What Are the Outcomes for Nondisabled Students? - ASCD
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December 1, 1994

What Are the Outcomes for Nondisabled Students?

Although the research is limited, the consistency with which available studies indicate that inclusion does not harm nondisabled children—and in fact may benefit them—is encouraging.

Inclusion is receiving a lot of attention, both in school districts across the country and in the popular media. Most of that attention, however, is devoted to the effects of inclusion on students with disabilities. Here we want to consider the effects of inclusion on students who do not have disabilities.

We define inclusion as the full-time placement of children with mild, moderate, or severe disabilities in regular classrooms. This definition explicitly assumes that regular class placement must be considered as a relevant option for all children, regardless of the severity of their disabilities. This definition, however, does not preclude the use of pull-out services or instruction in a self-contained setting, when appropriate.

Three Common Concerns

  1. Will inclusion reduce the academic progress of nondisabled children? Unfortunately, only a limited research base exists documenting the impact of inclusion on the academic or developmental progress of nondisabled children. A few studies have used quasi-experimental designs to compare the progress of nondisabled children in inclusive classrooms to that of matched children enrolled in classrooms that do not include children with disabilities. These studies have consistently found no deceleration of academic progress for nondisabled children enrolled in inclusive classrooms. For example, when Odom and colleagues (1984) compared the progress of matched groups of nondisabled children in inclusive and noninclusive classrooms on standardized measures of cognitive, language, and social development, they found no significant differences in developmental outcomes (see also Cooke et al. 1981).Other studies have tracked the developmental progress of nondisabled children enrolled in inclusive preschool programs over one or more years—again finding no evidence of developmental harm (Bricker et al. 1982). In one of the few studies carried out at the elementary level, Hunt and colleagues (in press) compared the academic achievement of nondisabled students in cooperative learning groups that either did or did not include a classmate with severe disabilities. The authors found no statistically significant differences between these groups on math achievement pre- and post-test scores.Surveys conducted with parents and teachers who have been directly involved in inclusive settings generally show that both parties have positive views about inclusive programs and do not report any harm to the developmental progress of nondisabled children (Bailey and Winton 1989, Giangreco et al. 1993, Green and Stoneman 1989, Peck et al. 1992).

  2. Will nondisabled children lose teacher time and attention? Although many have voiced their concern that classroom teachers will be forced to devote too much time to dealing with children with disabilities (Peck et al. 1989, Shanker 1994), only one study has directly investigated this issue in depth.Hollowood and colleagues (in press) compared allocated and actual instructional time for six randomly selected nondisabled students in classrooms that included at least one student with severe disabilities, with a comparison group of nondisabled students in noninclusive classrooms. They also collected data on the rate of interruptions to planned instruction. Their findings indicated that the presence of students with severe disabilities had no effect on levels of allocated or engaged time. Further, time lost to interruptions of instruction was not significantly different in inclusive and noninclusive classrooms.These findings are supported by survey responses from teachers and parents who have direct experience with inclusive classrooms (for example, Peck and colleagues 1992). In a related study, Helmstetter and colleagues (1993) surveyed a sample of 166 high school students who had been involved in inclusive classrooms in rural, suburban, and urban areas of Washington State. These students did not believe that their participation in inclusive classrooms had caused them to miss out on other valuable educational experiences.

  3. Will nondisabled students learn undesirable behavior from students with disabilities? Observations of young children in inclusive classrooms suggest that this seldom occurs. In one survey, both parents and teachers indicated that nondisabled children had not picked up undesirable behavior from children with disabilities (Peck et al. 1992).Another research effort conducted follow-along case studies of nondisabled students in inclusive elementary and middle school classrooms (Staub et al. in press, 1994). Interviews with parents and teachers, as well as direct observational data collected over two successive school years, indicate that nondisabled students do not acquire undesirable or maladaptive behavior from peers with disabilities.Some caveats. The research about the impact of inclusion on children who do not have disabilities is limited in several ways. First, most studies have been carried out at the early childhood level—relatively few studies of elementary and secondary age children have been reported. Second, the existing research has been primarily descriptive or quasi-experimental in nature. Results of these studies must be interpreted with caution because of the ambiguity inherent in such designs.It is also important to note that contextual variables, particularly the amount and nature of direct support provided to the classroom teacher, are almost always considered critical to the ability of the classroom teacher to maintain adequate attention to the needs of all children (Giangreco et al. 1993, Peck et al. 1989, Salisbury et al. 1993).

Potential Benefits of Inclusion

  1. Reduced fear of human differences accompanied by increased comfort and awareness. On surveys and in interviews, high school students often attributed their reduced fear of people who looked or behaved differently to having had interactions with individuals with disabilities (Peck et al. 1992). For example, one student commented, If I had one thing to say to everybody, I would say, `Don't be scared of students with disabilities—get to know them even if it takes a long time because it really is worth it' (Peck et al. 1990).After interviewing 20 parents of nondisabled elementary-aged students attending inclusive classes, we found that not only did parents report that their children had less fear of people who looked and acted differently, but that they themselves had experienced a similar effect vicariously through their children's experiences (Staub et al., in press). In addition to feeling more accepting of others, students said that they came to value the contributions that all individuals make (Biklen et al. 1989, York et al. 1992).

  2. Growth in social cognition. Murray-Seegert (1989), who conducted a yearlong ethnographic study in an inclusive high school, found that nondisabled students learned to be more tolerant of others as they became more aware of the needs of their peers with disabilities. She also found that these students demonstrated more positive feelings about themselves after spending time helping classmates with severe disabilities. In addition, researchers have found that elementary school children learn skills that enable them not only to communicate more effectively with their peers with disabilities, but also to be more supportive of them in daily interactions (Staub et al. 1994).

  3. Improvements in self-concept. Many nondisabled students have experienced an increase in self-esteem as a result of their relationships with individuals with disabilities (Peck et al. 1992, Peck et al. 1990, Voeltz and Brennan 1983). Studies have shown that some students perceived that their relationship with a classmate with disabilities had elevated their status in class and school (Staub et al., in press).A nondisabled junior high school student, who served as a peer tutor for a school mate with severe disabilities, explains it this way: Yeah, it's kind of rewarding if she [a student with disabilities] makes progress—you feel good about yourself because you've helped her to do it. I like that.Teachers have also reported that for some students, having a role as a caretaker or peer tutor for a classmate with disabilities gives them a sense of belonging: Some kids reach out to everybody, but I've seen a few kids who have been saved by having somebody to care for in almost an unconditional way (Staub et al. 1994).

  4. Development of personal principles. Many nondisabled students experienced a growth in their commitment to personal moral and ethical principles as a result of their relationship with students with disabilities. (Peck et al. 1990). Parents also reported that their children showed less prejudice toward people who behaved, acted, or looked differently from themselves (Peck et al 1992).Helmstetter and colleagues (in press) noted that with the development of personal principles came an increased responsiveness on the part of nondisabled secondary school students toward the needs of other people. A high school student, commenting on his experience as a tutor for peers with severe disabilities, responded: I thought [my friends] wouldn't accept me interacting with the handicapped kids. I don't think it would have changed my mind if they wouldn't accept it because I don't care, you know—friends are friends but they are not going to stop me from doing something that I think is important (Peck et al. 1990). Often nondisabled students assume an advocacy role toward their peers and friends with disabilities (Bogdan and Taylor 1989).

  5. Warm and caring friendships. In many cases, the relationships that have emerged between students with and without disabilities have developed into meaningful, long-lasting friendships (Amado 1993, Strully and Strully 1985, Voeltz and Brennan 1983).Many nondisabled students have commented on the value of the personal acceptance they have experienced from their peers who have disabilities, as well as the relaxed nature of their interactions with them: Like a lot of times he'll be sitting there and I won't feel like, should I say something, should I say something? ... It's a really nice connection, not to talk but to feel comfortable.Bogdan and Taylor (1989), in their interviews with nondisabled people who do not “stigmatize, stereotype, or reject” those with disabilities, found that most of them mentioned deriving pleasure from their relationships with peers with disabilities. A mother, describing her son's relationship with a peer with severe disabilities, put it this way: Aaron's friendship with Cole is a caring, teaching relationship. I get the feeling that Aaron wants to let Cole experience the things he has experienced.... He gets a lot of joy from being able to do that (Staub et al. 1994).

Reflections on the Research

Although the research is quite limited, we are encouraged by the consistency with which existing studies indicate that inclusion does not harm nondisabled children. Even more encouraging is the evidence of potential benefits of inclusion.

We also agree with the majority of teachers and administrators we have interviewed that realizing the benefits of inclusion for all students will require active mediation of the experience by teachers, as well as the transfer of resources from traditional special education programs to support children placed in regular classes (Peck et al. 1993).

A central assumption underlying our interpretation of the studies reviewed here is that the purposes of inclusion are highly relevant to the needs of all children. The development of all children is enhanced by the extent to which they feel a sense of belonging, caring, and community in school (Noddings 1984). The values of belonging, caring, and community that underlie the inclusive schools movement represent a substantive shift from those that have traditionally dominated American life (Bellah et al. 1985). We interpret many aspects of the current controversies about inclusion to reflect the kinds of struggles that are inherent in such a shift in values and priorities. We suggest that including children with disabilities in regular public school classrooms is stimulating exactly the kind of experience in the lives of children, and the kind of reflective dialogue among adults, that is necessary to achieve change in the values and ethics underlying public education policy.

References

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