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Ask A REL Response

February 2017


What research has been conducted on effective models for high school inclusion for special education students?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on teacher professional development. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed the effects of professional development on teacher performance and student outcomes in K-12 education. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Alquraini, T., & Gut, D. (2012). Critical components of successful inclusion of students with severe disabilities: Literature review. International Journal of Special Education, 27(1) 42-59.
    From the abstract: "This paper examines the critical components of successful inclusion for students with severe disabilities. This review sets out to provide an overview of literature regarding effective practices for inclusion with a focus on critical components of successful inclusion that assist in preparing the stakeholders worldwide to work and engage effectively with students with disabilities in inclusive schools. The methodology used to conduct this review was to systematically search internet resources, abstracts and databases. The descriptors used include: students with severe disabilities/significant disabilities/ intellectual disabilities, inclusion, modification, adaptations, assistive technology, collaboration, instructional strategies, typically developing peers, and family support. This was followed by the application of two sets of criteria: (1) the article consists of subjects with inclusion/inclusive/general education setting/public schools and (2) the article examines critical components of successful inclusion of students with disabilities or equivalent concepts as the outcome. Seventy two studies met the two criteria and are presented in this review. The author provides an integrated overview of current knowledge regarding the critical components that enhance the quality of inclusive education programs for students with severe disabilities across the world. This review provides evidence that these components support students' access and progress, either in curricular or non-curricular activities in general education settings. Finally, the author identifies the need for future empirical studies to further examine how each of these components supports students with severe disabilities in general education settings."
  2. Brigharm, N., Morocco, C. C., Clay, K., & Zigmond, N. (2006). What makes a high school a good high school for students with disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 21(3), 184-190.
    From the abstract: "This article summarizes the findings and themes from the three high schools we studied. All three schools engaged in five schoolwide strategies for educating students with disabilities. They provided a broad array of academic courses and program options; provided schoolwide support structures that could be combined and customized to the needs and strengths of individual students; worked intentionally to connect students to the school and build their motivation to succeed; created a connected and caring adult community to serve students' academic and social personal needs; and developed responsive leaders who managed the tensions inherent in the commitment to prepare students with disabilities to be successful in their lives beyond school. The article also reviews the different ways these three school instantiated these strategies. We describe the "theory of action" that integrates the five schoolwide strategies into a synergistic approach in each school and explore implications of the Good High Schools study for practice and for future research."
  3. Carter, E. W., Asmus, J., Moss, C. K., Biggs, E. E., Bolt, D. M., Born, T. L., Brock, M. E., Cattey, G. N., Chen, R., Cooney, M., Fesperman, E., Hochman, J. M., Huber, H. B., Lequia, J. L., Lyons, G., Moyseenko, K. A., Riesch, L. M., Shalev, R. A., Vincent, L. B., & Weir, K. (2016). Randomized evaluation of peer support arrangements to support the inclusion of high school students with severe disabilities. Exceptional Children, 82(2), 209-233.
    From the abstract: "Enhancing the social and learning experiences of students with severe disabilities in inclusive classrooms has been a long-standing focus of research, legislative, and advocacy efforts. The authors used a randomized controlled experimental design to examine the efficacy of peer support arrangements to improve academic and social outcomes for 51 students with severe disabilities in high school general education classrooms. Paraprofessionals or special educators recruited, trained, and supported 106 peers to provide individualized academic and social assistance to students with severe disabilities throughout one semester. Compared to students exclusively receiving adult-delivered support (n = 48), students participating in peer support arrangements experienced increased interactions with peers, increased academic engagement, more progress on individualized social goals, increased social participation, and a greater number of new friendships. Moreover, an appreciable proportion of relationships lasted one and two semesters later after the intervention had concluded. These findings challenge prevailing practices for supporting inclusive education and establish the efficacy and social validity of peer support arrangements as a promising alternative to individually assigned paraprofessional support."
  4. Doyle, M. B., & Giangreco, M. F., (2009). Making presentation software accessible to high school students with intellectual disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 41(3), 24-31.
    From the abstract: "As students with moderate and severe intellectual disabilities transition from inclusive elementary and middle schools to high schools, they deserve similar opportunities for inclusive educational experiences at this next level--namely to participate in general education classes and other activities (e.g., co-curricular) with their classmates without disabilities. Yet at the high school level it is more common for students with moderate and severe intellectual disabilities to be placed in special education classes, often for the first time in their educational careers. In the authors' work with high school teachers, some express their own lack of preparation for and understanding of inclusive education as a barrier to inclusive placements; others have concerns about the cognitive discrepancy between students with moderate and severe intellectual disabilities and students without disabilities. Still other teachers simply have had insufficient opportunities to collaborate with special education colleagues in facilitating inclusive experiences at the high school level. In order for inclusive education to make sense to high school teachers, they must have a clear understanding of how the needs of the student with disabilities can be addressed within the context of the general education classroom. Special education teachers can play a critical role in supporting their general education colleagues along this journey. Special educators can support their general education colleagues in a variety of ways to increase access for students with moderate and severe intellectual disabilities to general education curriculum and instruction. The strategies described in this article respond to the specific challenges of high school teachers (both special educators and general educators), and are currently used in the Saint Michael's College teacher preparation program as a way to prepare teacher-students to meet the diverse learning abilities of their future high school students. (Contains 4 figures and 13 online resources.)"
  5. Eisenman, L. T., Pleet, A. M., Wandry, D., & McGinley, V. (2011). Voices of special education teachers in an inclusive high school: Redefining responsibilities. Remedial and Special Education, 32(2), 91-104.
    From the abstract: "Because of recent changes in general and special education policies, special educators who previously worked with secondary students in self-contained academic classes, resource rooms, or cotaught classes find themselves assigned to new roles that demand different collaborative skills. Based on 2 years of interviews, field notes, and observations in an inclusive high school, this study focuses on the perspectives of two special educators who redefined their daily practices in partnership with a university professional development specialist as they implemented an unusual collaborative-consultation model. Their responsibilities and relationships with teachers, students, and administrators are examined in light of the literature on collaborative models for inclusive education of high school students. (Contains 1 table.)"
  6. Mumba, F., Banda, A., & Chabalengula, V. M. (2015). Chemistry teachers' perceived benefits and challenges of inquiry-based instruction in inclusive chemistry classrooms. Science Education International, 26(1), 180-194.
    From the abstract: "Studies on inquiry-based instruction in inclusive science teaching have mainly focused on elementary and middle school levels. Little is known about inquiry-based instruction in high school inclusive science classes. Yet, such classes have become the norm in high schools, fulfilling the instructional needs of students with mild disabilities. This study explores high school chemistry teachers' perceived benefits and challenges of inquiry-based instruction in inclusive chemistry classes. The study also seeks to establish chemistry teachers' knowledge of inclusive teaching. Participants in this study are 61 chemistry teachers in different school districts across the United States. A questionnaire is used to collect data. Results show that most teachers have no training in inclusive teaching, lacked knowledge of chemistry teaching in inclusive classes, and have moderate confidence in teaching chemistry in inclusive classes. However, most teachers acknowledge that inquiry instruction in inclusive chemistry classes has several benefits and challenges to students. On the other hand, teachers believe there are more challenges on inquiry-based instruction for them than for students in inclusive chemistry classes. Results have implications on science teaching and learning and teacher education."
  7. Pierson, M. R, & Howell, E. J. (2013). Two high schools and the road to full inclusion: A comparison study. Improving Schools, 16(3), 223-231.
    From the abstract: "This article documents a roadmap for developing fully inclusive school sites at the secondary level. Full inclusion is defined as placement in the general education classroom for all students with disabilities. Specifically, two large high schools located in suburban areas attempted to fully include over 300 students identified as needing special services. Students had varying disabilities, but each school attempted to fully include every student. Although one school was an established high school and the other was brand new, both experienced similar benefits and challenges when transitioning to a full inclusion model. This article aims to share specific strategies which contributed to the success of full inclusion at each school site and to discuss challenges that arose during planning and implementation."
  8. Scanlon, D., & Baker, D. (2012). An accommodations model for the secondary inclusive classroom. Learning Disabilities Quarterly, 35(4), 212-224.
    From the abstract: "Despite expectations for accommodations in inclusive classrooms, little guidance for effective practice is available. Most accommodations policies and evidence-based practices address assessments. High school regular and special educators collaborated in focus groups to articulate a model based on their practices and perceptions of best practice. The model addresses classroom accommodations identification, provision, and evaluation. The model is particularly appropriate for cotaught classrooms with high enrollments of students with high incidence disabilities. (Contains 2 tables and 1 figure.)"
  9. Scruggs, T. E., Mastropieri, M. A., & McDuffie, K. A. (2007). Co-teaching in inclusive classrooms: A metasynthesis of qualitative research. Exceptional Children, 73(4), 392-416.
    From the abstract: "Thirty-two qualitative investigations of co-teaching in inclusive classrooms were included in a metasynthesis employing qualitative research integration techniques. It was concluded that co-teachers generally supported co-teaching, although a number of important needs were identified, including planning time, student skill level, and training; many of these needs were linked to administrative support. The dominant co-teaching role was found to be "one teach, one assist," in classrooms characterized by traditional instruction, even though this method is not highly recommended in the literature. The special education teacher was often observed to play a subordinate role. Techniques often recommended for special education teachers, such as peer mediation, strategy instruction, mnemonics, and training of study skills, self-advocacy skills, and self-monitoring, were infrequently observed. (Contains 1 table.)"
  10. Zigmond, N., Kloo, A., & Volonino, V. (2009). What, where, and how? Special education the climate of full inclusion. Exceptionality, 17(4), 189-204.
    From the abstract: "After the passage of PL 94-142 in 1975 guaranteeing a free, appropriate, public education to all students with disabilities, multiple reauthorizations of IDEA have refined, revised, and renewed the nation's moral and pedagogical commitment to providing well-planned, public, inclusive, and appropriate education to all students with disabilities. But conflicting views of where that education should take place, what that education should consist of, and how that education should be delivered have continued to plague the field of special education. In this article, we provide an historical perspective on the arguments over where, what and how. We open four "windows" on special education service delivery in four different settings in Pennsylvania to illustrate contemporary interpretations and contemporary public policy related to where, what, and how. In the end, we raise questions about whether current, fully inclusive special education practices fulfill the promise of PL-94-142 to provide a special and appropriate education to students with disabilities. (Contains 1 note and 1 figure.)"

Additional Organizations to Consult

Council for Exceptional Children:
From the website: "The Council for Exceptional Children is a professional association of educators dedicated to advancing the success of children with exceptionalities. We accomplish our mission through advocacy, standards, and professional development."

Inclusive Schools Network:
From the website: "The Inclusive Schools Network (ISN) is a web-based educational resource for families, schools and communities that promotes inclusive educational practices. This resource has grown out of Inclusive Schools Week, an internationally-recognized annual event created by Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) and now sponsored by Stetson & Associates, Inc. ISN's mission is "to encourage, embolden and empower people to design and implement effective inclusive schools, by sharing insights and best practices and by providing opportunities for connection."

National Center for Learning Disabilities:
From the website: "The mission of NCLD is to improve the lives of the 1 in 5 children and adults nationwide with learning and attention issues-by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities. We're working to create a society in which every individual possesses the academic, social and emotional skills needed to succeed in school, at work and in life."


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Inclusive education, high school
  • inclusion models for high schools
  • Mainstreaming in high school
  • Professional development teacher performance

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2001 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.