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Teacher perceptions of inclusion of students with exceptionalities in general education classrooms: A school district case study

Dissertation
Author: Dionne H. Edison
Abstract:
The inclusion of students with exceptionalities in the general education classroom is a manifestation of efforts to address educational reforms mandated by law. "Despite legislation of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act of 2004 requiring that all students be provided a free and appropriate public education, research has found that attitudinal barriers do exist to implementing it fully." This research is focused on how teachers in rural Alabama view the challenges and benefits of full inclusion. Results from this mixed-method research provide an understanding of teacher perceptions of inclusion for students with exceptionalities in general education classrooms. Participants in this research were more receptive to inclusion in direct relationship to their level of education. Perceptions of benefits and challenges were influenced by individual roles, education and training. Conclusions and implications provide educators with insight for implementing inclusion strategies in the regular education environment. Recommendations for further research on inclusion are also noted.

v Table of Contents Acknowledgments iv List of Tables viii CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION 1 Introduction to the Problem 1 Background of the Study 1 Statement of the Problem 4 Purpose of the Study 5 Research Questions 5 Nature of the Study 6 Significance of the Study 7 Definition of Terms 8 Case Law and Litigation 10 Assumptions and Limitations 12 Organization of the Remainder of the Study 13 CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW 14 Introduction 14 History of Special Education and Inclusion 14 Rational for Full Inclusion 17 Teachers‘ Attitudes and Perceptions of Inclusion 22 Methods of Inclusion 26 Effectiveness of Inclusion 28

vi CHAPTER 3. METHODOLOGY 30 Introduction 30 Research Design: Explanatory Mixed Method 32 Setting 34 Participants 34 Instruments 35 Data Collection and Analysis 38 Ethical Considerations 41 Limitations of the Study 42 Summary 42 CHAPTER 4. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS 44 Introduction 44 Setting 45 Quantitative Analysis 45 Qualitative Analysis 65 Interviews 69 Summary of Findings 74 CHAPTER 5. RESULTS, CONCLUSIONS, RECOMMENDATIONS 76 Summary 76 Perceptions in Immediate and Extended Environments 77 Perceptions of the Benefits and Challenges 78 Limitations of the Study 80 Conclusion 81

vii Recommendations for Future Research 81 REFERENCES 84

viii List of Tables Table 1. Participant Demographics 48 Table 2. Reliability Statistics 50 Table 3. Age Category x ANOVA on Four Factors and Questionnaire Total Score 51 Table 4. Age Category x ANOVA Descriptive Statistics 53 Table 5. Years Teaching Category x ANOVA on Four Factors and Questionnaire Total Score 54 Table 6. Certifications Held x ANOVA on Four Factors and Questionnaire Total Score 55

1

CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION

Introduction to the Problem Teachers share a common goal to create learning environments that adequately accommodate the needs of all students. The inclusion of students with exceptionalities in the general education classroom is a manifestation of efforts to address educational reforms mandated by law. Despite legislation of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) requiring that all students should be provided a free and appropriate public education the reality is that attitudinal barriers exist to the implementation of inclusion (Pivik, McComas, & Laflamme, 2002). An understanding of teacher perceptions of inclusion of students with exceptionalities in general education classrooms increases the potential of all students‘ educational needs being met.

Background of the Study IDEA originated as Public Law (P.L.) 94-142 Education of All Handicapped Students Act in 1975. Prior to this legislation, public education in America for individuals with special needs had changed little since the first combined classrooms were set aside and established in Connecticut in the 1930s. The separation of individuals with disabilities from the general education classrooms has been considered analogous to the educational system requiring the separation of Blacks and Whites during the ―Jim

2 Crow‖ era. Civil rights legislation stating ―separate cannot be equal‖ resulted from the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas court case decision in 1954 (Yell, 2006). This legislation served as a springboard for litigation on the behalf of individuals with disabilities to receive a free public education and ultimately led to the enactment of the Education of All Handicapped Students Act (Friend, 2007). The U.S. Constitution has no provision for a national education system. The education rules and regulations provided through the individual states must comply with the Fourteenth Amendment to the US constitution. This means that in regards to education all citizens should be provided educational services equitably and with the due process of law. For individuals with disabilities ages 3–21 access to a free and appropriate public education was required by P.L. 94-142 upon its reauthorizing in 1980 (Ysseldyke, Algozzine, & Thurlow, 2000). As each piece of federal education legislation was passed, special education instruction moved from implementation in separated classrooms to mainstreaming and finally to fully inclusive classrooms. The early mandate of IDEA required that students with disabilities be taught in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Originally, separation was the first alternative for instruction and considered the LRE in order to meet the mandate of IDEA. The reauthorization of IDEA in 1986 introduced the concept of mainstreaming students with disabilities into the general educational classroom. These students spent part of the school day with their nondisabled peers. However, separate learning environments remained in place. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation of 2004 mandates that full inclusion of students with disabilities in the general classroom is the appropriate first placement. This changed the definition of what was considered to

3 be the LRE in IDEA (Friend, 2007). Prior research shows that the perceptions of general and special educators are critical for the successful implementation of full inclusive programs. (Kearns & Ford, 2005; Lopes, Monterio, Sil, Rutherford, & Quinn, 2004; Mitchem, Kossar, & Ludlow, 2006; O‘Dell & Schaefer, 2005). In addition to IDEA and NCLB, two other federal laws directly impact the education of individuals with disabilities: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Section 504 and ADA are not special education laws but laws that guarantee civil rights and educational access for everyone (Bartlett, Etscheidt, & Weisenstein, 2007). Before the passage of the first federal law on special education, approximately 4 million children with disabilities failed to receive needed support in school while another 1 million were excluded from school altogether. Once implementation of the laws began more students with disabilities were being served and their parents began being dissatisfied with the separation of their children from their nondisabled peers. Parents then considered education to be a civil rights issue and used the legislation resulting from the civil rights movement to address the needs of their children (Friend, 2007; D. Smith, 2007). Mainstreaming through the regular education initiative (REI) where general education and special education teachers worked together to educate all the students came into effect in 1986 under the direction of Madeline Will, the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitation in the U.S. Department of Education (USDE; Friend, 2007). Parents continued to feel that special education was not effectively allowing their children to achieve to their fullest potential. Ongoing litigation resulted in the changes on the state level eventually leading to NCLB and the reauthorization of

4 IDEA. Additional research is needed to assist educators in meeting the mandates and challenges of inclusion brought about by the laws that effect special education. An understanding of regular and special educators‘ attitudes about individuals with disabilities may help school districts determine how to best foster collaboration between these teacher groups to better meet the needs of all children in the inclusive setting.

Statement of the Problem The implementation of educational legislative provisions of No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act of 2004 are particularly challenging for rural school districts across America. Most Alabama school districts have moved to full inclusion of students with disabilities as a result of the federal mandates. According to the biannual Why Rural Matters 2005 report (Johnson & Strange, 2005), Alabama ranks fifth in the United States in need of rural education attention and improvement. Other than poverty, the inclusion of students with disabilities in the general education classroom as mandated by law is an integral factor leading to Alabama‘s ranking. Alabama‘s status in providing quality public education reveals the need to better understand teacher perceptions of full inclusion in addressing the needs of all children. The question for educators is how to best meet the need for inclusion. Mandated inclusion requires a change in how regular education teachers go about their daily duties. It now becomes necessary for regular and special education teachers to work closely together in an inclusive statement. Therefore, this research is focused on describing how teachers in rural Alabama view the challenges and benefits of full inclusion.

5 Purpose of the Study The purpose of this research seeks to compare regular and special education teacher perceptions about inclusion in a rural Alabama school district. This study is an adaptation of Migyanka‘s (2006) study comparing teachers‘ perceptions of inclusion in a rural Pennsylvania school district. Migyanka‘s study recommendations suggested replication—targeting teachers in other school districts in other locations throughout the United States. Act 106 of the Alabama Code requires the local boards of education to provide free appropriate instruction and special services for exceptional children (Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program [ADAP], 2000). Regular education teachers are required to monitor and assess students in the general education program according to Building Based Student Support Team (BBSST) for a minimum of 8 weeks when a student is perceived to have special needs. Under Alabama law this must be done before a child is evaluated for special education eligibility. If the interventions are determined to be unsuccessful, then the child can be referred for evaluation (ADAP, 2007). The requirement for inclusion for special needs students in Alabama make this a good location in which to conduct a replication study focusing on the perceptions of regular and special education teachers concerning inclusion.

Research Questions As in the Migyanka (2006) study, data collected through the use of a survey and a series of interviews answered the following questions:

6 1a. What are the perceptions of elementary teachers in immediate and extended environments that influence practices and beliefs about inclusion? 1b. What are the perceptions of elementary special education teachers in immediate and extended environments that influence practices and beliefs about inclusion? 2a. What are the elementary teachers‘ perceptions of the benefits and challenges students and teachers encounter in the inclusive setting? 2b. What are the elementary special education teachers‘ perceptions of the benefits and challenges students and teachers encounter in the inclusive setting?

Nature of the Study As in the Migyanka (2006) study, the research design was an explanatory mixed- method case study. The data were collected through the use of a survey and a series of interviews. Questionnaires were used in the quantitative research. The qualitative research was accomplished through interviews. Adaptation of the same approach as Migyanka allowed an accurate comparison of regular and special education teachers‘ perceptions of inclusion in a rural Alabama school district. Participants in the study were regular and special educators in a small, rural Alabama school district. After providing an overview of the study during faculty meetings at each of three schools, questionnaires were distributed to voluntary participants. The questionnaires were collected the next morning. One week later, interviews of a random sampling of 17% of the participants who completed the

7 questionnaire were conducted. Notes were taken during the interviews and they were tape recorded for more accurate documentation. Data were delineated and the perceptions of special education and mainstream teachers were compared.

Significance of the Study Most of the literature on inclusion reflects perceptions of educators in urban or inner city settings (Dupuis et al., 2006). This study was conducted in a rural school system where over 90% of the student population receives free or subsidized meals. The system has a majority African American faculty and a student population composition that is mostly African American (State Board of Education Report Card 2005–2006, n.d.). The Migyanka (2006) study was conducted in a rural Pennsylvania school system similar in size to the one to be studied in Alabama. However, the student demographics were mostly Caucasian. In the 2005–2006 National Child Well-Being Survey conducted by the Annie B. Casey Foundation ranked Pennsylvania 23rd and Alabama 47th. The poverty level for children was 16% for Pennsylvania and 24% for Alabama. Through more research, disparity in the environments may highlight additional recommendations for improved delivery of educational services. In supporting the improved delivery of educational services, it is important to understand the perceptions of teachers. Knowing the level of support or resistance to inclusion among the faculty, will help administrators determine appropriate training and other measures that can help foster improved communication among mainstream and special education teachers. This research yielded results that may be helpful to other inclusive settings.

8 Definition of Terms For the purpose of this study, the following definitions were used. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). An individual state‘s measure of yearly progress toward achieving state academic standards. Adequate Yearly Progress is the minimum level of improvement that states, school districts and schools must achieve each year (USDE, 2002). Attitudes. Psychological processes whether latent or deferred that are present in all individuals and are given form or expression when evoked by specific referents (Migyanka, 2006). Building-Based Student Support Team (BBSST). An intervention program is to see if improvements in general education programming may help struggling children so that referral to and placement in special education programming not necessary. This program was established as result of the Lee v. Macon (1973) case concerning the overrepresentation of African American males in special education (ADAP, 2007). Full inclusion. A full time education program providing children with disabilities the opportunity for interaction with their peers by attending regular education classes with appropriate supports and services to enable the child to participate throughout the entire school day (ADAP, 2000). Highly Qualified Teacher. In Alabama teachers are considered to be highly qualified according to the following criteria:  Teacher competence is demonstrated in each core academic subject as determined by NCLB.  Teachers have earned Alabama teacher certification.

9  Special education teachers who provide only consultative/support services to a highly qualified general education teacher shall be considered a highly qualified special education teacher if they also meet the state‘s special education certification requirements for the grade level assigned to teach. (Farmer & Petty, 2006, p. 3)

Inclusion. An education program where all children, regardless of disability, are placed in regular school settings so that they can participate in all aspects of regular school life (ADAP, 2000). Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities ages 3–21, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, must be educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the school that he/she would normally attend if not disabled will occur only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in general education classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. A child with a disability cannot be removed from his age-appropriate general education classroom solely because of needed modifications in the general curriculum. (Yell, 2006, p. 311)

Mainstreaming. The inclusion of students with disabilities with their nondisabled peers in school activities (Bryant, Smith, & Bryant, 2008). Partial inclusion. An education program providing children with disabilities the opportunity for interaction with their age peers in regular education classes for only a portion of school day. The rest of the time is spent in separate special education classes. (ADAP, 2000). Perception. Discernment, comprehension, insight, discrimination, understanding (Migyanka, 2006). Special education. Specifically designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including instruction conducted in the

10 classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and instruction in physical education (Friend, 2007).

Case Law and Litigation In addition to the previous ―Definition of Terms‖ section, the following case law and litigation descriptions are provided for clarification and consistency. Alabama Exceptional Child Education Act (Act 106). State law that states ―all ‗exceptional‘ children, as defined by this law, must be provided with at least 12 consecutive years of free and appropriate instruction and special services in the public school systems of Alabama‖ (ADAP, 2000, Alabama Code 16-39-1, et seq.). Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Federal law protecting the civil rights of individuals with disabilities that applies to public and private sectors and addressing matters such as transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications (Friend, 2007). Brown v. The Board of Education Topeka (1954). Supreme Court case that clarified that ―separate cannot be equal,‖ leading to racial desegregation of public schools (Friend, 2007). Daniel R. R. v. State Board of Education (1989). This case established the guidelines that schools use today to determine the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities (Friend, 2007). Doe v. Withers (1993). Supreme Court case that established that the implementation of accommodations specified in a student‘s Individual Education Program (IEP) were the responsibility of the teacher (Bryant et al., 2008).

11 Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (P.L. 94-142). Currently called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, established to protect the educational rights of students with disabilities (Friend, 2007). Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA 1997; P.L. 105- 17). The law under which special education (and early intervention for infants and toddlers) are typically provided to children with disabilities. The IDEA was originally enacted by Congress in 1975 to make sure that children with disabilities had the opportunity to receive a free appropriate public education, just like other children. (National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities, 2003)

Lee v. Macon (1973). Alabama litigation that resolve two issues in special education:  Overrepresentation of African American students in mental retardation and emotional disturbance.  Underrepresentation of African American students in specific learning disabilities and gifted (Alabama State Department of Education [ALSDE], 2000). Mills v. the Board of Education of D.C. (1972). Federal court case based on a class-action lawsuit establishing that all children with disabilities in Washington, DC are entitled to public education (Friend, 2007). No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). An act to close the achievement gap in education with accountability, flexibility, and choice, so that no child is left behind (Friend, 2007).

12 Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) v. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1972). Federal court case that established the right of all children with mental retardation in Pennsylvania in a public education (Friend, 2007). Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. A civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. As applicable to elementary and secondary schools, children with disabilities may be eligible for special education and related services not otherwise covered under IDEA (ADAP, 2000) Timothy W. v. Rochester New Hampshire School District (1989). Supreme Court case that established that every child had a right to a free public education regardless to the severity of a student‘s disability (Bryant et al., 2008).

Assumptions and Limitations Assumptions The following assumptions were considered in this study: 1. Appropriate communication of questions to obtain accurate, truthful responses from general education and special education teachers in the collection of the data is used. 2. The general education and special education teachers have been involved in implementing classroom instruction in an inclusive environment. 3. Interview responses have been recorded and transcribed reliably. 4. Participants who have volunteered to assist with the research are employees of the same rural, Alabama school district.

13 Limitations The following limitations of this study were 1. The teachers who participant in the study will be volunteers who teach in a rural school district in the southern part of the United States that is in compliance with the federal mandate to implement full inclusion in its educational service delivery. The impact of the transition to inclusion may affect teachers‘ perceptions and responses. 2. Only one geographical area with a small number of participants may not provide a broad-spectrum perspective of the generalized population. 3. The predominately African American population of the school district may not be representative of districts with a more diversified population. 4. Full inclusion as mandated has been implemented only briefly. The complexity of the inclusive mandate may require several transformations that necessitate the implementation of a variety of strategies for consistent effectiveness.

Organization of the Remainder of the Study The remainder of the study is structured in the next four chapters. Chapter 2 contains the literature review of the study proposal. Relevant theory, research and foundational literature will be presented. The literature review begins by examining the history of special education and inclusion. The rational for full inclusion, teacher attitudes and perceptions of inclusion, methods of inclusion and the effectiveness of inclusion is presented. Chapter 3 presents the explanatory mixed methodology to be used to conduct

14 the research for the study. The study findings are explained in Chapter 4. The final chapter, Chapter 5, provides a summary of the research including a discussion and recommendations.

15

CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW

Introduction This chapter provides an overview of literature related to teachers‘ perceptions of full inclusion in the general education classroom. The purpose of this research seeks to compare regular and special education teacher perceptions about inclusion in a rural Alabama school district. This literature review represents an extensive study of those bodies of literature that are directly related to litigation and legislative mandates, regular and special education teacher perceptions and methods of implementing special education services in a full inclusion environment.

History of Special Education and Inclusion Federal laws related to the education and services for individuals with disabilities were first mandated in 1975 with the enactment of the Education of All Handicapped Students Act. They are founded on constitutional principles, developed and enacted by legislatures and administrative agencies and interpreted by the courts. The history and development of these laws has their foundation in the civil rights movement beginning with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education (Yell, 2006) court decision that separate was not equal. In constant metamorphosis subsequent litigation and legislation led to the

16 granting of students with disabilities a free appropriate public education. PARC v. Pennsylvania (1972) and Mills v. Board of Education (1972) were cases instrumental in securing access to education that seeks to ensure quality of educational programming for students with disabilities (Yell, 2006). Theobald (2005) asserted that in the first 50 years of the United States, slavery prevented the establishment of schools in the South. At that time the concept of free public schools was embraced only in the northern states. Cultural issues of race, ethnicity and religion complicated the merging of education. This created a rural/urban divide because urban commercial interests differed from the rural agrarian purpose of education. In the 19th century, rural schools dominated the educational experience. This domination disappeared in the early 20th century as school consolidation in urban schools appeared. White flight resulting from the implementation of civil rights legislation affected residents with fewest economic means who were concentrated in rural areas. This placed those unable to leave the rural schools at a disadvantage and began a cultural acceptance that rural citizens were backward. Wraga‘s (2006) research corroborates Theobald‘s supposition that the early purpose of education distinguished the goal of education as a unifying purpose. The cultural divide between the northern and the southern states generated problems in attaining this goal. Segregation according to academic or vocational ability, aspiration, and gender in schools compounded the racial and socioeconomic biases resulting from Brown v. Board of Education (Yell, 2006). As civil rights legislation was implemented, the inherent rights of the disabled to be educated under the same parameters were addressed.

17 Just as Alabama struggled to meet civil rights federal mandates, issues of racial disparity in the referral and placement of minorities in special education complicated the implementation of federal laws to protect students with disabilities. Racial disparities in special education resulted in the state‘s involvement in the 1973 Lee v. Macon litigation. Lasting over 30 years, settlement of the Lee v. Macon litigation resulted in a state-wide consent decree on special education (ALSDE, 2000). The Lee v. Macon (1973) litigation concerned two issues. The first issue was the overrepresentation of African American students in classes who were classified as mentally retarded or emotionally disturbed. The underrepresentation of African American students with the classification of specific learning disabilities or gifted was the second issue. The resulting court decree requires Alabama teachers to follow delineated mandates of the referral, evaluation and implementation process for students to receive special education services (Whetstone, 2000). This confirms the complexities of instructional delivery aligned by Jimerson (2004) in her assessment of rural-sensitive practices for accountability. The perceptions of general and special educators are critical for the successful implementation of inclusive programs that meet the needs of all children as they attempted adherence to federal mandates. The Oberti v. Clementon 1993 court decision resulted in a federal mandate that upheld the right to be educated in regular classrooms with their nondisabled peers for children with disabilities (Yell, 2006). This judicial decision required that the burden of proof to do otherwise must be borne by the local school system demonstrating that a segregated placement was best for the student (Baker, Wang, & Walberg, 1994).

18 Substantiating the legal mandates, research conducted by Weisharr and Borsa (2001) demonstrates the importance of sharing responsibility in ensuring that students are properly identified and evaluated to determine appropriate placements and services by general and special education teachers. Furthermore, they contend that regular educators would benefit from additional training beyond the usual undergraduate survey course usually required for teacher certification. Meyen and Bui (2007), in a review of position statements by national organizations such as the Division of Early Childhood of the Council of Exceptional Children and the American Association of Mental Retardation and the National Association of Young Children, noted that inclusion endorsements are controversial. Inclusive models have been implemented as a direct result of litigation and legislation. The misconceptions about the effects of inclusion on children with disabilities and the demands placed on special and general education teachers fuel the controversy. Educators‘ attitudes play an important role in effective curriculum modification, adaptation and implementation toward adherence to the intent of legal mandates.

Rationale for Full Inclusion The purpose of special education is to provide the opportunity for individuals with disabilities to achieve their fullest potential and attain full community presence (D. Smith, 2007). Traditionally, in special education once a student‘s problem was identified strategies were devised to mitigate the problem. This is considered the problem-solving model through which the discrepancy between actual and expected performance of a student‘s can be rectified (Bauer & Kroeger, 2004). The transformation of the provision

Full document contains 101 pages
Abstract: The inclusion of students with exceptionalities in the general education classroom is a manifestation of efforts to address educational reforms mandated by law. "Despite legislation of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act of 2004 requiring that all students be provided a free and appropriate public education, research has found that attitudinal barriers do exist to implementing it fully." This research is focused on how teachers in rural Alabama view the challenges and benefits of full inclusion. Results from this mixed-method research provide an understanding of teacher perceptions of inclusion for students with exceptionalities in general education classrooms. Participants in this research were more receptive to inclusion in direct relationship to their level of education. Perceptions of benefits and challenges were influenced by individual roles, education and training. Conclusions and implications provide educators with insight for implementing inclusion strategies in the regular education environment. Recommendations for further research on inclusion are also noted.