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The ERIC/OSEP Special Project

OSEP, Ideas that Work

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Development funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs


What Factors Lead to Successful Inclusive High School Classrooms?

We know that merely including students with disabilities in general education classrooms is not enough to ensure their success. But what factors do help to support their achievement, as well as the achievement of their non-disabled peers? Researchers at the University of Minnesota identified characteristics of successful inclusive high school classrooms, foremost among which are active student engagement in academic learning, little time spent exhibiting competing responses, students being the focus of teacher attention, and having teachers spend more than three-quarters of their time focusing on and preparing students for learning.

The data were collected in schools chosen by a national advisory panel as part of the OSEP- funded Beacons of Excellence Projects. Through four separate studies, the Beacons of Excellence Projects investigated schools that had achieved exemplary learning results for students with disabilities within the context of all students achieving such results. Each Beacons of Excellence School focused on including all youth in large-scale assessments, the general education curriculum, and school-wide planning for improvement.

The University of Minnesota study of high schools included four schools in urban, suburban, and rural locations in four states. It used eco-behavioral assessment, an observation technique that measures the nature and type of a student's interactions with the environment and the people in it, to describe classroom interactions. Observations were conducted in 118 integrated classrooms with 96 teachers. A total of 199 observations was were conducted, 98 of children with disabilities and 112 of children without disabilities. The assessment measured the classrooms' ecological events, such as instructional groupings, physical arrangements, and tasks; typical teacher behaviors; behaviors of the target students— responses, task management responses, and competing responses; and differences in teacher and student behaviors when comparing students with and without disabilities.

"It is possible that the instructional strategies used in today's inclusive classrooms are creating a context that promotes greater student engagement," report the researchers in an Exceptional Children article. The teachers in this study used a variety of instructional tasks, were highly active within their classrooms, focused on students and academics, and provided effective classroom management. They spent more than 75% of the observation time instructing, managing and interacting with students in their classrooms. Very little time (1.37%) was spent disciplining students or not responding to them (10%). These results support previous research that indicates that

  • Students achieve more when teachers actively teach and supervise them rather than assigning independent seatwork, and
  • Rates of student engagement in learning depend on the teacher's ability to organize and manage the classroom.

For more information, see "An Ecobehavioral Examination of High School Classrooms that Include Students with Disabilities," by Teri Wallace, Ann Reschley Anderson, Tom Bartholomay, and Susan Hupp. Exceptional Children, 68(3), Spring 2002. This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (Grant #HO23D70102).

A report on the OSEP-funded Beacons for Excellence Project, To Light a Beacon: What Administrators Can Do to Make Schools Successful for All Students, is available from the ERIC/OSEP Special Project. See it at http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/eric/osep/topical/Beacons.pdf or contact the ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education at 1-800-328-0272.


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Last updated: May 21, 2002

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