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

Summary and Implications

These analyses from the NLTS document the early post-school results that were achieved by young people with disabilities who had gone through secondary school in the mid- to late 1980s. Data from the study show that many features of secondary school programs, including time in regular education, or taking vocational courses were associated with a number of positive post-school results. What happens in schools can make a difference in what students later achieve.

Findings from the NLTS show that the impact of schools works in both directions. Taking vocational education was found to be associated with improved life results in the first three years after school. Students who spent more time in regular education were also found to have better results. Other NLTS analyses show that the relationship of time spent in regular education to results is somewhat complex, because increased time in regular education was also found to be strongly associated with increased likelihood of course failure (Hebbeler, 1993). Many students with disabilities experience high failure rates in high school, especially in 9th and 10th grades. Course failure, in turn, was one of the strongest predictors of dropping out. Dropping out, a negative result in itself, is related to other negative results in the next several years after students leave school. Time in regular education then is related to positive results for those who can earn passing grades. For those who can't, the result can be extremely detrimental.

The NLTS shows that secondary school programs can produce post-school benefits for students with disabilities--but only for students who can succeed in them. Perhaps the greatest positive contribution schools can make to the post-school success of students with disabilities is to contribute to the in-school success of those students, regardless of their placement. As the inclusion movement gains momentum, great care must be paid to issues of quality and support.

The proper use of supports is a key factor in creating an inclusive environment that works for students with disabilities (Ferguson, 1993; Ferguson, Meyer, Jeanchild, and Zingo, 1992; MacKinnon and Brown, 1994). Information on how best to offer these supports is increasing. For example, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) (1992) developed a checklist for key players creating an inclusive system which promotes cooperative teaching approaches, consultation and in-class support, places a high priority on sustained training that fosters inclusion, and incorporates inclusion goals in hiring practices, evaluation instruments, architectural planning and construction of buildings, and overall budgeting. Simon, Karasoff, and Smith (1992) also recommend a three-tiered system for building inclusive environments. The technical assistance planning guide they developed is designed to facilitate educational change, to focus on local ownership, and to provide self-assessment checklists that examine whether effective practices are implemented at the State, district, and school site levels.

Finally, NLTS analyses of contributions to results for students with different kinds of disabilities confirm that there is no single special education policy or strategy that offers benefits to all students. In shaping policy and programs for students with disabilities, a range of options, tailored to the individual needs of students, continues to be the most effective approach to meeting the wide range of needs, preferences, and abilities of students who participate in special education.

The NLTS gives us solid information on the contributions of schools to the post-school results of students with disabilities. However, it is clear that American education has undergone considerable reform in many places across the country since the NLTS data were collected. School programs are changing for many high school students -- both those with and without disabilities. For secondary school students with disabilities, specific initiatives could markedly reshape their secondary school experiences. Some examples are the recent mandate to incorporate transition planning into secondary school programming and the continued efforts to increase the degree to which students with disabilities are included in regular education settings. Data on school programs, student results, and post-school achievements must continue to be collected if policy makers, educators, parents, and other concerned parties are to stay abreast of changes in special education programs and document their evolving relationships to the results of youth with disabilities.

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[Interpreting the Impact of Time in Regular Education] [Table of Contents] [Results for Students with Disabilities]