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IU study supports disability inclusion in K-12 classrooms



An IU research study concluded anyone with a federally-defined disability, such as autism, vastly improved their test scores when they were in a general education classroom as opposed to a special education one.

The study, looking at eighth graders, was conducted by IU’s Center on Education and Lifelong Learning to determine if the placement of students with disabilities affected Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress scores. 

ISTEP is an Indiana educational assessment designed to test students on what they learned that school year. The data was taken from all over Indiana and spanned multiple years.

Debate on placement stems from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, said Hardy Murphy, IU-Purdue University Indianapolis clinical professor of educational leadership and researcher. One part of the act focuses on giving students with disabilities accommodations, while the other focuses on having those students receive a good education.

People disagree on how to achieve both. Some think it’s easier to give students accommodations when the students are in a separate classroom. Others argue that the separation isn’t needed.

Murphy said their research helps answer that debate. The study supports inclusivity in education and providing extra help for students with disabilities when problems arise.

“If services need to be provided, the services should be pushed into the general education classroom, rather than pulling the students out,” Murphy said.

The study gives more evidence to the debate of where students with disabilities should be placed, which has been raging for a long time, said Sandi Cole, Indiana Institute on Disability and Community director and researcher. She said she also hopes it gives parents more information to help them decide where to place their child in school.

Cole said this study had to be done because it could help include students who before may not have been given the opportunity to be in general education classrooms.

“We have to talk about inclusion because someone assumed at some point that a group of students should be excluded,” Cole said.

The study followed students who were in eighth grade and worked backward, looking at test scores as far back as the third grade, Murphy said.

Murphy said the methodology of the study was important for analyzing the data because it gave the researchers a more definitive answer to their research question, one which has been debated for decades.

He said everyone benefits from an integrated classroom. Students without disabilities gain more empathy and grow as people, while students with disabilities achieve higher test scores.

“In some ways, you are honoring that humanity and what we feel is a civil right because we strongly believe it is through education people learn to get along,” Murphy said.

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