Inclusion in the High School Classroom: A Challenge for Special Needs Students

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Typical Examples

Miriam is a high school sophomore with cerebral palsy. She has above average intelligence and excels in the regular classes. Due to Miriam’s inability to write, a paraprofessional acts as a scribe in the classroom, but has difficulty writing Miriam’s geometry and other subjects she herself does not understand. Miriam gets frustrated with this situation and wishes she could complete her work more independently. Her parents are constantly in touch with teachers to adjust the amount of written homework she receives. Although very personable, Miriam has few friends and feels very isolated.

Jamie, a high school junior with Down Syndrome, attends special education classes. Although he takes a few electives in regular education at his parents' request, some teachers do not think he belongs in their classes and do not understand how to accommodate his needs. Jamie’s parents worry about his future after he graduates. They would like the school to begin transition planning and address vocational options for their son.

The Inclusion Debate

The above scenarios illustrate typical experiences for high school students with disabilities. As the United States continues to debate education reform, American high schools struggle to better educate all students, from lowering dropout rates to preparing them to enter college or technical schools.

The high school years are even more discouraging for those with disabilities, whose parents express dissatisfaction with special education instruction or inclusive practices and who graduate at an even lower rate than their typical peers. Aside from academic and vocational discrepancies, students with disabilities experience less close friendships and social isolation throughout high school. These challenges may lead to decreased satisfaction with life and an increased need for health care and social services, as well as difficulties fitting into society.

The educational reform of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 proposed to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities. The Title 1 Schoolwide Program (SWP), originally introduced in 1978 and reauthorized as part of NCLB, required schools to improve academics for all students. This legislation also called for national, state, and local agencies to coordinate vocational and job development services.

Another piece of legislation included in NCLB, the Comprehensive School Reform Program (CSR), provided financial incentives to schools that use research-based methods to improve all students’ academic achievement through curriculum, technology, and staff development. While SWP and CSR focused on schoolwide change, the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004 concentrates on an individual student’s Individualized Education Plan and holds schools accountable for the academic performance and inclusion of district and state assessments of students with disabilities.

The debate around schoolwide change and inclusion has led to many comprehensive school reform models. Researchers have studied these models to identify effective inclusive high school reform, but few of these models highlight the inclusion of students with disabilities.

Of the research studies that have addressed inclusion in secondary schools, several show that models have only addressed the needs of students with mild disabilities. Special education teachers have acknowledged that CSR has promoted inclusion for some students with disabilities. However, lack of modification, instruction that is too fast-paced, and insufficient materials and planning continue to hinder inclusion and high school students with disabilities, especially those with severe impairments.

Much research exists in studying various educational reform models in secondary schools. Yet, little has been conducted in improving inclusion and the educational outcomes of students with disabilities. Since this population of students has generally been excluded from educational reform discussions and studies, true reform cannot begin until this research is conducted on inclusion and high school students with disabilities. Only then can educators work to promote the full inclusion of all.

Source: Hume, K. (2006). Catching a Moving Train: Reform for All? The Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in High School Reform Models.

This post is part of the series: Inclusion and Disabilities

Find out about Inclusion strategies, methodologies, and benefits for using it in the classroom

  1. Inclusion Teacher Duties and Responsibilities
  2. Inclusion and High School: Students Left Behind in Educational Reform
  3. Students Who Are Severely Emotionally Disturbed and Inclusion
  4. Inclusion Strategies For Teaching the Hearing Impaired
  5. Teaching Tips for Including Students with Severe and Multiple Disabilities