Inclusion and the IDEA Versus High Stakes Testing

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the IDEA), full inclusion in the general education classroom is the ideal for all children.  Regardless of their challenges.  Even if they make odd noises, pace around, or are unable to communicate verbally.  Even if their cognitive challenges make it impossible for them to read at anything close to grade level or produce schoolwork that can be compared in any way to their classmates'.

To achieve this goal, children with significant challenges of any kind must be taught according to his own needs, based on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

This could work!

In fact, it often DOES work in public schools for children ages 3-7 -- that is in preschool, kindergarten, and grades 1 and 2. 

That's largely because, in those grades, it's "ok" to differentiate instruction, teaching some kids with visual tools and others with verbal tools.  And it's ok to move around, do a little art, do a little music, do some reading and writing, go out to recess...  And it's ok to try a new approach to teaching or evaluation if a child's strengths lie less in the three R's and more in, say, expression through construction of models, drawings, or dance.

In the early years, no one loses out when the teacher offers a wide range of options for learning and self-expression.

Then grade 3 comes along, and it all changes.  For one reason.  High Stakes Testing.

Sure, the law is the same: inclusion remains the ideal.  And each child with special needs must be taught according to his own needs, based on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  But now, the expectation is that everyone will learn the same things, in the same way, at the same time, so that they can take the same tests, at the same time, with increasingly higher scores.

If you notice a contradiction here, you are not alone.  It is literally impossible to provide every child with special needs with a customized, inclusive education while ALSO providing every child in the school with the same type of education leading to the same outcomes on the same tests.

At this point in their development, kids with special needs are now relegated to the back of the room with their aides, so that they can receive "appropriate" instruction that doesn't interfere with the general education race to High Stakes achievement.  Or, if they're academically capable, they're placed in the very front of the room and expected to attend and understand -- even when the general education teacher is not teaching to their needs.

Meanwhile, those typically developing kids who may have benefited from the inclusion of special needs peers in grades preK-2 will very likely suffer from the inclusion of those same kids.  No longer will they receive the benefits of differentiated instruction: instead, they must suffer through extra noise, aides teaching individually in the back of the room, and a range of distractions -- while they struggle to keep up with the High Stakes agenda.

All this happens, of course, if kids with special needs ARE included in the general education classroom.  But as is probably self-evident, this is likely to become less common since general education is focused on High Stakes Testing, and special needs kids are likely to get in the way of the required high scores.

Is it any wonder that our schools are having a tough time making Inclusion and the IDEA dovetail with No Child Left Behind?  When you write laws that directly compete with one another, you can expect, at the very least, a negative outcome.


  1. So, which one do you think should take priority? Personally, I say we throw out high stakes testing and uphold the IDEA.

  2. With the roll out of common core standards schools should be moving beyond pencil and paper tasks. Special Education Teachers need to assert themselves to Gen Ed and see it as an open door for inclusion to happen. I regularly try to design lessons so all students will benefit (including students with significant intellectual disabilties). When special and general ed teachers work together than we can satisfy the requirement of IDEA and high stakes testing.

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