Inclusion vs. Mainstreaming: What You Need to Know Before Putting Your Child in a Classroom Program

If your child has a learning disability, there are ways you can be involved and ensure your child continues to receive a proper education based on their needs. Through classroom programs, a teacher may need to differentiate the assignments or the delivery of instruction, to facilitate positive learning experiences for all students. Being aware and responsive also requires the discretion of teachers; disabilities and special education status are private information.

Students with mild disabilities are usually part of a general education classroom, and some may spend short periods of time each day in a resource room receiving specialized education. Inclusion has become a popular choice for students with special needs. With inclusion, the child is fully included in the general education class for the entire day. A special education teacher works with the special needs children in the classroom and brings all necessary resources to the general classroom. Inclusion has its share of naysayers, however, who voice concerns about these programs.

Some teachers of general education classes have concerns, including:
• A lack of support services for students when they are moved into a regular classroom
• Lack of training for even the most experienced teachers to support and work with disabled students
• Limited content and field experiences in teacher education programs focused on learning disabilities
• Limited involvement of regular teachers during creation of the IEP
• Concerns expressed by parents of general education students in the inclusive classroom that their children will not get the attention they need

Inclusion is directed at ensuring that students with disabilities can benefit from the best learning situations possible. Before a change made to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2003, the educational progress of children with disabilities was not tracked. In 2003 NCLB required states to include the achievement scores of 95% of all special education students in their annual progress reports.

So another level of inclusion was instituted: one designed to ensure that special needs students are progressing. States are allowed to include testing accommodations for students with special needs, such as extended test time, one-on-one testing, and helping students to write answers. Students with severe cognitive disabilities are also allowed to take alternative tests. Despite concerns expressed by some teachers about inclusion, evidence suggests that it works.
Teachers have testified to the benefits that their students with disabilities have received in terms of increased performance and comprehension. Before these students participated in testing, they fell by the wayside; there was no way to tell what they were learning or even if they were learning.

Mainstreaming and inclusion are often confused, primarily because they are very similar. But there are some large differences between the two terms, and they represent two different schools of thought. In mainstreaming, students with special needs are placed in the special education classroom and attend a general education classroom for specific academic classes (social studies, reading, etc.) or nonacademic classes (art, physical education, etc.). Supports may or may not be brought into the classroom.

To determine whether mainstreaming or inclusion would be the best possible placement for a special needs student, you should apply the concept of the least restrictive environment (LRE) to the situation. Least restrictive environment is a legal term applied in Public Law 94-142, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, which requires that students with disabilities must be placed in regular classrooms with their nondisabled peers, to the extent that their abilities allow.

When considering which classroom program to implement for your students with learning disabilities remember to assess the classroom and individual special needs of the students. Talk to your child’s teacher and school system to learn more about the specific programs they offer and how you can be involved.

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