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Full inclusion of students with disabilities — August 2019


Could you provide research on full inclusion of students with disabilities?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on inclusion of students with disabilities. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (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 for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Access to the full articles is free unless indicated otherwise.

Research References

Gilmour, A. F. (2018). Has inclusion gone too far? Weighing its effects on students with disabilities, their peers, and teachers. Education Next, 18(4), 8–16. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “The model of special education known as inclusion, or mainstreaming, has become more prevalent over the past 10 years, and today, more than 60 percent of all students with disabilities (SWDs) spend 80 percent or more of their school day in regular classrooms, alongside their non-disabled peers. This is not the full inclusion favored by some disability advocates, wherein all SWDs would be educated in inclusive classrooms all day; however, many supporters celebrate the increasing acceptance of differently abled students in general education as an opportunity to improve the academic and long-term trajectories of these traditionally underserved learners. In theory, inclusion provides SWDs with access to the grade-level curriculum and the same educational opportunities as their peers. In this article, the author explores policies and existing research on inclusion to describe what we know, what we do not, and how current knowledge should inform decisions about where to educate SWDs. An underlying theme of this discussion is that inclusion influences not only SWDs but also their peers and teachers. The interplay between and among these three groups suggests areas of research that can inform future discussion about inclusion and how it can work well for all stakeholders.”

Kauffman, J. M., Felder, M., Ahrbeck, B., Badar, J., & Schneiders, K. (2018). Inclusion of “all” students in general education? International appeal for a more temperate approach to inclusion. Journal of International Special Needs Education, 21(2), 1–10. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “Including students with disabilities in general education when appropriate is an important goal of special education. However, inclusion is not as important as effective instruction, which must be the first concern of education, general or special. ‘Full’ inclusion, the claim that ‘all’ students with disabilities are best placed in general education with needed supports, is a world-wide issue. Full inclusion does not serve the best interests of all students with disabilities. Including all students in the common enterprise of learning is more important than where students are taught.”

Kauffman, J. M., & Badar, J. (Dec 2016–Jan 2017). It’s instruction over place—not the other way around! Phi Delta Kappan, 98(4), 55–59. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “Full inclusion of students with disabilities focuses on where students are taught, not on instruction. The idea that all students, including those with disabilities, can and should be taught together in the same class and school is a highly prized myth. Focusing on inclusion rather than on appropriate instruction and on a continuum of alternative placements is illogical as well as illegal. It is also stressful for teachers, most of whom are unable to teach such a learning-diverse group of students in a single classroom and do it well. Responsible inclusion requires recognizing individual differences and being more concerned about appropriate, effective instruction than about where a student is taught.”

Kirby, M. (2017). Implicit assumptions in special education policy: Promoting full inclusion for students with learning disabilities. Child & Youth Care Forum, 46(2), 175–191. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “Every day millions of students in the United States receive special education

services. Special education is an institution shaped by societal norms. Inherent in these norms are implicit assumptions regarding disability and the nature of special education services. The two dominant implicit assumptions evident in the American educational system are the view that disability is deviant and should be eradicated and the assumption that all special services should be delivered in a separate environment. Methods: A review of literature was conducted to reveal trends in special education. In particular, inclusive practices, Response to Intervention (RTI), and student achievement were examined. Conclusion: This paper argues that while federal policy was created in an effort to promote access to general education, the practices of our educational institutions perpetuate isolation. New assumptions must be created to promote access and equality for students with learning disabilities. True inclusion, where students with learning disabilities are fully included in the general education classroom, can help to reinforce new assumptions.”

McLeskey, J., & Waldron, N. L. (2011). Full inclusion programs for elementary students with learning disabilities: Can they meet student needs in an era of high stakes accountability? Paper presented at the Council for Exceptional Children Convention (National Harbor, MD). Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “Issues related to full-time inclusive programs have been particularly controversial for elementary students with learning disabilities. The nature of this controversy has changed substantially over the last decade, given the emphasis on high stakes accountability for all students in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and IDEA 2004. In spite of this continuing controversy, increasing numbers of students with LD are being educated in inclusive settings. This article reviews research related to the extent to which full inclusion programs provide students with learning disabilities the support needed to meet high stakes accountability standards in reading and math. The results reveal that while some elementary students with LD in full-time inclusion classrooms made significant educational progress, a majority of students made very little academic progress, even when extraordinary resources were used to develop the programs.”

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. Abstract available from and full text available from

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.”

Tkachyk, R. E. (2013, December). Questioning secondary inclusive education: Are inclusive classrooms always best for students? Interchange: A Quarterly Review of Education, 44(1–2). 15–24. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “Educating students with special needs in inclusive settings has become a priority for westernized governments as they strive to create more inclusive societies. While recognizing the societal benefits of inclusion, teachers and parents question whether or not implementation of full inclusion will come at the expense of learners’ individual needs. This is particularly true for students with cognitive disabilities moving into the content-rich, peer-dominated environment of secondary school. It will be maintained within this article that there remains a need for segregated classrooms where students with mild cognitive disabilities can receive the specialized programming and supports that they require in a low-stress environment. Furthermore, educators should continue to prioritize the learning needs of all students with disabilities when contemplating full inclusion. Modeling an inclusive society should not mean inclusion at all costs, but considering what’s best for each student and recognizing that one size does not fit all.”

Warren, S. R., Martinez, R. S., & Sortino, L. A. (2016). Exploring the quality indicators of a successful full-inclusion preschool program. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 30(4), 540–553. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “A growing body of research and legislative policies support the importance of high-quality early intervention systems for preschool children with disabilities. Inclusion programs are viable means for providing this support, yet limited progress has been made in the past decade to increase the placements of children in inclusive settings or define quality programs. This study was a 1-year exploration into the quality indicators of a full-inclusion district preschool program identified as successful based on academic and social growth for students with and those without disabilities. An interdisciplinary team of seven researchers examined the progress of 46 students and then analyzed program quality indicators identified by the adults associated with the program as contributing to student success. Mixed methods were utilized combining quantitative measurements of student growth with qualitative analysis of perceptions regarding the children’s development in the program by parents, teachers, and other school personnel. Findings indicate significant academic and social gains for both groups of children connected to specific program quality indicators. These results will inform teachers, districts, and outside agencies as they structure and implement full-inclusion programs at the preschool level.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

(“Full inclusion” AND “students with disabilities”); (“inclusive classroom”)

Databases and Resources

We searched Google Scholar and 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.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2004 to present, were included 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 and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. 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.