Should All Students with Learning Disabilities Be Educated in the Regular Classroom?
For the majority of students with learning disabilities, the least restrictive environment for all or most of the school day is the regular education classroom attended by their same-age peers. The movement toward full inclusion of all students with disabilities in regular classrooms, however, has many professionals and advocates for students with learning disabilities worried. They think that although the full-inclusion movement is based on strong beliefs and has the best intentions at heart, little research supports it (“Award-Winning Researchers Raise Questions about ‘Inclusion,’” 2001; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994; Kauffman & Hallahan, 1994; Swanson, 2000). They fear that the special education services for students with learning disabilities guaranteed by IDEA—particularly the meaningful development and implementation of IEPs and the identification of the least restrictive environment for each student along a continuum of placement options—will be lost if full inclusion becomes reality. They wonder how, for example, a high school student with learning disabilities who spends the entire school day in regular education subject-matter classes will receive the individualized reading instruction at the fourth-grade level that she needs.
All of the major professional and advocacy associations concerned with the education of all children with learning disabilities have published position papers against full inclusion (CLD, 1993; DLD, 1993; LDA, 1993; NJCLD, 1993). Each group recognizes and supports the placement of students with learning disabilities in regular classrooms to the maximum extent possible, given that the instructional and related services required to meet each student’s individualized educational needs are provided; but they strongly oppose policies that mandate the same placement and instruction for all students with learning disabilities. Each group believes that special education for students with learning disabilities requires a continuum of placement options that includes the possibility of some or even all instruction taking place outside the regular classroom.
For some students with learning disabilities, the regular education classroom may actually be more restrictive than a resource room or special class placement when the instructional needs of the student are considered—and remember that academic deficit is the primary characteristic and remedial need of students with learning disabilities (Baker & Zigmond, 1995). Note, however, that placing a student with learning disabilities in a pull-out program or special class does not guarantee that he will receive the intensive, specialized instruction he needs. For example, Moody, Vaughn, Hughes, and Fischer (2000) found that only three of the six resource room teachers they observed provided differentiated reading materials and instruction to match the individualized needs of their students.
The collective message of research on outcomes for students with learning disabilities in inclusive classrooms and other settings is consistent with the findings for students with other disabilities: the location in which a student is taught is not as important as the quality of instruction that student receives.
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