September 21, 2022 - Podcast

Episode 307 — Better outcomes for students with disabilities

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 7.2 million students ages 3 to 21 received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act during the 2020-2021 school year.

A new study by IU researchers found that in Indiana, high school students with disabilities who spent more time in general education classrooms scored higher on state reading and math assessments and were better prepared for postsecondary education and employment opportunities than their peers in less inclusive settings. The study was conducted by IU’s Center on Education and Lifelong Learning, one of seven research centers at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community. It was recently published in the Journal of Special Education.

Lead author Sandi Cole, director of the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, says researchers used statewide student and school demographic and outcome data to investigate the relationship between high- and low-inclusion educational settings and the academic outcomes of students with disabilities. High inclusion was defined as 80% or more educational time spent in the general education classroom. Low inclusion was defined as less than 80% of educational time spent in the general education classroom.

The study is the second phase of the researchers' 2020 study, which found that students with disabilities in third through eighth grades demonstrated significantly higher achievement on state assessments than students experiencing less inclusion.

Given the previous study's finding in favor of high inclusion related to student success, the new study assessed whether the same pattern existed for high school students with disabilities. A statewide comparison of student achievement in English/language arts and math scores in low- and high-inclusion placements was initiated using ISTEP+, Indiana's assessment tool used for all students.

Additionally, because diploma type often reflects the curriculum path of high school students, the study used this data to investigate relative differences in preparedness for post-secondary transition related to placement. The researchers found that comparisons of 10th grade ISTEP scores yielded highly significant results. Students with disabilities who spent 80% or more time in the general education classroom scored an average of 24.3 points higher in English/language arts and 18.4 points higher in math than their peers in low-inclusion settings. They also found that students with disabilities in high-inclusion settings were 22% more likely than their peers in low-inclusion settings to graduate with a Core 40 diploma by passing the state assessment rather than receiving a waiver.

The researchers say this suggests these students were more prepared for successful post-secondary educational and employment opportunities. Cole says these studies show it's clear that place matters for students with disabilities.