A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

To Assure the Free Appropriate Public Education of all Children with Disabilities - 1995

Educational Placements of Students with Disabilities

Part B of IDEA and its implementing regulations require "that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public and private institutions and other care facilities, should be educated with children who are not disabled; and that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature and severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily" (34 CFR 300.550). The Part B regulations further specify that "a continuum of alternative placements is available to meet the needs of children with disabilities for special education and related services" (34 CFR 300.551).

Each year, OSEP collects data from States and Outlying Areas on the number of students with disabilities served in each of six different educational environments: regular class, resource room, separate class, public or private separate school, public or private residential facility, and homebound/hospital placements. The data are collected by age group for students age 3 through 21 and by disability for students age 6 through 21.

During the last five years, the percentage of regular classroom placements reported by States increased by almost 10 percentage points (see figure 1.1). The use of resource rooms has decreased and all other placement settings have remained stable. The increase in the number of students placed in regular classrooms may be attributed to changes in placements in California, Indiana, New York, and Minnesota. The number of students in California reportedly served in regular classes increased almost 100 percent from 1991-92 to 1992-93, with similarly large decreases in resource room placements. State officials in California believe the shift is due primarily to improved data collection and reporting that better conforms to OSEP data collection requirements. Indiana, Minnesota, and New York all reported similar shifts in placement data and also attributed the shifts to improved data collection and reporting procedures that more accurately reflect Federal guidelines.

       Figure 1.1  Percentage of Students Age 6 through 21 with                   Disabilities Served in Different Educational                   Environments: School Years 1988-89 through 1992-93  1988-89:        Regular Class:  30 percent        Resource Room:  39 percent        Separate Class:  24 percent        Separate Facilities:  6 percent  1989-90:        Regular Class:  31 percent        Resource Room:  38 percent        Separate Class:  25 percent        Separate Facilities:  6 percent  1990-91:        Regular Class:  32 percent        Resource Room:  36 percent        Separate Class:  25 percent        Separate Facilities:  5 percent  1991-92:        Regular Class:  35 percent        Resource Room:  36 percent        Separate Class:  23 percent        Separate Facilities:  5 percent         1992-93        Regular Class:  39.8 percent        Resource Room:  31.7 percent        Separate Class:  23.5 percent        Separate Facilities:  5 percent 

In 1992-93, 39.8 percent of students with disabilities age 6 through 21 were served in regular classroom placements under Part B and Chapter 1 (SOP). An additional 31.7 percent were served in resource rooms, and 23.5 percent were served in separate classes in regular school buildings. Fully 95 percent of students with disabilities were served in regular school buildings. Of those students served in separate facilities, 3.7 percent were served in separate day schools for students with disabilities, 0.8 percent were served in residential facilities, and 0.5 percent were served in homebound/hospital settings.

Placement Patterns by Age Group

Educational placements for students with disabilities vary a great deal by age group. Students age 6 through 11 are most likely to be served in regular classroom settings. As shown in figure 1.2, almost 50 percent of students with disabilities age 6 through Figure 1.1 Percentage of Students Age 6 through 11 are served in regular classroom placements, compared to 30 percent for students age 12 through 17, and 23 percent for students age 18 through 21. These percentages may occur because overall, the environments and curriculums used in elementary schools are less complex. In elementary school students tend to stay in one classroom with one teacher for most of the day. Therefore, adaptive equipment has to be moved less frequently and guidance on inclusive practices can focus on fewer environments and variations in instructional practices. The relatively large percentage of students age 18 through 21 served in separate classes and schools may reflect placements in specialized vocational programs or other transition programs located outside the regular school building.

     Figure 1.2  Percentage of Students with Disabilities, by Age                 Group, Served in Different Educational Environments:                 School Year 1992-93  Age 6-11        Regular Class:  50 percent        Resource Room:  26 percent        Separate Class:  20 percent        Separate School:  2.5 percent        Residential Facility:  Less than 1 percent        Home/Hospital:  Less than 1 percent  Age 12-17        Regular Class:  30 percent        Resource Room:  38 percent        Separate Class:  26 percent        Separate School:  4 percent        Residential Facility:  1 percent        Home/Hospital:  Less than 1 percent  Age 18-21        Regular Class:  23 percent        Resource Room:  32 percent        Separate Class:  29 percent        Separate School:  10.5 percent        Residential Facility:  2.5 percent        Home/Hospital:  1 percent

Placement Patterns by Disability

Placement patterns differ considerably by disability, as shown in table 1.7. Data for 1992-93 indicate that students with speech or language impairments were served almost exclusively in regular classroom settings (81.8 percent) and resource rooms (10.7 percent).

TABLE 1.7 Percentage of Students with Disabilities Age 6 through 21 Served in Different Educational Environments, by Disability: School Year 1992-93.
                   Regular  Resource  Separate  Separate  Residen.   Home/ DISABILITY          Class     Room     Class     School   Facility  Hospital
---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Specific learning    34.8     43.9      20.1      0.8       0.2       0.2 disabilities  Speech or language   81.8     10.7       6.0      1.4       0.1       0.1 impairments  Mental retardation    7.1     26.8      56.8      7.9       0.9       0.5  Serious emotional    19.6     26.7      35.2     13.7       3.5       1.3    disturbance  Multiple              7.6     19.1      44.6     23.6       3.4       1.8 disabilities  Hearing              29.5     19.7      28.1      8.3      14.0       0.4 impairments  Orthopedic           35.1     20.0      34.1      6.7       0.6       3.5 impairments  Other health         40.0     27.4      20.6      2.5       0.5       9.1 impairments  Visual               45.5     21.1      18.0      5.6       9.4       0.5 impairments  Autism                9.0      9.6      50.0     27.6       3.2       0.6  Deaf-blindness       12.3      9.7      31.4     21.2      24.6       1.0  Traumatic            16.4     19.8      28.4     28.4       4.4       2.6 brain injury ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- All disabilities     39.8     31.7      23.5      3.7       0.8       0.5 
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education, Data Analysis System (DANS)

Students with specific learning disabilities, other health impairments, orthopedic impairments, and serious emotional disturbance were generally served in regular schools, regular classes, resource rooms, and separate classes.Students with mental retardation continued to be served primarily in resource rooms and separate classrooms.

Students with hearing or visual impairments were served in a wide variety of settings.Twenty-nine percent of students with hearing impairments and 45 percent of students with visual impairments were served in regular classrooms.Twenty-three percent of students with hearing impairments and 15 percent of students with visual impairments were served in separate schools, residential facilities, and homebound/hospital settings.

Students with multiple disabilities, autism, deaf-blindness, and traumatic brain injury were typically served in more restrictive settings than other students with disabilities.Separate class and separate day school placements were most common for students with multiple disabilities, autism, and traumatic brain injury.The majority of students with deaf-blindness were served in separate classes, separate schools, or residential facilities.

Findings Related to Inclusive School Practices

Providing individualized and appropriate education for all children and youth with disabilities in general education classrooms requires substantial commitment and support from a variety of levels. Recognizing this reality, OSEP has funded a number of projects over the last decade that have focused on specific research issues (such as promoting academic achievement of students with learning disabilities, and promoting physical and social integration of students with severe disabilities), demonstration projects that assist LEAs in implementing inclusive schooling practices, institutes (such as the California Research Institute and the Consortium on Inclusive Schooling Practices) to help schools include students with significant disabilities in general education classrooms, or State capacity-building activities that promote inclusive schooling (for example, 29 States have received Statewide Systems Change Project Grants). From these and other efforts, several conditions have been identified as supporting inclusive schooling practices.They are described below.

Positive learning results are attainable for students with disabilities served in inclusive contexts. These, and other benefits, can be attained when staff perceive themselves and their students as adequately supported, and when programs provide the supports necessary for students with disabilities to learn effectively and efficiently.Many of these supports require redeployment of existing resources, rather than procurement of new services and personnel.Given these parameters, table 1.8 gives an overview of some of the trends and findings that have been reported in the literature. Most are grounded in the work of research and demonstration projects funded by OSEP.

Factors Affecting Attainment of Positive Results

Research has shown that several factors affect the school environment.The National Center on Educational Restructuring and Inclusion (NCERI) (Lipsky and Gardner, 1994) found that successful inclusion programs had strong leadership, collaboration, and supports for students; refocused use of assessments and funding; and effective parental and family support.Two of the factors, strong leadership and collaboration, can take different forms.For example, the perceived availability of administrative, technical, and collegial support affected how the teachers rated their experiences in inclusive settings (Wolery, Werts, Caldwell, Snyder, and Lisowski, 1995; Karasoff, Alwell, and Halvorsen, 1992).Other factors that affect the school environment are student and classroom accommodations (Hamilton, Welkowitz, Mandeville, Prue and Fox, 1995; Peters, 1990), building a sense of community in the classroom (Salisbury, Gallucci, Polombaro, and Peck, in press) and involvement of and support provided to parents (Nisbet, 1992).

TABLE 1.8 Positive Learning and Social Results Using Inclusive School Practices
Skill Area: Academic/learning


  • Higher quality IEPs compared to those in special classes (Hunt, Farron-Davis, Curtis, & Goetz, 1994).

  • Higher levels of engaged time in general education compared to students in special education (Hunt, Farron-Davis, Curtis, & Goetz, 1994).

  • Higher levels of engaged time for elementary students with and without disabilities in classrooms in which there are students with more significant disabilities (Hollowood, Salisbury, Rainforth, & Palombaro, 1994).

  • Disruptions to classroom learning time not associated with students with significant disabilities (Hollowood, Salisbury, Rainforth, & Palombaro, 1994).

  • Students with disabilities learn targeted skills in general education classrooms (Wolery, Werts, Caldwell, & Snyder, 1994; Hunt, Staub, Alwell, & Goetz 1994).

  • No decline in academic or behavioral performance of nondisabled classmates on standardized test and report card measures (Sharpe, York, & Knight, 1994).
Skill Area: Social


  • High school students report that interactions with students with disabilities produced positive attitudes, increased responsiveness to needs of people, and increased appreciation for diversity (Helmstetter, Peck, & Giangreco, 1994).

  • Students with disabilities in general education settings are alone less often and display more social contact than students in special classes (Hunt, Farron-Davis, Curtis, & Goetz, 1994; Kennedy & Itkonen, 1994; Romer & Haring, 1994).

  • Demonstrated gains in social competence for students in inclusive settings compared to that of students in segregated placements (Cole & Meyer, 1991).

  • Social acceptance and opportunity for interactions not uniquely associated with child's level of functioning (Evans, Salisbury, Palombaro, Berryman, Hollowood, 1992).

  • Regular class participation is an important factor in determining the composition and stability of social networks for high school students with disabilities (Kennedy & Itkonen, 1994).

Implications for the Future

Despite advances in understanding the conditions associated with positive social and academic results for students with disabilities in general education classrooms, substantial gaps continue to exist in our knowledge of inclusive schooling. Substantial gaps also continue to exist between what is known and what occurs in many public schools.

In addition to these and other areas of clear research need, continued efforts are needed to ensure that the findings and innovations from research projects become widely adopted and used in the majority of the nation's schools. Support should continue for projects such as those described below:

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