Definition: Inclusion is realized when all students, regardless of their designation to receive special education services, are provided with targeted interventions and accommodations; allowing them to learn in the general education classroom and engage the core curriculum. Inclusion is the belief that all students have a right to meaningfully participate in the general education setting, both academically and socially. Inclusive instruction rebukes the problematic perspective that students receiving special education services need to ‘fit in’ or ‘earn their way’ into general education classes. The belief that general education instruction is not malleable and that students should be making adaptations to be included in the general education setting has contributed to the continuation of two parallel systems of education in which students receiving special education services are marginalized and devalued as a result of their environmental segregation.
Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) data are a measure of the percent of a school day a student with a disability spends in general education settings. While there are multiple measures included in LRE calculation, for the purposes of the Inclusive Practices PD Project, data analysis focused on:
- LRE 1: Placed in general education for 80-100% of the school day
- LRE 2: Placed in general education for 40-79% of the school day
- LRE 3: Placed in general education for 0-39% of the school day
Legislative Foundations: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires students with disabilities be educated in the LRE. For nearly all students the LRE mandate means that students receiving special education services be educated in the general education classroom to the maximum extent possible. Regarding LRE, IDEA states, “The placement of children in special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular education environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily–34 C.F.R. § 300.114(a)(2).”
Inclusion Benefits Everyone: Extensive research on the efficacy of inclusion shows that inclusive instruction yields significant improvements in the academic performance of students receiving special education services–in all subjects–and improvements in social and emotional outcomes as compared to teaching in separate settings. Students who received special education services, who spend 80-100% of their time in the regular classroom, develop better working habits, improved self-esteem, are more attentive, have improved social competencies, and have more diverse friendship networks. Students who do not have an identified disability or an individual education program (IEP) also see improved academic outcomes as the high-leverage teaching techniques used in inclusive classrooms [e.g., multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS), universal design for learning (UDL), specially designed instruction (SDI), and culturally responsive teaching (CRT)] help all students learn in ways that work best for their individual styles and needs. These students also see improved social outcomes as they learn to see beyond people’s disabilities and develop a greater appreciation for diversity.
Coaching/Mentoring Supports: The Washington State Standards for Mentoring “are designed to help both new and veteran mentors in various job settings to assess their current level of understanding and abilities, and to create actionable steps to improve.” The Standards for Mentoring include Learning-Focused Relationships; Reflective Practices; Adult Learning; Equitable Practices; Curriculum; and Connection to Systems and Learning Communities. Lipton and Wellman (2009) considered coaching along a continuum of interactive supports or stances, including coaching, collaborating, consulting, and calibrating.
Research on how schools can successfully implement inclusionary practices continually cite professional development for educators as an essential component. Providing an inclusive environment for students means that educators collaborate frequently and have a strong grasp on how to differentiate general education lessons to accommodate all students' learning styles and needs. This means that inclusionary professional development must focus on building collaboration skills and how to utilize high-leverage practices [i.e., MTSS, UDL/SDI, CRT]. When professional development is done correctly and administrative leadership is dedicated to a culture of inclusion, educators are shown to have positive feelings about inclusion and feel confident in their ability to teach all students.