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

NCSER 2006-3001
July 2006

Instructional Practices in General Education Academic Classes

To understand the instructional experiences of students with learning disabilities in general education academic classes, teachers were asked to report the frequency with which they used various practices with a specific student with a learning disability and with their class as a whole.7

Access to the general education curriculum. General education academic teachers often modify the curriculum of their courses to accommodate the individual learning needs of the students with disabilities in their classes. Teachers were asked to indicate the extent of such modifications to the general education curriculum for students with learning disabilities in their classes. Overall, about one-third (35 percent) of secondary school students with learning disabilities receive the standard general education grade-level curriculum used for other students in their academic classes (figure 1). However, more than half of students with disabilities (52 percent) have teachers who report making "some modifications" to the general education curriculum. For another 11 percent, substantial modifications are made to the general education curriculum they receive, and 2 percent receive a specialized curriculum.

Instructional groupings. General education academic classes of students with learning disabilities have an average of 24 students per adult. Considerable research suggests that low student-teacher ratios help teachers meet student needs by facilitating effective instruction, communication, and individualization (Achilles and Finn 2000; Gersten and Dimino 2001; Thurlow, Ysseldyke, and Wotruba 1989). Instructional strategies, such as using small-group or individual instruction, can be used to help reduce the student-teacher ratio for some classroom instruction.

Students with learning disabilities for the most part experience each instructional grouping with a frequency similar to that of the whole class (figure 2). For example, both groups experience whole-class instruction more frequently than other groupings; 65 percent of students with learning disabilities are reported by teachers to experience whole-class instruction often, and 68 percent have teachers who report that their classmates receive whole-class instruction often. Sixteen percent of both groups often experience small-group instruction. Only in the amount of individual instruction received from an adult other than the teacher (e.g., a special education teacher or a personal aide) do students with learning disabilities differ from their class peers. They are twice as likely as the class as a whole to receive instruction often from an adult other than the general education teacher (12 percent vs. 6 percent).

Instructional materials and instructional activities outside the classroom. Textbooks, worksheets, and workbooks are the most frequently used instructional materials in general education academic classes. Teachers of students with learning disabilities report similar frequencies of using print material or computers for students with disabilities (83 percent use print materials and 7 percent use computers frequently) and for their classmates (85 percent use print materials and 7 percent use computers frequently).

Instruction does not occur only within the confines of a classroom; teachers 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. However, these types of experiences occur infrequently as part of general education academic classes that include students with learning disabilities; 80 percent to 90 percent rarely or never go on field trips or have community-based instruction or experiences. Similar to many other teacher-directed aspects of the class, students with learning disabilities do not differ from their classroom peers in their participation in activities outside the classroom.