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 - 1996

What the Data Show: The Positive Results of IDEA1

Because of IDEA, results for students with disabilities have improved dramatically during the past 20 years. One of the basic goals of the Act was that children with disabilities should not be excluded from school. This has been largely achieved. During the 1993-94 school year approximately 12 percent of elementary and secondary students received special education services (a 44 percent increase since the beginning of program). Moreover, as discussed in the next section of this chapter, over 95 percent of these students received services in regular school buildings, and many are educated in regular classrooms.

A central purpose of IDEA is to ensure an effective and individualized education designed to address each child's particular needs in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Today, a continuum of placement options is being used in schools to provide special education services to students with disabilities. This practice fosters the achievement of social and academic goals by each individual child (Schnorr, 1990). A study by Evans, Salisbury, Palombaro, Berryman, & Hollywood (1992) found that social acceptance and opportunity for interaction are not uniquely associated with a child's cognitive functioning. Rather, the achievement of these social goals is affected by the environment in which services are received. The following example, described by a parent, illustrates how placement options are being used to accommodate the social and academic needs of students with disabilities (National Council on Disability, 1994, p. 10).

My own daughter was born to Dave and [me] on March 3, 1980, with Down Syndrome and congenital heart disease. She was lucky to be born in the early 1980s because she is the first product of infant stimulation and early intervention programs. It is Vicki's generation of students with disabilities who will be the benchmark for how successful good quality education can and should be.

When she was seven years old, Vicki was socially integrated into kindergarten, yet based in a special education classroom. For the past six years, Vicki has been a regular education student using special education supports. The success of this venture shows in Vicki's strong social skills and in her academic needs continually being challenged and met. She is going into the sixth grade this fall with the same students who have known her since first grade. She is part of their class and they are part of her class.

...Vicki's academic and personal needs have the same value as every other student enrolled in the school. The integrated educational opportunities that she experiences today will lead to Vicki being included in an integrated community for the rest of her life. (Carol Reedstrom, witness at the Chicago Hearing on Inclusionary Education, August 4-5, 1993.)

This quote highlights the types of placements and supports given to one child. In addition, it reveals a parent's commitment to inclusive settings based on the positive educational results for her child.

Equally important as individually tailored options are the settings in which students are served. Although challenges remain, IDEA has positively affected social and independent living results and educational attainment and employment for students with disabilities. Some of these positive results are described below, as well as factors associated with these results.

Educational Attainment and Employment

There has been a substantial increase in the educational levels of individuals with disabilities. The percentage of individuals who do not finish high school has decreased, while the percentage who complete some college or a 4-year college or more has increased (see table 3.1). Also, the percentage of college freshmen reporting disabilities has more than tripled since 1978; in 1978, 2.6 percent of full-time freshmen reported disabilities, and in 1991, 8.8 percent reported disabilities (American Council on Education, 1992).

TABLE 3.1 Percentage Distribution of Educational Attainment of Persons by Disability Status, 1986 and 1994
                         With Disabilities   Without Disabilities Educational Attainment     1986    1994         1986      1994 ======================     ====    ====         ====      ==== Less than high school       40      25           15        12 High school graduate        31      30           37        41 Some college                15      28           25        26 Four-year college   graduate or more          14      16           23        21 ----------------------     ---     ---          ---       --- Total                      100     100          100       100 
NOTE: Due to rounding, data may not sum to 100 percent.

NOTE: With Disabilities column is based on individuals ages 16 and over. Without Disabilities column is based on individuals ages 18 and older.

SOURCE: Louis Harris and Associates, Inc., 1994.

In the years since the implementation of IDEA, rates of work force participation also have improved for individuals with disabilities. The percentage of youth with disabilities ages 16 to 24 employed (62 percent) is double that of individuals with disabilities ages 16 to 64 (31 percent) (Harris Survey, 1994; SRI, 1993). These data suggest that in recent years more individuals with disabilities are entering the work force after leaving school than was the case in previous decades. This trend may be even stronger than the data suggest because many youth ages 16 to 24 are enrolled in secondary school or postsecondary programs, and therefore may delay entry into the work force while they continue their education.

Social Skills

Social interactions serve as the basis for the acquisition of a range of important developmental skills(Hartup, 1983). According to Odem & Brown (1993), participation in socially active environments affects acquisition of peer social interaction skills most directly. The acquisition of these skills is important because they create the foundation for the development of positive social relationships within a peer group. In schools, a variety of conditions from environmental arrangements (Sainato & Carta, 1992; Twardosz, 1984; Spiegel-McGill, Bamabara, Shores, & Fox, 1984) to teacher strategies (Salisbury, Gallucci, Polombaro, & Peck, 1995; DeKlyen & Odem, 1989) have been developed to promote social skills. Post-school results show that most youth with disabilities (93 percent) who were out of school 3 to 5 years were not socially isolated. The longer youth were out of school, the less frequently they reported seeing friends; however, more than one-third still reported seeing friends 4 or more days per week. The rate of marriages or living with a member of the opposite sex was not significantly different from youth in the general population (SRI, 1993).

Factors Associated with Positive Results 2

Data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS) provide insights on those factors associated with positive results for students with disabilities. Many features of secondary school programs, including time in regular education or taking vocational courses, are associated with a number of positive postschool results, according to NLTS data. Youth with disabilities who took vocational education courses were more likely to be employed in the first 3 years after high school than those who took no courses at all. Youth who took a concentration of courses in a particular area, instead of one or more unrelated survey vocational classes, had a higher annual income. But time in regular education does not guarantee positive postschool results unless appropriate services are provided. According to the NLTS, many students in regular education have had high failure rates, particularly in the 9th and 10th grades. However, students who spent more time in regular education and succeeded had higher employment, independent living, and community participation rates. Further study is needed to determine whether the data indicate that: (1) the traits that enabled the most competent students to enroll in more regular education classes also served those youth well when they left school; or that (2) time in regular education enhanced overall intellectual and social competence by providing better preparation for adulthood; or that (3) these students' successes are a result of a combination of time in regular education and competency.

The NLTS data raise two important issues. First, receiving quality instruction and proper support are important factors of successful school experiences. Second, there is no single special education policy or instructional strategy that benefits all students. In shaping policy and programs for students with disabilities, a range of options, tailored to meet the individual needs of students, continues to be the most effective approach to meeting a wide range of needs, preferences, and abilities of students who participate in special education.

Equally important as quality instruction, proper support, and individually tailored options, are the settings in which students are served. The next section presents a national picture of how the full continuum of placement options is being used to provide a free appropriate public education to students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment.

1 Portions of this section are excerpted from Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (U.S. Department of Education, 1995).

2 The information in this section summarizes the findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study(NLTS) of Special Education Students that are described in Chapter 3 of the Seventeenth Annual Report to Congress (U.S. Department of Education, 1995). These findings are based on data from more than 8,000 youth who were aged 13 to 21 and in special education in secondary schools(grades 7 through 12) or ungraded programs in 1985-86. Data were also collected in 1990 for youth who had been out of school 3 to 5 years.

[Chapter 3] [Table of Contents] [Educational Placements for Students with Disabilities]