A new study from researchers at Indiana University provides strong evidence that students with special needs do better academically when they are placed in general-education classrooms, not separated in self-contained special education classes.
The study tracks the test scores of a cohort of Indiana students with disabilities from third through eighth grades. It finds that students in “high inclusion” placements – in general-education classrooms at least 80 percent of the time every year – scored better than similar peers.
Lead authors of the study are Sandi Cole of the Center on Lifelong Learning at IU’s Institute on Disability and Community and Hardy Murphy of the center and the IU School of Education at IUPUI.
“We can now make a pretty definitive statement that placement matters,” Cole said. “If we know that placement matters, let’s talk about how we make it happen.”
Parents and educators have pushed back for years against attempts to eliminate Indiana’s general high-school diploma, arguing it’s an important option for students who would struggle to earn the more rigorous Core 40 or academic honors diplomas.
Now the federal government has dealt their efforts a blow. Under guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, Indiana will no longer be able to include students who earn the general diploma in calculating school graduation rates.
The change will have an impact on high-school grades, which are partially based on graduation rates. Over 8,600 students earned the general diploma in 2015. That’s 12 percent of high-school graduates.
And for students who struggle to earn the general diploma and likely wouldn’t complete a more rigorous course of study, the change seems to send a message that their efforts aren’t good enough. About 30 percent of students who earn a general diploma are special-needs students.
“The value of the general diploma will be diminished for students who have worked very hard to receive that,” said Sandi Cole, director of the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning at Indiana University and a former high-school special education teacher and department chair.
Indiana schools will still offer the general diploma, and students who earn it can count themselves as high-school graduates. But if the diploma doesn’t figure into accountability, will schools put as much effort into making sure all students earn at least that degree? Continue reading