Special Education Research Advances Knowledge in Education

By Vaughn, Sharon; Swanson, Elizabeth A. | Exceptional Children, October 2015 | Go to article overview

Special Education Research Advances Knowledge in Education


Vaughn, Sharon, Swanson, Elizabeth A., Exceptional Children


Special education research has contributed significantly to knowledge and practice not just related to individuals with disabilities but for all learners. Special educators have had the dual responsibility of (a) designing interventions that meet the feasibility criteria for general education classrooms aimed at enhancing outcomes for a range of learners and (b) developing intensive interventions for special educators to meet the individual learning and behavior needs of students with disabilities. This dual responsibility is significant and challenging. The first section of this article explores special education research as the intellectual engine that has significantly influenced progress in improving outcomes for all learners. We describe several examples of this influence, focusing on the components of response to intervention (RTI; e.g., progress monitoring, intervention, accelerating instruction based on students' needs) and features of effective instruction that are derived largely from research on special education (e.g., strategy instruction and feedback). In the second section of this article, we discuss the fact that there remains much work to do in improving outcomes for students with disabilities. We provide guidelines for future special education research, highlighting the importance of developing and evaluating intensive treatments for students who have inadequately responded to treatment protocols that are effective for the majority of students. In the third part of this article, we make suggestions for future research and supports necessary to continue the influential research to practice necessary to improve innovations in general and special education.

Educational Practice Influenced by Special Education Research

Over the past 20 years, considerable emphasis in special education has been placed on designing and implementing effective practices for enhancing outcomes for all learners, including those with disabilities, served in the general education classroom. This emphasis is a result of initiatives (e.g., regular education initiative, inclusive schools movement) that entitled students with disabilities to be included in the general education setting aimed at promoting interaction between general and special education as a unified system. With this shift toward the expectation that all educators have responsibility for serving students with disabilities (Harkins, 2012; Will, 1986) came greater need for instructional techniques effective for a wide range of learners that could be feasibly implemented in the general education setting. As a result, instructional methods effective for students with disabilities were adopted and tested for efficacy in general education settings.

Perhaps one of the most successful examples of special education research influencing general education organization, instruction, and practice has been RTI (L. S. Fuchs & Vaughn, 2012). It was included in the most recent reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act in 2004 as an approved method for identifying learning disabilities and has laid the groundwork for enhancing the performance of all students--with and without disabilities--through a common system where classroom teachers, special education teachers, and other specialists work together (D. Fuchs, Fuchs, & Compton, 2012; D. Fuchs, Fuchs, & Vaughn, 2014). RTI has yielded a network of changes in screening, assessment, and intervention that relate to both prevention and remediation of students at risk for academic and behavioral difficulties.

Effective RTI frameworks provide increasingly intensive tiers of interventions for students as a function of their response to research-based instruction. Several elements are essential to the effective implementation of a multitiered approach. One is that students are provided with research-based instruction in the general education classroom as part of Tier 1, assuring that they have had an adequate opportunity to learn. …

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