Who Feels Included in School? Examining Feelings of Inclusion Among Students With Disabilities

Leanna Stiefel, Menbere Shiferaw, Amy Ellen Schwartz, and Michael Gottfried
Educational Researcher, Vol. XX No. X, pp. 1–16. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X17738761

The passage of landmark federal legislation in 1975 guaranteed students with disabilities (SWDs) a free appropriate public education. Over time, reauthorization of this legislation has highlighted the importance of educating SWDs in the general education environment where appropriate, and significant interaction with general education peers who are not receiving special education services (GENs) has followed. The largest U.S. school district—New York City (NYC), the setting of our study—mirrors this national trend toward more inclusive environments. Despite the trend, a critical question remains: Does inclusion in fact feel inclusive? This study provides a district-wide descriptive analysis of feelings of inclusion among SWDs compared to their GEN peers. We rely on detailed, longitudinal administrative and student survey data on approximately 249,000 NYC middle school students attending schools that educate both SWDs and GENs (which we call traditional schools in contrast with schools that educate only SWDs). Our results suggest that while gaps between SWDs overall and GENs are quite small, there is some heterogeneity. Specifically, students with an emotional disturbance (ED) and other health impairments (OH) feel modestly less included with peers but more with adults. There are, however, almost no differences in feelings of inclusion between students assigned exclusive and inclusive services, even for those in the ED and OH groups. In fact, for students with low incidence (LI) disabilities, feelings of inclusion are slightly better when assigned exclusive services.

Wagner Faculty