Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Outcomes for Students with Learning Disabilities in Inclusive and Pullout Programs

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Outcomes for Students with Learning Disabilities in Inclusive and Pullout Programs

Article excerpt

The practice of including students with disabilities in general education classrooms has been gaining momentum for more than 15 years (Andrews, et al., 2000; U.S. Department of Education [USDE], 2000; Will, 1986). During this time, many complex philosophical, legal, and educational issues have been raised for schools, courts, and society as a whole. Lack of satisfactory academic performance by students with disabilities, combined with growing demands for social equity and civil rights, increasing identification of students requiring services, and ballooning costs of special education, prompted a radical reconsideration of the special education delivery system of the mid-1980s (Kavale & Forness, 2000; Will, 1986). Since that time, increasing numbers of students with disabilities have been educated within the context of general education (McLeskey, Henry, & Axelrod, 1999; USDE, 2000).

Two major issues have surfaced: the efficacy of the continuum model and the use of inclusive education to address shortcomings of the continuum model (Skrtic, 1995). While the field of special education evolved to serve more students with increasingly complex needs, data on pullout special education programs for students with LD revealed results that were not satisfactory in terms of school achievement or long-term benefits (Carlson, 1997; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1995; Lloyd & Gambatese, 1991; Wagner & Shaver, 1993). Factors identified as barriers to student success are lower expectations, uninspiring and restricted curricula focused on rote or irrelevant tasks, disjointedness from general education curricula, and negative student attitudes resulting from school failure and stigmatizing segregation (Andrews et al., 2000; Meyen & Skrtic, 1995; Wang, Reynolds, & Walberg, 1988). Two decades of disappointing results have led to the question: What is the relationship between placement and outcomes?

Reactions to the inclusive movement have varied, often polarizing teachers, administrators, families, and advocacy groups. On one hand, inclusion opponents suggest that special education will become diluted and no longer "special." They contend that general education is unprepared to meet the unique needs of students with disabilities and that inclusion is primarily a cost-cutting effort. Many think that the continuum of services requirements of the Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA '97) prohibit the identification of one location as appropriate for all students (Hallahan, 1998). On the other hand, inclusion supporters insist that students with disabilities have the legal right to be educated with typical peers in age-appropriate settings (Walther-Thomas, Korinek, McLaughlin, & Williams, 2000; Yell, 1998) and suggest that two separate educational systems have resulted in fragmented, artificial programs (Giangreco, Cloninger, Dennis, & Edelman, 1994; National Study of Inclusive Education [NSIE], 1994). Proponents further contend that poor social, academic, and employment outcomes for students with disabilities are reflective of restricted experiences available outside general education (Carlson, 1997; Tapasack & Walther-Thomas, 1999; Wagner & Shaver, 1993). Finally, proponents say that once included in classrooms with higher expectations, appropriate role models, and true opportunities for generalization of skills, students with disabilities will experience improved outcomes (Walther-Thomas et al., 2000).

Many disagreements about the merits of inclusion hinge on the lack of empirical evidence (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1995; Kauffman & Hallahan, 1993, Walther-Thomas et al., 2000). Early studies are few and now dated, comparing inclusive services with pullout practices that were prevalent in the 1970s through the mid-1980s evidencing less relevance to today's classrooms (Hocutt, 1996). Limited research has been conducted on academic achievement and social outcomes of students with LD. Findings are not conclusive; however, they suggest a positive trend when students are integrated into general education classrooms (Affleck, Madge, Adams, & Lowenbraun, 1988; Baker, Wang, & Walberg, 1995; Carlberg & Kavale, 1980; Deno, Maruyama, Espin, & Cohen, 1990; Schulte, Osborne, & McKinney, 1990; Walther-Thomas 1997; Wang & Baker, 1985-86; Zigmond & Baker, 1990). …

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