Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Comparing the Effects of Educational Placement on the Social Relationships of Intermediate School Students with Severe Disabilities

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Comparing the Effects of Educational Placement on the Social Relationships of Intermediate School Students with Severe Disabilities

Article excerpt

Implementing policy decisions occasions predicted, as well as unpredicted, changes in the outcomes produced by a system (Gilbert, 1978; Glenn, 1988; Harris, 1980; Skrtic, 1991). When those changes are consistent with the values of a particular constituency, they are typically labeled as desirable; when such changes are in conflict with a group's values, they are labeled problematic. These competing perspectives become all the more complex when practice is debated at the level of policy, in the absence of objective information to anchor and refine discussion. It is one thing to debate the potential, and perhaps specious, outcomes of systems change; it is another to debate the relevance of documented outcomes in relation to educational policy. Because of the ambiguities inherent in discourse, many agents of change view policy decisions affecting the organization and scope of educational practice as demanding empirical analysis (e.g., Baer, 1993).

Such is the current status of approaches toward merging general and special education into more "inclusive" arrangements (cf. Sailor, 1995; Stainback, Stainback, & Forest, 1989; Wang, Reynolds, & Walberg, 1986; Will, 1986). Although policy discussion has been fervent and thoughtful, research findings are only beginning to emerge to reshape policy debate. Inclusive education has been controversial, in part, because the outcomes associated with increased collaboration between general and special educators have yet to be determined. A reasonable prediction is that when empirical evidence accumulates regarding the various effects associated with inclusive education, controversy will be replaced by discussion of the relevant outcomes. The potential of inclusive education can only be understood via a thorough documentation of what changes do, and do not, occur for various consumers.

To date, research on integrated and inclusive education has focused on the following:

* Describing how supports are being delivered (e.g., Baker & Zigmond, 1995; Ferguson, Meyer, Jeanchild, Juniper, & Zingo, 1992; Hollowood, Salisbury, Rainforth, & Palombaro, 1994; Janney, Snell, Bess, & Raynes, 1995; Kohler, Strain, & Shearer, 1995; Wolery, Werts, Caldwell, & Snyder, 1994).

* Professionals' and families' perceptions of support arrangements (e.g., Peck, Carlson, & Helmstetter, 1992; Semmel, Abernathy, Butera, & Lesar, 1991; York, Vandercook, MacDonald, Heise-Neff, & Caughey, 1992).

* Student-based effects (e.g., Cushing & Kennedy, in press; Dugan et al., 1995; Helmstetter, Peck, & Giangreco, 1994; Fryxell & Kennedy, 1995; Hunt, Farron-Davis, Beckstead, Curtis, & Goetz, 1994; Hunt, Staub, Alwell, Goetz, 1994; Kennedy & Itkonen, 1994; Kishi & Meyer, 1994; Sale & Carey, 1995; Werts, Caldwell, & Wolery, in press). Overall, the emerging literature on integrated and inclusive education can best be summarized as promising, but mixed -- making the need for further research to clarify and refine previous findings all the more necessary.

Of particular interest to our research group has been how inclusive schools facilitate versus inhibit the social development of students with and without severe disabilities (cf. Kennedy & Itkonen, 1996). A specific rationale underlying the development of inclusive education has been the accumulation of research indicating a paucity of social relationships between students with and without disabilities derived from more traditional educational arrangements (e.g., Guralnick, 1990; Haring, 1991; Strain, 1990). In contrast with these concerns, recent studies have indicated that general education participation may increase social interactions between students with and without disabilities. For example, Hunt, Staub et al. (1994) demonstrated that elementary school students with severe disabilities in inclusive arrangements spent more time participating in activities with peers without disabilities and received higher proportions of social initiations. …

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