(KS) Mainstreaming and test scores

A University of Florida research group argues that mainstreaming of special education students has helped improve their academic peformance, in the classroom and on standardized tests:

Students with mental retardation are far more likely to be educated alongside typical students than they were 20 years ago, a University of Florida study has found. However, the trend once known as “mainstreaming”— widely considered the best option for such students – appears to have stalled in some parts of the country, the study’s authors report. And a student’s geographic location, rather than the severity of his disability, often determines how he will spend his school days, the researchers say.

“We’ve known for a long time that students with MR (mental retardation) are better off educationally if they can spend at least part of the day in a typical classroom,” said James McLeskey, chair of special education in UF’s College of Education and an author of the study. “We’ve found that there are still lot of students who could be included in the general classroom but aren’t included”…

Inclusion can also have a beneficial effect for students already in the general classroom. When typical students attend school with classmates who have MR, the researchers say, they learn leadership skills and become more tolerant. They even score higher, as a group, on standardized tests.

“The inclusive classroom environment seems to work better for students who are struggling, academically, but not identified as having MR,” McLeskey said. “That tends to bring up averages on test scores for typical students in the entire class.”

McLeskey also argues that because NCLB requires that schools account for those in special education classes, the incentive to separate (and not test) such students is removed.

(Cross-posted at The Education Wonks.)


  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Yes, but what happens to the other students?

  2. Mike in Texas says:

    Yes, but what happens to the other students?

    They get less attention from the teacher as he/she struggles to deal with the special ed. student, and the whole class gets dragged down to a lower level and a slower pace.

    All b/c some politicians in Washington, DC decided they know more about what’s best for students than the professionals do.

  3. Alert the media! Walter and Mike are on the same side of an issue!

    On a related note, Hell freezes over!

    Jeez Mike, you’ve really swallowed the Koolaid on this one.

    It’s public education, i.e. a result of the public being gulled into the dubious proposition that a government agency can be expected to successfully operate schools. Who should run it but the public via our elected representatives trying to balance off the various political interests/opinions? You?

  4. mike from oregon says:

    Actually Allen, you’re right but the fact that you are right is what makes Mike right. Yup, it’s public education, for sure – but Mike is right and I’ve seen it with my own eyes in my daughter’s freshman algebra class. The class was only about 25% of where they should have been – AND – most of the class ignored the teacher because the entire class had been dumbed down and slowed down to ‘accommodate’ a kid that (to me) appeared to be borderline MR. I felt for the kid but I really disliked that 27 other kids were being slowed WAY down in learning because of him.

    My daughter has been attending a private high school since her Freshman year and is light years ahead of her public school mates.

  5. Walter E. Wallis says:

    However Mike and I may disagree, we both care.

  6. John Thacker says:

    All b/c some politicians in Washington, DC decided they know more about what’s best for students than the professionals do.

    Except that, uh, Mike, the “professionals,” at least if you talk about the Ed Schools and the teachers’ unions, are completely in favor of mainstreaming.

    I agree with you about its deleterious effects, but pretending that the “professionals” oppose it isn’t that accurate either. Actual teachers in the field may oppose it, and certainly many I know do, but their unions and their ed school hierarchies completely support it, even over the teachers’ wishes.

    Mainstreaming was definitely all the rage before NCLB.

  7. Walter, I’m reasonably sure Mike’s (the Texas Mike) heart is in the right place. It’s the location of his head that I’m concerned with.

    Mike (from Oregon), I don’t think you understand.

    I won’t dispute the value of a professional’s opinion. That’s not the issue. The issue is who should have the final say-so; teachers, administrators, board members, parents or taxpayers?

    Professionals aren’t just sources of expertise. They have their own agenda since they have their own lives. The unavoidable self-interest may sway a professionals advice in ways favorable to the professional without all that much regard to how well the job the professional is being paid to do is done.

    If you go to a restaurant and the steak you order isn’t done to your liking how well would you react to the chef inviting you into the kitchen to see just how tough the job is? Not graciously, I’m reasonably sure.

    Do you have to be as good at cooking as the chef before you can raise objections to how the steak has been cooked? Obviously, no. You pay for it, you get to choose how it’s cooked no matter the objections of the chef. Raw, burned to charcoal or covered with tar, it’s your money, you get the final say.

    If you pay the tab you expect to have things done to your specifications and the same holds true for education or ought to. What Mike (in Texas) is suggesting is that the chef should be the final decision-maker because, after all, who knows more about how to cook a steak, the chef or the customer? Who knows more about how to educate a child, the teacher or the state that hires them?

    It’s a trick question since there’s only one answer. The state is the final arbiter because the state is the party that created the public education system and pays for it. The professionals are hired to run the system and while they may have input into policy decisions the final determination is made by the representatives of the electorate, the politicians.

    Mike’s (the Texas Mike) is indulging in a bit of fantasizing. If he were king then, by gosh, all this nonsense would be put right.

    He’s old enough though to know that the politicians aren’t going to relinquish control of the public education system in favor of the teachers even if they could. The public education system isn’t owned by the teachers and isn’t run for their benefit. If it isn’t very efficient or very effective or very fair, that’s the nature of political compromises. If you want a public education system, those are the compromises that will be made, there being no alternatives.

  8. Y’all fail reading comprehension. According to the article, students in a mainstreaming class “even score higher, as a group, on standardized tests”.

    That strikes me as dubious, though they offer a semi-plausible explanation: marginal students, who wouldn’t be kept separate even if the MR kids are, do enough better in the fully mainstreaming environment to bring up the class average.

    It is interesting that the states which have done best are those without much immigration, and with primarily non-urban populations.

  9. So, tracking works, if including MR kids helps kids who are struggling to keep up. That is, there are kids in the classroom who benefit from a slower pace of instruction, and maybe, different methods.

    I can’t figure out which standardized tests were used, but bright kids might start out above “proficient.” I note that the researchers do _not_ claim that the kids of average and above average ability gain from mainstreaming MR kids. I don’t know of any way to quantify leadership skills and tolerance, which the researchers claim typical students gain through the presence of MR students.

    I suspect that the presence of bright kids in heterogeneous classrooms raises the performance of the rest of the classroom, because the teacher doesn’t need to extend a great deal of effort to teach them; they either grasp a concept the first time it’s presented, or they already know a concept new to the rest of the class. If they are also able to work independently on worksheets, and such, it’s as if the teacher were teaching a smaller class.

    Of course, when the ability range gets too large in a classroom, parents start to wonder how any teacher can teach everyone.