Inclusive Education Reform (page 3)
Inclusive education, a movement that calls for reform in special education delivery, has gained considerable momentum since the early 1990s. The concept of inclusive education can be traced back to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, which mandated that all students must be served in the least restrictive environment. Hence, special education service delivery within the general education classroom has become more prevalent. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990 and the Amendments to IDEA of 1997 further emphasize the need to serve students with disabilities in the general education setting whenever possible. The idea of placing students with disabilities in general education environments with their peers without disabilities has become known as inclusion. According to the Association of Learning Disabilities (1993), inclusion is defined as the instruction of all students, with and without disabilities, in the general education classroom, unless substantial evidence is provided to show that such a placement would not be in a student's best interests. Thurlow, Ysseldyke, and Silverstein (1993) state that under inclusion, students with disabilities are served whenever possible in general education classrooms in inclusive neighborhood schools and community settings. In an inclusive school, a unified system allows all students to receive the necessary educational services that they require without being labeled and without being removed from the general education classroom (Malarz, 1996).
The inclusive education movement has led to increased participation of students with disabilities in general education settings and in the general education curriculum. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, in 1996 more than 45 percent of students with disabilities ages 6 to 21 in public schools were educated in general education classrooms. This was a 20 percent increase from 25 percent of special education students educated in general education in 1986. Conversely, the percentage of students with disabilities served in resource rooms and other special education settings decreased during the same period (U.S. Department of Education, 1999b). These trends have been continuing. In many states, a majority of students with disabilities spend some or all of their time in general education settings. These students vary in age and disability groupings. Schools must now address the special needs of these students in the general education classroom.
Inclusion of students with disabilities in general education settings has many advantages. It allows the alignment of special education programs and general education curriculum, raises the expectations of student performance, provides opportunities for students with disabilities to learn and be assessed alongside their typical peers without disabilities, and increases school-level accountability for educational results (U.S. Department of Education, 1999b). However, including students with disabilities in general education settings also presents significant challenges to students with disabilities as well as teachers who teach them in the general education classroom. For students with disabilities, achieving success in the general education classroom is a challenge itself, which becomes even more arduous when they are held responsible for the same high standards set for their peers without disabilities. Considering their disabilities, it is imperative that instructional and curriculum modifications be made to assist these students to achieve effectively. Similarly, accommodations should be provided whenever necessary for students with disabilities in both classroom testing and large-scale assessment to evaluate and monitor their progress.
It is obvious that inclusive education cannot be appropriately implemented without proper supports and services. Efforts must be made to assemble and reorganize the appropriate staff and resources within the schools to deliver more inclusive, coordinated services for all students (Will, 1986). A key issue is the training that general education teachers have and the support that they receive in teaching students with disabilities within their classrooms. Many general education teachers believe they do not possess the training to teach these students within their classes (Werts, Wolery, Snyder, Caldwell, & Salisbury, 1996). General education teachers also cannot be expected to teach students with disabilities effectively without the necessary supports from special educators and other personnel. Proper training and supports should be provided to general education teachers as well as others (e.g., special education teachers, paraprofessionals) who work with students with disabilities in the general education classroom. For example, general education teachers need to be trained and encouraged to modify lessons, teaching strategies, and tests to meet the special needs of students with disabilities. Likewise, other school professionals (e.g., special educators, school psychologists, speech therapists) should be trained with competence in using accommodations and other alternative procedures in assessing achievement and progress of students with disabilities.
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