How Inclusive Academic Settings Enhance Success for High School Students with Disabilities

Think about the last time you achieved something noteworthy. It felt pretty good, right? Now, what if someone told you that your achievement was made possible by the environment in which you found yourself? Intriguing, isn’t it? Well, if you’re a high school student with disabilities or you’re invested in the education of such students, this idea is particularly relevant to you. Let’s dive into a recent study from Indiana University that showcases the power of inclusive education.

The Magic of Inclusion – A Closer Look at the Study

We’re all part of a community, a word that has taken on even greater significance in our current times. For students with disabilities, being included in that community, particularly within the education system, is critical. A recent study from Indiana University is shining a spotlight on this idea, exploring the impact of inclusion on students with disabilities in high schools across Indiana.

And guess what? The study found that when students with disabilities spent most of their educational time in general education classrooms, they not only scored higher on state reading and math assessments but were also better prepared for postsecondary education and employment opportunities. So what does this mean?

Defining High Inclusion and Low Inclusion

Before we go further, let’s define some terms. ‘High inclusion’ means students with disabilities spent 80% or more of their educational time in the general education classroom. ‘Low inclusion,’ on the other hand, means these students spent less than 80% of their educational time in the general education classroom.

Simple enough, right? But here’s where it gets even more interesting.

Special Education Placement and Academic Outcomes

The recent study is actually the second phase of an earlier study conducted in 2020. The earlier study found that students in third to eighth grades with primary disabilities demonstrated significantly higher achievement on state assessments when they experienced more inclusion. This was the case irrespective of the disability category.

Given the positive results of high inclusion in the earlier study, the researchers set out to investigate whether the same pattern held true for high school students with disabilities.

High Inclusion and High School Students – What Did They Find?

For the recent study, the researchers focused on a cohort of Indiana students who were in eighth grade in 2013 and graduated high school in 2018. They compared the English and math scores of students in low- and high-inclusion placements.

The results? Well, they were pretty striking.

Students with disabilities who spent 80% or more time in the general education classroom scored significantly higher in English and math than their peers in low-inclusion settings. Plus, these high-inclusion students were 22% more likely to graduate with a Core 40 diploma by passing the state assessment, indicating they were more prepared for post-secondary educational and employment opportunities.

What This All Means for Education Policy and Practice

The take-home message here is pretty clear. The place where education happens matters significantly for students with disabilities. These two studies provide robust evidence that students with disabilities achieve better outcomes in inclusive settings.

As a society, we can no longer afford to support educational policies and practices that limit academic success and post-secondary options for students with disabilities. Instead, we need to embrace an ambitious agenda to transform our educational systems, fostering inclusive school environments, maximizing student participation, and increasing the achievement of students with disabilities.

The Power of Inclusion in Action

At the end of the day, we all want to feel included, to feel like we belong. And if you’re a student with disabilities, this sense of belonging can actually translate into higher achievement and better post-secondary prospects.

So, whether you’re a student, a teacher, a parent, or just someone who cares about education, remember this: when we make room for everyone in the classroom, we’re not just promoting inclusivity. We’re unlocking potential, fostering growth, and shaping a brighter future for all students.

Sandi M. Cole, Hardy R. Murphy, Michael B. Frisby, James Robinson. The Relationship Between Special Education Placement and High School Outcomes. The Journal of Special Education, 2022; 002246692210979 Link