What research says about mainstreaming

Placing special-needs children in mainstream classrooms has become a common practice. However, according to Rosemarie Klassen, resource teacher, Winnipeg, Manitoba, research indicates that this practice has produced inconsistent results. Some studies have shown that although mildly mentally challenged students engage in a much higher rate of social interactions in mainstreamed classes, their academic progress is about the same as in specialized placements. In addition, other studies indicate that for most special-needs students, full-time placement in special classes appears to offer no significant benefits over part-time placement.

Klassen points out that we have no data that proves full-time integration is more beneficial than part-time integration. Academic progress in integrated, as compared to segregated, settings has been particularly hard to assess.

In Klassen’s experience, three factors inhibit the academic progress of special students in mainstream classrooms:

1. resistance by special-needs students to a modified instructional program while placed in a mainstream classroom,

2. inadequate training of regular classroom teachers assigned to work with special-needs students, and

3. the lower expectations teachers have for special students.

Whether mainstreaming improves the social skills and self-esteem of handicapped students is disputed. Special-needs students sometimes experience peer rejection in mainstream classes. Klassen reports that researchers generally agree that specific social-skills training for disabled students is sometimes necessary before they are integrated. Encouraging positive peer attitudes must also be a part of any mainstreaming effort.

According to Klassen, creating a positive teacher attitude toward mainstreaming is as important in fostering achievement by special-needs students as training teachers in specific teaching procedures and curricula.

She believes that further research is needed on the relationship between the type and severity of disability and the degree of integration. Integration, Klassen emphasizes, involves more than mere physical proximity. She recommends further investigation on the extent of actual participation by mainstreamed special-needs students in general school activities.

Research: What Does It Say About Mainstreaming?”, Education Canada, Volume 34, Number 2, Summer 1994, pp.27-35.

Published in ERN, November/December 1994, Volume 7, Number 5.

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