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Facts from NLTS2: General Education Participation and Academic Performance of Students With Learning Disabilities

NCSER 2006-3001
July 2006

General Education Participation and Academic Performance of Students With Learning Disabilities

Students with learning disabilities comprise almost two-thirds of those receiving special education services in secondary schools (Levine and Wagner 2003). The majority of these students spend at least part of their day in a general education classroom (Newman, Marder, and Wagner 2003). National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) analyses reveal that the percentage of courses students with learning disabilities take in general education classrooms is related to both their academic performance and their social adjustment at school, independent of other differences between students (Blackorby et al. 2003; Marder, Wagner, and Sumi 2003). Including students with disabilities in general education classrooms has been found to be related to beneficial outcomes for both students with disabilities (Baker, Wang, and Walberg 1994; Waldron 1997) and their general education peers (Salend and Duhaney 1999; Stainback and Stainback 1996; Staub and Peck 1994). For example, inclusive practices have been found to be related to more appropriate social behavior and higher levels of achievement for students with disabilities, as well as to increased comfort with and awareness of human differences for students in the general population (Baker and Zigmond 1995; Walther- Thomas, Bryant, and Land 1996).

However, having access to the general education curriculum means more than simply being present in a general education classroom; it means that students' "educational programs are based on high expectations that acknowledge each student's potential and ultimate contribution to society" and that "students with disabilities be provided with the supports necessary to allow them to benefit from instruction" (Nolet and McLaughlin 2000, pp. 2, 9). What are the general education classroom experiences of students with learning disabilities? To what extent do they enroll in general education academic courses? What are the characteristics of general education classroom instruction provided to students with learning disabilities? How well do students with learning disabilities perform in their general education classes and on academic assessments?

These questions are addressed in this document, with a focus on secondary school students with learning disabilities.1 Data from NLTS22 provide a national picture3 of the general education participation of these students, including their enrollment and experiences in general education classrooms, how their experiences compare with those of their classmates, and their academic performance. Further, comparisons of findings from NLTS2 and the original NLTS4 reveal changes in general education participation rates for students with learning disabilities from 1987 through 2002.


1 The terminology for classifying students with learning disabilities who receive special education services that is used here is specifi ed in federal regulations for the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (P.L. 105-17), Sec. 602(3)(A)i.
2 The National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) has a nationally representative sample of more than 11,000 students who were in at least seventh grade and receiving special education services in the 2000–01 school year. More than 1,000 youth with learning disabilities are included in the sample. This sample is designed to represent a total of 1,838,848 youth with disabilities and 1,130,539 youth with learning disabilities (U.S. Department of Education 2002).
3 Data reported here are population estimates from data weighted to represent students in the learning disability category who attended school in the kinds of districts from which they were sampled.
4 The National Longitudinal Transition Study was conducted by SRI International (SRI) for the Offi ce of Special Education Programs (OSEP) from 1985 through 1993. SRI is currently conducting NLTS2. For comparisons with NLTS2, statistical adjustments were made to the studies' samples to include only sameage youth. In both samples used in these analyses, 19 percent of youth are 15 through 17, 31 percent are 18, and 50 percent are 19. See Wagner et al. (2005) for additional details on adjustments to the studies' samples and fi ndings regarding changes over time in outcomes of youth with disabilities.