Researchers from Brigham Young University observed 14 junior-high students in the first year of an inclusion program to gain insights about placing students with serious emotional and behavior problems in general-education classrooms.
Through observation and interviews with general and special students, teachers and administrators, these researchers studied the effects of inclusion on students’ school and academic behavior, social skills and acceptance by peers.
Prior to placement in this large (1200-student) junior high school, all 14 students had attended a special state-supported school for students with severe behavioral disorders. When funding for the school ended, these students came back to the district. Their average age was 14 years, 9 months, and they had attended the special school for an average of 3.5 years.
Their I.Q. scores ranged from low average to superior. These 14 students were severely emotionally disordered according to every criterion used in the public school system. All 14 were placed in regular classes with general-education students.
Special-ed teachers offer intensive small-group instruction
Four special-education teachers were assigned to work with these students. The special-education teachers provided intensive small-group instruction in basic skills and learning strategies and served as trackers to follow students and provide direct instruction and guidance in regular classes.
Trackers helped students take notes and do homework, and cued students about appropriate classroom behaviors. They also acted as consultants to general educators in adapting and adjusting curriculum and tests for all students in the class. There were 13 general educators who taught eighth-grade classes that included these special students. Researchers drew four conclusions at the end of the first year of this inclusion program:
1. The collaborative relationship between special-education teachers and students was responsible for much of the success of this program.
- Special-education students were very aware of the role and responsibilities of their trackers, and without exception attributed much of their academic and behavioral success to them. Trackers served as both mediators and buffers by providing counsel that permitted special students to function appropriately and not be objectionable to the regular teacher.
2. Strong leadership from the administration was necessary to buy time for instructional teams to plan.
- Planning sessions were a major financial commitment from the principal’s office, and one that was critical to the consistent monitoring of the special students’ academic as well as behavioral achievement. While most of the general educators held positive views on the inclusion program, many expressed concern that they were not involved in the transition planning, that they lacked knowledge of individual students’ needs, and that they had not been given training in collaboration.
3. To support inclusion, general educators created a set of instructional conditions based on a philosophical commitment to meeting the needs of all students in the class and working collaboratively with other professionals.
- Special educators were able to intervene spontaneously on behalf of special students without offending or alienating general educators. None of the general educators complained that special students received inappropriate or unfair help.
4. Special students benefited from the inclusion program without adverse effects on regular students.
- While it was a radical change from their earlier institutionalized placement, these special students demonstrated resilience and adaptability and strongly endorsed the inclusion program. General students’ reactions were remarkably bland. No general students expressed any concerns about the special help some students received. None seemed to be aware that some of their classmates had behavior disorders or that they were receiving special education.
This suggests that the integration of severely behaviorally disordered students into general-education classes does not automatically have adverse effects on the instruction of those without disabilities.
General and special educators unanimously agreed that inclusion benefited the special students in terms of their social and personal behaviors. Many of the general educators did not even find the behavior of special students atypical. However, these researchers point out that the trackers’ support was crucial in ensuring that special students rarely caused disruptions in general-education classrooms. The special educators noted that special students behaved more appropriately in the presence of their trackers and peers than they did in a segregated setting.
These researchers acknowledge that this study has limitations because it represents a small number of students in a single setting.
“Lessons Learned from the Inclusion of Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders in One Junior High School”, Behavioral Disorders, Volume 24, Number 2, February 1999, pp. 122-136.
Published in ERN May-June 1999 Volume 12 Number 5