Quantcast

Educating Students With Mental Retardation in General Education Classrooms

April 2, 2006

By Williamson, Pamela; McLeskey, James; Hoppey, David; Rentz, Tarcha

ABSTRACT:

Empirical evidence and federal mandates support the notion that students with mental retardation (MR) should spend some or much of the school day in general education classrooms. This study investigated trends in state-level rates for placing students in different educational settings between 1989-90 and 1999-2000. The research utilized state-reported data published in the Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Results indicate that during the 1990s (a) identification rates remained stable, (b) the proportion of students labeled with MR placed in general education classrooms for some or much of the school day increased from 27.3% to 44.7%, (c) placement in separate settings decreased from 72.7% to 55.3%, and (d) the proportion of students with MR placed in separate facilities decreased by 46%. Evidence also suggests that the U.S. has reached a plateau in educating students with MR in general education classrooms. Implications and suggestions for future research are provided.

Prior to the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Pub. L. No. 94-142) in 1975, more than half of all students with disabilities were receiving no educational services (Douvanis & Hulsey, 2002). It is disturbing to note that students with mental retardation (MR) during this time period were often “relegated to sterile, dehumanizing institutions” (The Arc, 2002). Although the movement to deinstitutionalize persons with MR has enabled these individuals to live their lives in homes and neighborhoods instead of institutions, students identified as MR are still often educated within separate classrooms and settings (Polloway, Patton, Smith, & Buck, 1997). In 1992 and again in 1995, The Arc, a national organization that serves as an advocacy group for people with mental retardation and other intellectual impairments, issued a Report to the Nation on Inclusion of Students With Mental Retardation challenging government and advocacy organizations to achieve full inclusion for students with mental retardation by the year 2000 (The Arc, 1995; Davis, 1992). The Arc (1995) borrowed from Lipsky and Gartner’s (1994) definition of full inclusion defining it as

the provision of services to students with disabilities, including those with severe disabilities, in their neighborhood schools, in age-appropriate regular education classes, with the necessary support services and supplementary aids-for both children and teachers. The goal of inclusion is to prepare students to participate as full and contributing members of society. Inclusion means meeting the law’s requirement of a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. (p. 36)

Historically, where students with MR have been educated has been influenced by several factors including (a) placement efficacy research, (b) legal mandates, (c) judicial interpretations, and (d) the changing definition of the construct of MR. Each of these factors is reviewed here briefly.

LRE EFFICACY RESEARCH

Separate classes for students with MR have existed for more than 100 years (Johnson, 1962). These classes have typically included only students labeled with MR, and have been based on the assumptions that these students are more successfully educated together, by a teacher with specialized skills, and in a setting that is largely segregated from typical peers. For more than 70 years, the effectiveness of these segregated placements has been questioned (Bennett, 1932 cited in Johnson, 1962; Carlberg & Kavale, 1980; Dunn, 1968; Freeman & Alkin, 2000; Johnson, 1962; Madden & Slavin, 1983; Polloway, 1984). In a historical review of the literature, Polloway noted that during the 1950s and into the mid- 1960s much research was devoted to determining where students with MR were best served-in general education or special class programs. Studies during this time which evaluated academic achievement outcomes either had insignificant findings or favored placement in general education classrooms over separate classes, whereas studies that evaluated social outcomes had mixed results, some favoring general education class placement and others favoring special class placement. Thus, the only unequivocal conclusion that could be drawn from this research was that all of the studies had methodological weaknesses to the extent that generalizing conclusions from this body of work was problematic at best (Polloway).

More recently, Freeman and Alkin (2000) reviewed the available research regarding the effectiveness of separate class placement for students with MR. They concluded that “children with milder mental levels of retardation achieve more positive results in the integrated classroom than do their counterparts in the segregated classroom” (p. 15). They further noted that the placement of students “with mental retardation in general education classrooms tends to improve their social skills and competence” (p. 15). Research related to students with more severe MR is somewhat less clear. Freeman and Alkin found mixed results from the research on academic outcomes for students with more severe mental retardation who were educated in general education classrooms. However, in contrast to these results, Freeman and Alkin found that general education classroom placements tended to improve social outcomes for students with severe mental retardation. Others have reached a similar conclusion (Kennedy, Shukla, & Fryxell, 1997; Mu, Siegel, & Allinder, 2000). Thus, the effect on social outcomes seems to provide the strongest evidence supporting the education of students with MR in general education classrooms and schools. (It is important to note that for the purposes of their review, Freeman and Alkin did not specifically define what they meant by “mild” or “severe” MR noting only that older studies included in their review “likely defined mental retardation by an IQ cutoff score roughly between 50 and 85″ (p. 13).)

LEGAL MANDATES

Although research provides some support for the education of students with MR in general education settings for all or part of the school day, the regulations that have accompanied the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its subsequent amendments have defined least restrictive environment (LRE) in terms of a continuum of educational settings. The LRE provision in the IDEA mandates that states educate students with disabilities with students who do not have disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate. Furthermore, separate schooling or other removal of students with disabilities from the general education classroom should occur only when the nature or severity of the student’s disability is such that education in general education classes cannot be satisfactorily achieved with the use of supplementary aids and services. The LRE requirement is further strengthened by the requirements that each student’s individualized education program (IEP) consider how the student will have access to and make progress in the general education curriculum and explain the extent to which the student will not be educated and participate with students without disabilities (Sec. 614 (d)). Although these mandates do not require states to educate every student with a disability in a general education classroom for part or all of the school day, they do result in a strong presumption in favor of educating students with disabilities in general education classroom settings. The lack of an absolute standard for LRE has resulted in interpretation of the requirement by the courts (Douvanis & Hulsey, 2002).

JUDICIAL INTERPRETATIONS

Several federal court decisions have strengthened the movement to educate children with MR in general education classrooms. In the Oberti v. Clementon [1993] case, the judge ruled that inclusion in general education classrooms was a right and not a privilege for a select few (Douvanis & Hulsey, 2002). In the Sacramento v. Rachel H. [1994] decision, the court ruled that when determining appropriate placements for students with disabilities, schools and districts must consider (a) the educational benefits of general education placement compared to the educational benefits of special education placement, (b) the social benefits of interactions between students with disabilities and typically developing peers, and (c) the effect of the student with disability’s presence on the teacher and on other students. This three-prong test for inclusive placement is considered to be “the high-water mark of the inclusion movement” (Douvanis & Hulsey, p. 3).

More recent court rulings, (e.g. Doe v. Arlington County [1999] and Hudson v. Bloomfield Hills [1997]), “seem to be defining least restrictive environment in accordance with the language of IDEA- namely, that students with disabilities should be educated with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate” (Douvanis & Hulsey, 2002, p. 3). Whereas the courts have influenced the educational placements of students with MR over time, so too has the change in definition of who can be labeled with MR.

CHANGING DEFINITION OF MENTAL RETARDATION

The American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR), the oldes\t professional association concerned with issues regarding MR, has defined and revised the construct of MR 10 times since 1921. Early definitions focused on particular levels of intellectual functioning as defined by IQ testing and cutoff scores. For example, persons with MR who had an IQ range between 50-55 and 70 were identified with “mild mental retardation” and classified as “educable,” whereas those with IQs between 20-25 to 35-40 were identified with “severe” MR and were classified educationally as “severely/multiply handicapped” (Grossman, 1983; Turnbull, Turnbull, Shank, Smith & Leal, 2002). In addition, early definitions focused on deficits in adaptive behavior. These classifications were part of the definitions until 1992. More recent iterations of AAMR’s definition and classification system have sought to focus on a more skills-based definition that includes limitations in intelligence that coexist with limitations in adaptive skills (Luckasson et al., 1992; Luckasson et al., 2002; Turnbull et al., 2002). It provides for understanding the kinds of supports a person with MR might need instead of focusing on their limitations. Denning, Chamberlain, and Polloway (2000) noted that many thought this change in definition was perhaps a harbinger that “provided a new direction for identification procedures” (p. 226). However, in a survey of the classification guidelines used by states for labeling persons with MR, Denning and his colleagues found that as of 1998, the vast majority of states continued to use the Grossman (1983) definition verbatim or in some adapted form, whereas 13 states no longer used an IQ cut-off score to determine mental retardation. Thus, the manner by which states identify persons with MR influences the prevalence of MR within each state, and some have suggested that students previously labeled with MR may now be labeled with learning disabilities (Greenspan, 1998).

TRENDS IN EDUCATIONAL PLACEMENTS

It is obvious from the preceding review that several factors have influenced where states have chosen to educate students with MR. Within this changing context of policy and practices, it is important to examine national trends in the education of students with MR in general education classrooms. Few studies have been conducted that address placement trends for students with MR. Danielson and Bellamy (1989) examined state reported data from the Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, 1988) for the school years 1976-1977 through 1985-1986 and concluded that there was “little change in the use of separate facilities” (p. 448) for students with all disabilities during this time. Using this analysis, The Arc concluded that the record of providing inclusive placements for students with MR was dismal (Davis, 1992). An investigation by Sawyer, McLaughlin, and Winglee (1994) examined national LRE data through the 1980s and found that as the decade progressed, there was a slight decrease in the percentage of students with MR who were placed in general education public schools. However, these investigators also found that students who were placed in these settings were increasingly likely to spend some of the school day in the general education classroom. In a study of placement practices across the United States for students with MR based on data from the early 1990s, McLeskey, Henry, and Hodges (1998) observed a decrease in the placement of students with MR in separate schools that was reported by Sawyer et al., but found that very few students with MR were being educated in general education classrooms for most of the day (McLeskey, Henry, & Hodges, 1999). A study by Katsiyannis, Zhang, and Archwamety (2002) resulted in similar findings, as these researchers also found that throughout the decade of the 1990s, fewer students with MR were being educated in separate settings. These investigators also found that placements of students with MR in general education classrooms seemed to be increasing as the decade progressed, although there was much variability across regions of the United States.

The present investigation was conducted to examine current data regarding the extent to which students with MR are being educated in general education classrooms, and the extent to which changes in these practices occurred during the decade of the 1990s. More specifically, the purposes of this study were to (a) examine state- reported data from Annual Reports to determine trends in the use of various educational settings for school-age students with MR over a 10-year period from the 1989-1990 through the 1999-2000 school years and (b) investigate the extent to which individual states and the District of Columbia vary in the use of the different educational placements for students identified as having MR.

METHOD

DATA SOURCES

The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) annually collects and/or reports state data pertaining to a number of variables, including the number of students with various disabilities educated in different educational settings and the total resident population of each state. These data are used to monitor state compliance with the LRE provision of IDEA. Data are provided in reports as well as on the Department of Education web site (http://www.ideadata.org; U.S. Department of Education, 2003). Over the years, the OSEP has worked to improve the quality of the data through checks on reliability and validity (Donovan & Cross, 2002; Lee, 2004; National Association of State Directors of Special Education, 1999; Sawyer et al., 1994); however, these data continue to have limitations. Donovan and Cross noted that because mild mental retardation is a “judgmental” category (i.e., not characterized by authoritative medical diagnoses and distinguishing observable features), “there is a lack of precision in the school’s ability to detect ‘true’ cases of disability” (p. 38), thereby opening up the possibility that these data are either underreported or overreported by states. Also, students are reported in their “primary” disability category, meaning that students who may have mental retardation that accompanies other conditions will not likely be reported in the MR category. In addition to definitional issues, OSEP visited 24 states in 2003 to examine state data collection and reporting as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s targeted monitoring system of states practices of placing students in the LRE and

. . . determined that many States [sic] are not monitoring the accuracy of their data and lack training for data entry personnel. In addition, some States [sic] are not fully utilizing OSEP instructions (particularly “definitions”) in collecting and reporting data.” (Lee, 2004, p. 4)

Despite these concerns, the Annual Report provides the most reliable national data concerning state-level practices in LRE (Danielson & Bellamy, 1989; Lee, 2004; McLeskey, Henry, & Hodges, 1999; McLeskey et al., 1998; McLeskey, Hoppey, Williamson, & Rentz, 2004; Sawyer et al., 1994), and thus served as the data source for this investigation. Specifically, data was obtained from the Annual Report from the thirteenth annual report through the twenty-third annual report (OSEP, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1993, 1992, 1991) covering the school years from 1989-1990 through the 1999-2000 school year.

LRE Definitions. States report LRE data according to the numbers of students with disabilities who are educated in one of eight environments including general education class (i.e., students receiving special education and related services for less than 21% of the school day), resource room (i.e., students receiving special education and related services for at least 21% but no more than 60% of the school day), separate class (i.e., students receiving special education and related services for more than 60% of the school day in a separate class), public separate school facilities (i.e., students receiving special education and related services for greater than 50% of the school day), private separate day school facilities (i.e., students who received education programs in these facilities at public expense for greater than 50% of the school day), public residential facilities (i.e., students receiving education programs in private residential facilities at public expense for greater than 50% of the school day), and homebound/ hospital environment (i.e., students who received education programs in hospital programs or homebound programs); (OSER 2003). This investigation used only LRE data reported for school-age students (ages 6-17) classified as MR in the 50 states and the District of Columbia for the target school years. For the purpose of this study, only four educational settings were used-general education class, partial day, separate class, and separate facility. LRE data for the categories of public separate school facilities, private separate day school facilities, public residential facilities, and homebound/ hospital environment were combined and labeled “separate facility.” Although we recognize there are substantive differences among these settings, the relatively smaller numbers of students in these categories made it more practical to analyze these data this way. In addition, although data is reported as “resource room” by states, these students may more accurately be attending separate classes for part of the day. Thus, we chose to use the term “partial day” to represent this category.

CUMULATIVE PLACEMENT RATES

Because states ultimately determine the criteria for classifying students with MR, which results in significant variability across states in the numbers of students in this category, it is necessary, for the purposes of comparing placement rates, to reference the total school-aged population, not just the special educ\ation child count in any calculation of placement rates. Thus, placement data were analyzed using cumulative placement rates (CPR); (Danielson & Bellamy, 1989; McLeskey, Henry, & Axelrod., 1999). The CPR denotes the number of children per thousand school-age students who have a particular label and who are educated in a given setting. To obtain the CPR, the total number of students with MR ages 6 through 17 in a given placement is divided by the total resident population as reported in the Annual Report. This number is then multiplied by a thousand. Thus, a state CPR of 10 means that for every 1,000 school- age students in that given state, 10 students share a particular label and placement. Similarly, identification rates were calculated such that the rate cited represents the number of students identified with MR per thousand school-age students.

RESULTS

This section identifies (a) national placement trends for students with MR for the decade of the 1990s, (b) future national trends in the use of various placements, (c) state placement trends for students with MR during this time, and (d) exemplar states that currently educate relatively few students with MR in highly restrictive settings and a relatively large proportion of students with MR in less restrictive settings.

NATIONAL TRENDS

Table 1 presents national placement data for students with MR during the 1990s. These data reveal three general trends that are noteworthy. First, the identification rate of school-age students labeled as having MR remained stable during the decade of the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade, 11.35 students were identified as MR per every 1,000 school-age students. At the end of the decade, the identification rate was 11.26. Thus, the increase in the number of students identified with MR during the 1990s (from 473,750 in 1989- 1990 to 533,249 in 1999-2000) reflects an increase in the overall population of school-age students in the United States and not a significant change in the identification rate for students in this category.

A second noteworthy trend is the increased placement of school- age students with MR in general education class settings. The decade of the 1990s saw a substantial increase in the general education class CPR from .82 to 1.57. This means that at the close of the 1990s, more than twice as many students classified as having MR (74,362 students compared to 34,300 students) spent 80% or more of the school day in a general education classroom than did students within that category at the beginning of the decade. In addition, the CPR for students with MR in the partial day setting also increased substantially from 2.28 to 3.47. This means that the numbers of students spending at least 40% of the school day or more in general education classrooms increased by under half (95,045 in 1989-1990 students compared to 164,194 students in 1999-2000 students). Because identification rates remained stable, this evidence suggests that these trends reflect real changes in the use of more general education class settings and not a change in the students themselves.

The increase in the use of general education class settings was accompanied by a decrease in placements in separate class settings or in separate facilities. The CPR for separate class settings decreased during the 1990s from 7.16 to 5.70, reflecting a 20% reduction in the proportion of students with MR who were being educated in these settings. The CPR for separate facilities in the 1990s decreased even more dramatically, from 1.09 to .52, representing a 52% reduction in the number of students with MR who were being educated in these settings. Cumulatively, this represents a decrease from 72.7% to 55.3% in the proportion of students with MR who were served in separate class and separate facility settings. Thus, overall data on placement of students with MR reveal that in the 1999-2000 school year, these students were far more likely to be placed in a general education classroom for some or much of the school day and far less likely to be placed in a separate setting than they were at the beginning of the decade.

TABLE 1

National Placement Trends for Students With Mental Retardation

FIGURE 1

National Placement Trends for Students With MR

Future National Trends. Figure 1 shows national trends by placement category for each year of the decade. The national trends throughout the decade of the 1990s indicate very little change in any of the placement categories since the 1997-1998 school year. For example, from 1997-1998 through 1999-2000, the CPR for general education class placements remained stable (i.e., 1.49 students per thousand in 1997-1998 to 1.57 students per thousand in 1999-2000). Similarly, the CPR for separate class placements was 5.85 students per thousand in the 1997-1998 school year and 5.70 students per thousand in the 1999-2000 school year. Partial day placements increased only slightly during this same period of time (3.42 students per thousand in 1997-1998 compared to 3.47 students per thousand in 1999-2000). These are relatively smaller changes compared to most others throughout the decade and, when taken together, suggest that the United States may have reached a plateau in moving students with MR to less restrictive placements beginning in the 1997-1998 school year.

STATE TRENDS

Table 2 presents the CPRs for students with MR in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. On average, these jurisdictions identified 11.26 students per 1,000 with MR. However, as the data in Table 2 reveal, states varied widely in identification rates, ranging from a low of 3.20 per 1,000 students in New Jersey to a high of 29.69 per 1,000 students in Iowa. These differences in identification rates across states must be taken into account when interpreting state-level CPR placement data. For example, when comparing the neighboring states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, it is noteworthy that Ohio identifies 24.32 students per 1,000 with MR, whereas Pennsylvania identifies 12.44 students per 1,000, and Maryland 6.61 students per 1,000. Thus, when comparing state placement practices, differences in CPR may be strongly influenced by differences in state identification practices.

TABLE 2

Cumulative Placement Rates for 1999-2000-Students With MR

Still, when state identification rates are similar, comparisons among states may provide useful information regarding differences in state placement practices. For example, Minnesota identifies 9.58 students with MR per 1,000 and has a CPR of 1.78 for general education class placements, a CPR of 4.45 for partial day placements, a separate class CPR of 3.09, and a CPR of .26 in separate facilities. A roughly similar number of students are identified with MR in the neighboring state of Michigan (11.61 per 1,000 students). However, in contrast to Minnesota, the students in Michigan are educated in more restrictive settings with CPRs of .97 in general education classroom placements, 2.38 in partial day placements, 6.64 in separate class settings, and 1.63 in separate facilities. Thus, a student labeled with MR in Minnesota is almost twice as likely to be educated in a general education classroom or a partial day setting as a comparable student in Michigan. Similarly, New Hampshire and New Jersey have comparable identification rates (i.e., 3.84 and 3.20). Although 1.57 students per thousand are in general education classrooms in New Hampshire, only .11 students per thousand students are educated in general education classrooms in New Jersey. Students in New Jersey are nearly twice as likely to attend class in separate settings (i.e., 1.95 compared to 0.98) and more than three times as likely to go to school in separate facilities (i.e., 0.69 compared to 0.21) as are students in New Hampshire. Thus, the state in which a student with MR lives is a strong predictor, perhaps the strongest predictor, of the setting in which the student will be educated.

Exemphr States. Given the legal and professional preference for educating students with MR in general education class settings and the fact that the United States may have reached a plateau in placing students with MR in less restrictive placements, it may be instructive to identify those states where students with MR are most likely to spend a substantial portion of the school day in a general education classroom. Notably, OSEP used a method similar to the one used in this investigation to rank-order state placement practices (i.e., comparison to national averages) to monitor data collection and compliance with IDEA (Lee, 2004). The following factors were considered when identifying exemplar states: (a) the separate class placement rate, (b) the separate facility placement rate, (c) the overall identification rate, and (d) general education class placements rates. We included identification rates because we reasoned that states with lower identification rates have fewer students to place in general education classes and pullout settings, whereas states with higher identification rates likely identify more students with mild disabilities and should have relatively higher general education class placement rates (Danielson & Bellamy, 1989; McLeskey et al, 2004; McLeskey & Henry, 1999); thus, to consider only general education class placement rates might unfairly advantage those states identifying far greater numbers of students with MR.

Therefore, the first step in this analysis was to identify all states below the national identification rate for MR, resulting in 27 states. We then examined those states’ CPRs to determine which had general education class CPRs above the national average of 1.57 and separate class and separate facility CPRs below the national averages of 5.70 and .52. It should be noted that although we view movement into partial day settings from separate class and facility placements as favorable, we chose not to use a\n above average partial day setting criterion (the national average of 3.47 students per thousand strikes us as a relatively high number, approaching the numbers of students identified in some states with MR). New Hampshire, for example, identifies only 3.84 students per thousand and places 1.57 of those students in general education class settings. Thus, if we used an above average partial day setting as part of our criteria for identifying exemplar states, New Hampshire would have been left off of the list. This analysis resulted in the identification of eight states with exemplar status as shown in Table 3.

TABLE 3

Exemplar States-Placement Practices for Students With MR-1999- 2000

Among the eight exemplar states, the overall identification rate per thousand students with MR ranged from 3.84 (New Hampshire) to 11.19 (Vermont). General education class CPRs ranged from 1.57 (New Hampshire) to 7.28 (Vermont). Most important, separate class placements for these states were lower than the national average of 5.70 students per thousand, ranging from 4.11 students per thousand in Kansas to .98 students per thousand in New Hampshire, and separate facility placements were lower than the national average of .52 students per thousand, ranging from .51 students per thousand in Vermont to .05 per thousand in Idaho. In contrast, several states (e.g., Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and West Virginia) identified far more students and placed a larger number of those identified with MR in separate settings, having CPRs in separate schools or separate facilities that were higher than the average overall identification rate for the United States (i.e., 11.26 per 1,000; see Table 2).

DISCUSSION

The evidence presented in this study suggests that much progress was made during the 1990s toward educating students with MR in less restrictive settings. Although identification rates remained stable during this time, the proportion of students with MR educated in general education classes for some or much of the school day increased from 27.3% to 44.7% of all students with MR, whereas the placement of these students in substantially segregated settings decreased from 72.7% to 55.3%. This reflects major changes in placement practices for students with MR across the United States.

Perhaps the most positive finding from this investigation was the dramatic change that occurred in educating students with MR in settings that are segregated from public school campuses. At the beginning of the 1990s, 1.09 per 1,000 students was identified with MR and educated full time in a separate facility. By the end of the decade, this number had dropped to .52 students per 1,000 resulting in a drop of 46% in the proportion of students with MR being placed in separate facilities placements. This finding represents significant progress toward offering students with MR the opportunity to be educated with typical peers and have their education based on the general education curriculum, opportunities that generally are not available when these students are educated in a separate facility.

These achievements, however, are not without caveats. When looking at national trends, data suggest that the United States reached a plateau in the 1997-1998 school year with regard to placing students with MR in less restrictive settings, as virtually no changes occurred in the overall national data in any placement category after that time. Moreover, even with the movement toward educating students with MR in less restrictive settings during the 1990s, more than one half (55.3%) of all students with MR currently remain segregated from their general education peers for a substantial portion of the school day. Finally, although some states have made progress toward educating most students with MR for at least part of the school day in general education classrooms, other states have made far less progress. These differences in placement practices across states result in the unfortunate circumstance that where a student lives is often a stronger predictor of class placement than the nature or severity of the student’s disability. Previous research has confirmed this finding across disability categories (McLeskey & Henry, 1999; McLeskey et al., 2004).

Although this investigation provides some information regarding national placement trends and states that have been more or less successful in educating students with MR in less restrictive settings, further research is needed regarding several issues to ensure a full understanding of this topic. One critical area for future research relates to the investigation of policies and practices that have been used to support the development of services in states that have exemplary practices related to the placement of students with MR. Roach, Salisbury, and McGregor (2002) addressed the need to develop state and local school district policies that support and encourage the development of programs in general education classrooms. These authors note that written state and district policies are also needed to ensure that efforts to promote change are not inadvertently impeded. It is thus important that policies that have been used by state and local education agencies be closely examined to determine which support or inhibit the development and implementation of programs that educate students with MR in general education classrooms. Furthermore, it is important to examine the extent to which these policies positively or negatively influence practices in local education agencies and why this occurs. Roach and her colleagues have developed a policy framework that addresses curriculum, assessment, accountability, personnel training and development, funding, and governance. This framework may prove useful in guiding research to better understand the impact of various policy initiatives that are intended to influence student placement practices.

Another area of needed research relates to the extent to which changes in placement practices have resulted in improved outcomes for students with MR. Although research evidence as well as the federal LRE mandate in IDEA provide a clear presumption in favor of less restrictive placements for all students with disabilities, it remains important to determine which students with MR benefit from general education placements and under what conditions.

In conclusion, the Office of Special Education Programs within the U.S. Department of Education has recently begun a process of focused monitoring of state practices related to LRE (Lee, 2004), which includes a ranking of states with respect to the extent to which students with disabilities are being educated in less restrictive settings. This monitoring process sends an important message from the department to states regarding the importance of placements in the LRE and holds great promise for influencing these practices. As evidenced by the results of our study, some states have been quite successful in supporting local schools and school districts in developing more inclusive programs, whereas others have not. Well-designed national and state general and special education policies can support and facilitate the development of such programs. Moreover, a strong commitment and substantial investment of time and resources will likely be required to develop programs that provide the necessary supports to ensure successful education of students with MR (or other disabilities, for that matter) in general education classrooms (McLeskey & Waldron, 2000; Roach et al., 2002).

The lack of an absolute standard for LRE has resulted in interpretation of the requirement by the courts.

[T]he manner by which states identify persons with MR influences the prevalence of MR within each state, and some have suggested that students previously labeled with MR may now be labeled with learning disabilities.

Thus, the state in which a student with MR lives is a strong predictor, perhaps the strongest predictor, of the setting in which the student will be educated.

The evidence presented in this study suggests that much progress was made during the 1990s toward educating students with MR in less restrictive settings.

It is thus important that policies that have been used by state and local education agencies be closely examined to determine which support or inhibit the development and implementation of programs that educate students with MR in general education classrooms.

REFERENCES

The Arc (1995). 1995 report card on inclusion in education of children with mental retardation. Retrieved August 2, 2004, from http://thearc.org/report/95RPTCD. html

The Arc (2002). Inclusion. Position statements of The Arc. Arlington, TX: Author.

Bennett, A. (1932). A comparative study of sub-normal children in the elementary grades. New York: Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Carlberg, C., & Kavale, K. (1980). The efficacy of special versus regular class placement for exceptional children: A meta-analysis. The Journal of Special Education, 14, 295-309.

Danielson, L., & Bellamy, T. (1989). State variation in placement of children with handicaps in segregated environments. Exceptional Children, 55, 448-455.

Davis, S. (1992). Report card to the nation on inclusion in education of students with mental retardation. Arlington, TX: The Arc.

Denning, C. D., Chamberlain, J. A., & Polloway, E. A. (2000). An evaluation of state guidelines for mental retardation: Focus on definition and classification practices. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 35, 226-232.

Doe v. Arlington County, 41 F. Supp. 599 (E.D. Va. 1999).

Donovan, M. S. & Cross, C. T. (Eds.). (2002). Minority students in special and gifted education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Douvanis, G., & Hulsey, D. (2002). The least restrictive environment mandate: How has it been defined by the courts? Arlington, VA: The ERIC Clearinghouse o\n Disabilities and Gifted Education. Retrieved August 5, 2004, from http:// www.hoagiesgifted.org/eric/ e629.html

Dunn, L. M. (1968). Special education for the mildly retarded-Is much of it justifiable? Exceptional Children, 35, 5-22.

Freeman, S. F. N., St Alkin, M. C. (2000). Academic and social attainments of children with mental retardation in general and special education settings. Remedial and Special Education, 21, 2- 18.

Greenspan, S. (1998). What’s in a name? The MR/LD controversy. HARC Today. Retrieved August 2, 2004, from http://www.harcct.org/ publications/harc% 20today%20lead%20articles/ld_mr%20controversy% 20summer%2098.htm

Grossman, H. J. (1983). Classification in mental retardation (7th ed.). Washington, DC: American Association on Mental Deficiency.

Hudson v. Bloomfield Hills, 108 F.3d 112 (6th Cir. 1997).

Johnson, G. O. (1962). Special education for the mentally handicapped-A paradox. Exceptional Children, 29, 62-69.

Katsiyannis, A., Zhang, D., & Archwamety, T. (2002). Placement and exit patterns for students with mental retardation: An analysis of national trends. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 37, 134-145.

Kennedy, C., Shukla, S., & Fryxell, D. (1997). Comparing the effects of educational placement on the social relationships of intermediate school students with severe disabilities. Exceptional Children, 64, 31-47.

Lee, S. S. (2004). Implementation of the Office of Special Education Programs’ Focused Monitoring during calendar year 2003. (Memorandum to Chief State School Officers and Lead Agency Directors). Retrieved August 5, 2004, from http:// www.dpi.state.wi.us/dpi/dlsea/een/ doc/osepmemo.doc

Lipsky, D. K., & Gartner, A. (1994). Inclusion: What it is, what it’s not, and why it matters. Exceptional Parent, 24(9), 36-38.

Luckasson, R., Borthwick-Duffy, S., Buntinx, W. H. E., Coulter, D. L., Craig, E. M., Reeve, A., et al. (2002). Mental retardation: Definition, classification, and systems of supports (10th ed.). Washington, DC: American Association on Mental Retardation.

Luckasson, R., Coulter, D. L., Polloway, E. A., Reiss, S., Schalock, R. L., Snell, et al. (1992). Mental retardation: Definition, classification, and systems of supports (9th ed.). Washington, DC: American Association on Mental Retardation.

Madden, N. A., & Slavin, R. (1983). Mainstreaming students with mild handicaps: Academic and social outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 53, 519-569.

McLeskey, J., & Henry, D. (1999). Inclusion: What progress is being made across states? TEACHING Exceptional Children, 31(5), 56- 62.

McLeskey, J., Henry, D., & Axelrod, M. (1999). Inclusion of students with LD: An examination of data from Report to Congress. Exceptional Children, 66, 55-66.

McLeskey, J., Henry, D., & Hodges, D. (1998). Inclusion: Where is it happening? TEACHING Exceptional Children, 31(1), 4-11.

McLeskey, J., Henry, D., & Hodges, D. (1999). Inclusion: What progress is being made across disability categories? TEACHING Exceptional Children, 31(3), 60-64.

McLeskey, J., Hoppey, D., Williamson, P., & Rentz, T. F. (2004). Is inclusion an illusion? An examination of national and state trends toward the education of students with learning disabilities in general education classrooms. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 19(2), 109-115.

McLeskey, J., & Waldron, N. (2000). Inclusive schools in action: Making differences ordinary. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Mu, K., Siegel, E., & Allinder, R. (2000). Peer interactions and sociometric status of high school students with moderate or severe disabilities in general education classrooms. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 25, 142-152.

National Association of State Directors of Special Education (1999). Child count variations and anomalies across states. Washington, DC: Author.

Oberti v. Clementon 995 F. 2nd 1204 (3rd Cir. 1993).

Office of Special Education Programs (1988). To assure the free appropriate public education of all handicapped children. Tenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Washington, DC: Author.

Office of Special Education Programs (1991). To assure the free appropriate public education of all children with disabilities. Thirteenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author.

Office of Special Education Programs (1992). To assure the free appropriate public education of all children with disabilities. Fourteenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author.

Office of Special Education Programs (1993). To assure the free appropriate public education of all children with disabilities. Fifteenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author.

Office of Special Education Programs (1994). To assure the free appropriate public education of all children with disabilities. Sixteenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author.

Office of Special Education Programs (1995). To assure the free appropriate public education of all children with disabilities. Seventeenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author.

Office of Special Education Programs (1996). To assure the free appropriate public education of all children with disabilities. Eighteenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author.

Office of Special Education Programs (1997). To assure the free appropriate public education of all children with disabilities. Nineteenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author.

Office of Special Education Programs (1998). To assure the free appropriate public education of all children with disabilities. Twentieth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author.

Office of Special Education Programs (1999). To assure the free appropriate public education of all children with disabilities. Twenty-first annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author.

Office of Special Education Programs (2000). To assure the free appropriate public education of all children with disabilities. Twenty-second annual report to Congress on the implementation of the individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author.

Office of Special Education Programs (2001). To assure the free appropriate public education of all children with disabilities. Twenty-third annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author.

Office of Special Education Programs (2003). OSEP data history. Retrieved August 2, 2004, from http:// ideadata.org/docs/ bdhistory.pdf

Polloway, E. A. (1984). The integration of mildly retarded students in the schools: A historical review. Remedial and Special Education, 5(4), 18-28.

Polloway, E. A., Patton, J. R., Smith, T. E. C., & Buck, G. H. (1997). Mental retardation and learning disabilities: Conceptual and applied issues. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 30, 297-308.

Roach, V., Salisbury, C., & McGregor, G. (2002). Applications of a policy framework to evaluate and promote large-scale change. Exceptional Children, 68, 451-464.

Sacramento v. Rachel H. 14 F.3d 1398 (9th Cir. 1994).

Sawyer, R. J., McLaughlin, M. J., & Winglee, M. (1994). Is integration of students with disabilities happening? An analysis of national data trends over time. Remedial and Special Education, 15, 204-215.

Turnbull, R., Turnbull, A., Shank, M., Smith, S., & Leal, D. (2002). Exceptional lives: Special education in today’s schools (3rd ed.). Columbus, OH: Merrill/ Prentice-Hall.

U.S. Department of Education (2003). Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Data. Retrieved March 1, 2003, from http://www.ideadata.org/

PAMELA WILLIAMSON

JAMES MCLESKEY

DAVID HOPPEY

TARCHA RENTZ

University of Florida

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

PAMELA WILLIAMSON (CEC FL Federation), Doctoral Candidate; JAMES MCLESKEY (CEC FL Federation), Professor; DAVID HOPPEY (CEC FL Federation), Doctoral Candidate; and TARCHA RENTZ (CEC FL Federation), Doctoral Candidate, Department of Special Education, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Address all correspondence to Pamela Williamson, Department of Special Education, University of Florida, P.O. Box 117050, Gainesville, FL 32611 (e-mail: pam.williamson@ttlvdo.com).

Manuscript received January 2004; accepted March 2005.

Copyright Council for Exceptional Children Spring 2006




comments powered by Disqus