Teacher and Student Perspectives on the Inclusion and Mainstreaming of Children with Moderate and Severe Cognitive Disabilities

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Integrated settings for educating students with moderate and severe disabilities (SWDs) have received great attention since the passage of PL 94-142. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore the teacher and student perspectives and interaction patterns of SWDs in two schools and how each of those schools implemented integrated programming. The two schools included a self-described full inclusion school and a mainstream school.

The researcher focused on historical information about the two schools philosophies for educating SWDs, regular and special education teachers' and students' perspectives regarding the SWDs in their classes, and observations of target SWDs to paint a picture of the way in which the schools operate. The two schools were then analyzed using qualitative analysis techniques.

Several themes emerged from the interviews regarding the teachers' and students' views of the SWDs in their classes. Student themes included: perceived responsibility for students with disabilities, defining and understanding SWDs, interactions between students with and without disabilities, and impact on and outcomes for SWDs. Teacher themes included: terminology used to describe regular education students and SWDs, personal and perceived school philosophy, student and teacher qualities perceived to effect integration, and programming issues.

Observations of the SWDs focused on establishing a rate of interactions between SWDs and others in the school, initiators of interactions, and reciprocity of interactions. The SWD at the full inclusion school was found to be more isolated and less incorporated in the regular education setting than the SWDs at the mainstream school despite what was suggested in the articulated school philosophy.

The two schools were examined based on archival, interview, and observation data. It was found that there was discordance between the articulated philosophy of the full inclusion school and the implicit philosophy that guided practice in that school.

Future directions for research were discussed including the need for more qualitative analysis of the interactions that occur between SWDs and other staff and students in the school.