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National Center for Special Education Research


Secondary School Experiences and Academic Performance of Students With Mental Retardation
NCSER 2009-3020
July 2009

Experiences in General Education Academic Classes

Secondary students with mental retardation studied a variety of academic subjects in general education settings. As indicated earlier, 94 percent of the overall group of students with mental retardation had taken at least one language arts class. Among those who had taken language arts, 16 percent had done so in a general education setting (table 7). Among the 92 percent of students who taken mathematics, 15 percent had done so in a general education setting. Among the 74 percent of students who had taken science and the 75 percent who had taken social studies courses, 30 percent and 29 percent, respectively, had done so in a general education setting; and among the 9 percent of students who had taken foreign language courses, 44 percent had done so in a general education setting.

Across the different levels of parent-reported cognitive functioning, 28 percent of high-functioning students took language arts in a general education setting, a significantly higher proportion than the 13 percent of moderate- and 2 percent of low-functioning students (p < .05 and p < .001, respectively). Mathematics was taken in a general education setting by 27 percent of high-functioning students, compared with 12 percent of moderate- and 0 percent of low-functioning students (p < .05 and p < .001, respectively). General education science was taken by 45 percent of high-functioning students, compared with 27 percent of moderate- and 3 percent of low-functioning students (p < .05 and p < .001, respectively). Finally, social studies in the general education setting was taken by 41 percent of high-functioning students, whereas 5 percent of low-functioning students took this course in a general education setting (p < .001). Compared with low-functioning students, moderate-functioning students also were more likely to take language arts (p < .05), mathematics (p < .001), science (p < .001), and social studies (27 percent vs. 5 percent, p < .01) in a general education setting.11

To understand the instructional experiences of students with mental retardation in general education academic classes, the study asked teachers to report the frequency with which they used various practices with a specific student with mental retardation and with their class as a whole.12

Access to the general education curriculum. Teachers were asked to indicate the extent of modifications they made to the general education curriculum to accommodate specific individual students with mental retardation in their classes. Although 29 percent of the overall group of students with mental retardation had teachers who reported using the same unmodified general education grade-level curriculum used for all students in general education academic classes, teachers also reported that 52 percent of students with mental retardation were provided with a general education curriculum with "some modifications" and 15 percent received a curriculum with "substantial modifications" (table 8). An additional 5 percent of students with mental retardation received a "specialized curriculum." Among the different levels of parent-reported cognitive functioning, 30 percent and 34 percent of high- and moderate-functioning students with mental retardation, respectively, received an unmodified general education curriculum, 52 and 50 percent, respectively, received a curriculum with "some modifications," 11 and 16 percent, respectively, received a curriculum with "substantial modifications," and 7 and 1 percent, respectively, received a "specialized curriculum."

Instructional groupings. When asked about the types of instructional groupings used, teachers reported that 53 percent of students with mental retardation "often" experienced whole-class instruction in general education academic classes, which was significantly fewer than the 72 percent of the class as a whole who "often" received this form of instruction (p < .001) (table 9). In addition, teachers were significantly less likely to report that students with mental retardation "rarely" or "never" received individual instruction from another adult, compared with the class as a whole (53 percent vs. 65 percent, p < .05). There were no significant differences in instructional groupings between high- and moderate-functioning students with mental retardation.

Instructional activities outside the classroom. Instruction does not occur only within the confines of a classroom; teachers can offer students opportunities to extend their learning through the use of libraries, computer labs, or other types of resources at the school, as well as through field trips off campus and through community-based instruction or experiences, such as service-learning projects. As a whole, students with mental retardation did not differ from classmates in their participation in activities outside the classroom. When stratified by different levels of parent-reported cognitive functioning, 21 percent of high-functioning students "often" went on field trips, compared with 0 percent of moderate-functioning students (p < .05) (table 10). Similarly, 19 percent of high-functioning students "often" experienced community-based instruction, whereas no moderate-functioning students engaged in such activities (p < .05).

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11 Items with fewer than 30 respondents are not reported in this fact sheet. Consequently, foreign language course-taking in a general education setting was not analyzed for the three levels of cognitive functioning. In addition, low-functioning students with mental retardation were not considered in subsequent analyses on general education academic or vocational course taking.
12 A typical general education academic class includes 19 general education students and 5 students who receive special education services. Thus, the comparisons made in this section should not be construed as between students with and without disabilities. Rather, teachers reported on the classroom experiences of specific students with disabilities and compared them with those of the students in the class as a whole, including all students with disabilities.