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Study Links Mainstreaming, Disabled Students' Success

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A federally financed study suggests that severely disabled students' degree of success in school may be directly correlated with the amount of time they spend in regular classrooms.

The study, the results of which were published this month in a newsletter by The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, or TASH, was conducted by the California Research Institute at San Francisco State University. The researchers found that the more students are integrated into mainstream settings, the better they perform in school and social situations.

"It certainly helps decide the argument for more inclusion for kids with disabilities,'' Pamela Hunt, the researcher coordinator for the study, said in an interview.

The degree to which severely disabled students can, or should, be integrated into regular classrooms has been one of the hottest debates in special education in recent years. But the movement toward full inclusion, Ms. Hunt said, has been largely "values driven.''

Research conducted on the issue to date has found that students who spend more time in regular classrooms may do better in a single area. No other study so far, according to Ms. Hunt, has linked integration to positive student outcomes "across the board.''

The students in more mainstream settings, the researchers found, were rated as having better communication and social skills than their less integrated peers. They had achieved more of the objectives outlined for them in their individualized education plans and were seen as more independent.

Moreover, their parents had better expectations for their futures, and both teachers and family members said the children had more frequent "normalized, friendly'' interactions with nondisabled classmates.

Other Factors Weighed

As part of their analysis, the researchers surveyed the families and teachers of 312 severely disabled students in integrated educational settings in five states--California, Colorado, Kentucky, Utah, and Virginia.

They compared the effects of integration against other factors important to school success, such as the level to which parents were involved in their children's education and the level of training of the students' teachers. They also took demographic factors, such as student age and family socioeconomic level, into account.

None of those factors were as strongly related to positive outcomes as the degree to which students were in regular education settings.

The researchers did not consider, however, whether the more integrated students may have been less functionally disabled than their peers in more restrictive settings.

"It may be they were allowed to integrate socially to a greater extent because of the level of development of their skills,'' Ms. Hunt acknowledged. "But all of the students in the study were classified as severely intellectually disabled.''

The study is one of several being conducted by the California institute, under a five-year grant from the U.S. Education Department, on the effects of integration for severely disabled children. Ms. Hunt said she hopes to publish a more detailed report on the findings later this year.

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