Special Education Column
Halfway through a four-year study, researchers at the University of Miami in Florida say early results of their work suggest that not all learning-disabled students fare well socially in the regular classroom.
The study looks at the impacts of inclusion, the move to educate students with disabilities in regular classrooms with their nondisabled peers.
Inclusion policies, however, have often sparked controversy in schools and districts that have tried to implement them.
And though there is no shortage of opinion on inclusion as a philosophy, there is much less research documenting how it affects students' academic and social development, said Sharon Vaughn, the study's main researcher and a professor of teaching and learning and psychology at the University of Miami.
The U.S. Education Department has invested $1.2 million in two inclusion-related research projects Ms. Vaughn is directing in the Miami-area Dade County schools.
Most of the students in the studies are in grades 2-6 and have learning disabilities or mild cognitive impairments.
The researchers are trying to discover which students benefit most from inclusion and which teaching strategies work best for both disabled and nondisabled students in regular classrooms.
The final results should be available in December 1996.
"Rather than saying inclusion is great or horrible, we want to know under what conditions do students thrive," Ms. Vaughn said in an interview. "For a parent, the issue isn't what philosophy do you have, the issue is where will my kid learn the most and feel the best about himself."
In an upcoming paper focusing on a small part of the larger study, the Miami researchers looked at 16 learning-disabled children in three regular classrooms.
The teachers had volunteered to participate in an inclusive classroom and received help from special educators in teaching the class.
The researchers found mixed results. While the learning-disabled students made friends with peers across achievement levels, they were not well accepted by their classmates. In addition, their opinions about themselves did not change substantially over the year they spent in the inclusive class, the preliminary findings showed.
Many proponents of inclusion tout its positive social effects. Ms. Vaughn said inclusion may provide such benefits, but probably not across the board. "It may not happen for all children," she said.