registering concern that inclusive school programs fail to provide services for students with learning disabilities that are appropriate (Council for Learning Disabilities, 1993; Division for Learning Disabilities, 1993; Learning Disabilities Association, 1993; National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1993).

In spite of the controversy that exists regarding this issue, there seems to be an emerging consensus that students with learning disabilities should spend most of the school day in general education classrooms, and that most of the services that are needed by these students may be delivered in these settings (Klingner et al., 1998; Marston, 1997; McLeskey & Waldron, 1996; Vaughn & Schumm, 1995; Zigmond & Baker, 1997). This perspective is further supported by mandates in federal law (i.e., Public Law 94-142, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) which create a presumption in favor of educating children with disabilities in general education classroom settings through the least restrictive environment (LRE) provision (Danielson & Bellamy, 1989). Indeed, LRE is a major provision both in the IDEA, as well as in numerous state initiatives (Sawyer, McLaughlin, & Winglee, 1994). This provision requires states to assure that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities are educated with children who do not have disabilities, and that removal from the general education classroom occur only when the child's disability is so severe that the curriculum and instruction of the general education classroom cannot be adapted to achieve satisfactory results (Sawyer et al., 1994).

In spite of the extensive discussion of inclusion of students with learning disabilities in the professional literature, little evidence exists to document placement trends for these students over time (Sawyer et al., 1994). One study which did address this issue found that as recently as 1989, there had been little movement toward educating students with learning disabilities in inclusive, general education classrooms settings (McLeskey & Pacchiano, 1994). These investigators found that between 1979 and 1989, the trend was to educate students with learning disabilities in more rather than less restrictive settings. More specifically, they found that the proportion of students with learning disabilities who were being educated in restrictive, separate class settings almost doubled between 1979 and 1989, while much of the increase that occurred during this time in placements in less restrictive settings (i.e., resource and general education classrooms) was likely the result of increasing identification rates for students with learning disabilities.

The current investigation was designed to address the dearth of information regarding placement trends for students with learning disabilities by providing up-to-date data regarding this issue. The primary purposes of this investigation were to (a) examine national data on placement practices for school-age students (that is, students ages 6-17) with learning disabilities from 1988-89 to 1994-95 (the most recent year that data are available in Reports to Congress) to determine if changes in these practices have occurred, and (b) examine data from the 50 states and the District of Columbia to determine if differences exist in placement practices for students with learning disabilities across the U. …