What is inclusion and why is it important?

Page 2: How Does Inclusion Differ from Traditional Instruction?

inc_02_collageAlthough great gains have been made toward creating inclusive schools, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education more than one million students still do not have access to the general education curriculum and instruction. Many more are given access to the general education classroom but do not receive the supports they need to actively participate in that instruction. This is the case even though research evidence demonstrates that most students with special learning needs (e.g., students with disabilities, ELs) can succeed in the general education classroom, given the necessary services and supports. In inclusive schools, students not only have access to the general education curriculum but they also receive the supports they need to participate in this instruction and to be successful.

Complicating matters is that school personnel sometimes believe they are practicing inclusion even when their school practices more closely resemble the traditional model of instruction. They may have modified their existing practices in an effort to become more inclusive but have not created an overall inclusive environment. The table below offers an overview of both traditional and inclusive schools. By reviewing these items, school personnel can gain a sense of whether their school falls more into the traditional or inclusive category.

Traditional Inclusive
School Climate
  • Responsibility for students is divided among general education, special education, and ESL teachers (e.g., Students are often referred to as “those kids.”).
  • The school environment promotes teachers working in isolation (e.g., no common planning time, little collaboration).
  • Responsibility for all students is shared among all staff (e.g., Students are often referred to as “our kids.”).
  • The school environment supports teachers working collaboratively (e.g., common planning time, co-teaching).
Curriculum, instruction, and assessment
  • Students with special learning needs receive instruction in separate classrooms and are often excluded from extracurricular activities.
  • Students with special learning needs may not participate in state and district assessments. The data for sub-groups are not always used for accountability purposes and subsequent decision making.
  • Individual teachers develop their own behavior management plan with the occasional office referral.
  • Teachers often base instruction on the needs of typical learners.
  • Students with special learning needs may receive instruction in the general education classroom and participate in extracurricular activities with necessary supports.
  • All students participate in state and district assessments with needed or approved adaptations and modifications and the data are used for accountability purposes and subsequent decision making.
  • All staff participate in developing and implementing a school-wide behavior plan.
  • A team approach ensures that each student receives the appropriate help when needed.
Staff development
  • Professional development activities are planned and do not target teachers’ competencies regarding the instruction of all students. Instead they often target specific problems (e.g., school dropout).
  • Professional development activities are aimed at building capacity by enhancing the skills of all staff to promote students’ access to the general education curriculum.
Support services
  • Clinical staff (e.g., school psychologist, occupational therapist) and support staff are seen as additional personnel who provide special services.
  • Clinical and support staff are integral members of the school community.
Parent involvement
  • School personnel may not make a concerted effort to build relationships with the parents of students with disabilities and those from diverse backgrounds.
  • Staff use the same approach to reach all parents.
  • School personnel actively involve parents, including those of students with disabilities and those from diverse backgrounds, in all school activities.
  • Staff use multiple approaches to reach different subsets of parents.
Community involvement
  • School personnel may not make a concerted effort to reach out to an important subset of community members, leaders, and organizations (e.g., disability agencies, Hispanic business owner).
  • School personnel make a concerted effort to reach out to all community members, leaders, and organizations.
Resources
  • Resources (e.g., aide, assistive technology) are available only in specialized settings (e.g., resource room).
  • School personnel work in isolation and tend not share their expertise.
  • Resources are available throughout the school, not just in specialized settings or classrooms.
  • School personnel collaborate and serve as resources for each other.
School self-evaluation
  • School personnel do not measure progress toward goals.
  • School personnel measure their school’s progress toward addressing the needs of all students.
Comprehensive education plan
  • School’s planning documents and processes do not address the needs of all students in the areas listed above.
  • School’s planning documents and processes address the needs of all students in the areas listed above.
Adapted from Lipsky and Gartner (2008).

Traditional Inclusive
School Climate
  • Responsibility for students is divided (e.g., Students are often referred to as “those kids.”).
  • Teachers work in isolation.
  • Responsibility is shared (e.g., Students are often referred to as “our kids.”).
  • Teachers collaborate.
Curriculum, instruction, and assessment
  • Some students are separated from peers for instruction.
  • Some students can participate in extracurricular activities.
  • Data for some students may not be used for accountability and decision making.
  • Behavior management takes place at the classroom level.
  • Teachers often base instruction on the needs of typical learners.
  • In general, each student receives instruction with grade-mates.
  • In general, each student can participate in extracurricular activities.
  • Data for all students are used for accountability and decision making.
  • Behavior management takes place at the school-wide level.
  • A team approach ensures that each student receives the appropriate help when needed.
Staff development
  • The purpose of professional development activities is to address specific problems (e.g., high dropout rates) rather than to target needed skills.
  • The purpose of professional development activities is to build capacity by enhancing skills that promote students’ access to the general education curriculum.
Support services
  • Clinical staff (e.g., school psychologist, occupational therapist) and support staff are seen as secondary personnel who provide special services.
  • Clinical and support staff are integral members of the school community.
Parent involvement
  • There is involvement with some parents.
  • Staff uses the same approach to reach all parents.
  • There is active involvement with all parents.
  • Staff uses multiple approaches to reach different subsets of parents.
Community involvement
  • School personnel may not make a concerted effort to reach out to an important subset of community members, leaders, and organizations (e.g., disability agencies, Hispanic business owner).
  • School personnel make a concerted effort by using several different approaches to reach out to all community members, leaders, and organizations.
Resources
  • Resources (e.g., aide, assistive technology) are available only in specialized settings, such as the resource room.
  • School personnel work in isolation and tend not share their expertise.
  • Resources are available throughout the school.
  • School personnel collaborate and serve as resources for each other.
School self-evaluation
  • School personnel do not measure progress toward goals.
  • School personnel measure their progress toward addressing the needs of each student.
Comprehensive education plan
  • The school’s planning documents and processes do not address the needs of all students.
  • The school’s planning documents and processes address the needs of all students.

Adapted from Lipsky and Gartner (2008).

hs_mulligan
Elaine Mulligan
Former Assistant Director, NIUSI-LeadScape
Arizona State University

Elaine Mulligan is the former assistant director of NIUSI-LeadScape, a project funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, which supports principals working to create inclusive school environments. Listen as she explains why inclusive schools are better than traditional ones and highlights some of the characteristics typical of an inclusive school (time: 3:03).

View Transcript

After her meeting with Principal Sherman, Ms. Lawrence evaluates Central Middle School to determine its level of inclusiveness. The movie below describes what she found (time: 1:05).

View Transcript | View Transcript with Images (PDF)

For Your Information

  • Far from being just another fad or add-on program or practice, inclusion is a fundamental shift in how schools approach the instruction of all students.
  • It is important to remember that special education is a service, not a place. In other words, a student with a disability does not automatically get placed in a special education classroom. Instead, the IEP team determines what services the student needs based on his or her current level of performance and then decides where those services should be provided.
  • Inclusion does not necessarily mean that every special education student spends every minute of every day in a general education setting. What it does mean is that each special education student is guaranteed a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least-restrictive environment (LRE). Depending on a student’s needs, services may be provided in a number of settings by a number of individuals.

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