A wide range of research has been done on the effects of mainstreaming on learning disabled children. Although many studies have shown improvements and positive effects, none had addressed the best time to implement mainstreaming programs. In this study, students, who had been diagnosed as moderately learning disabled, were selected to represent their respective grade level. Group 1 consisted of 15 students in kindergarten through 2nd grade, and Group 2 consisted of 15 students in grades 3rd through 5th. Both groups were given the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement-Revised at the beginning of the semester before inclusion was implemented, and another at the end of the semester. Group 1 had shown a more significant difference in improvement than Group 2. This study shows that there are definitely positive effects of mainstreaming, but also hopes that these current findings will direct future research to detect learning disabilities as early as possible.
Effects of Mainstreaming on
Moderate Learning Disabled Children in
Early versus Late Elementary Grade Levels
For many years now, there has been an increase of interest for the welfare of learning disabled children and their place in the normal classroom setting. The attempt to reintegrate special education students with learning disabilities has been a popular subject among the special education and research community (Shinn, Powell-Smith, Good, & Baker, 1997). The strive to create inclusion programs, however, has not just been a recent issue among these professionals. The movement began in 1975 when the Education of the Handicapped Act (now called The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) was created to develop programs across the United States. It’s basic requirements were: (a) to make sure that all handicapped children (in private and public schools) were educated with non handicapped children as much as possible, and (b) that if handicapped children must be removed from the regular education environment, it must only be done if the special education children cannot achieve satisfactorily in the normal classroom with the help of special aides and services that can be provided (Aerfsky, 1995; Brown, 1997). Because of this movement, a growing number of students with moderate learning disabilities are being educated and overcoming their learning disability in general education classrooms (Logan & Malone, 1998).
The term “mainstreaming” has been used to describe the transition of special-needs-children into the regular classroom (Brown, 1997). When these children are brought into the normal classroom, the strategy that many schools take on is usually called a “collaborative teaching” approach. This is where special and regular education teachers team up together to collaborate ideas and instruct students with disabilities in general education classrooms (Martson, 1996). Studies have shown that not only do the learning disabled students gain the potential to reach a higher academic standing when mainstreamed (Logan & Malone, 1998), but they also are able to develop positive self images and improve social development when included in the classrooms of normal children (Klinger, Vaughn, Schumm, Cohen, & Forgan, 1998; Martson, 1996; Shinn et al., 1997). The increase in ability for learning disabled students to recognize and identify words is one of the examples of an academic gain when included in the normal classes (McCormick & Becker, 1996). When learning disabled students are incorporated in the normal classroom, self-esteem and feelings of self-worth are believed to develop more because these students are less likely to be identified as “slow” by their peers or to feel stigmatized (Klinger et al., 1998). By being in the normal classroom, these students are also able to have more time to develop and keep friendships that are created with the normal class children (Klinger et al., 1998). Also, advocates of inclusive classroom settings have strongly agreed with the merits of placing the students in mainstream classes, especially those related to the social benefits that increase for students with the learning disabilities (Scanlon, Deshler, & Schumaker, 1996).
All previous research that has been discussed has shown positive results when mainstreaming is brought into the school system. Particular research has been conducted across a variety of grade levels–kindergarten through fourth grade (Salisbury, Wilson, Swartz, Palombaro, & Wassel, 1997), and grades second through sixth (Shinn et al., 1997). However, research has yet to be done to show if mainstreaming is more effective when started early on (grades kindergarten through second), or in the later elementary grades (third through fifth). As said before, it has been proven that mostly all mainstreaming attempts have been effective, but the question is if it would be more effective in early or later grade levels. The primary goal of this study conducted was to identify at which time is the best time to mainstream learning disabled children. Just as it was hypothesized, the correlation was that the earlier that mainstreaming is implemented, the more the child will be able to achieve academic improvement. Through this study, it is anticipated that mainstreaming will be able to benefit and reach out to even more learning disabled children than its existing positive outcomes.
This study consisted of 30 students who were diagnosed with moderate learning disabilities by the Jefferson Parish School Board. The School Board diagnosed these children by using their standard diagnostic test that detects any form and the level of a learning disability. The students were then randomly chosen by the principal of the school. The parents were then given and asked to sign an informed consent to allow their children to participate in this beneficial study. All of the participants were from the same school, which is a public elementary school that contains kindergarten through fifth grade. This school is located in a middle-class neighborhood and has already established and implemented a mainstreaming program for its learning disabled students. These 30 students were chosen to be compared and studied on the difference in their academic performance at the beginning of the semester (when inclusion was first implemented) and again at the end of the semester. Of these 30, 15 were picked to represent the first group which contained grades kindergarten (n=5), first (n=5), and second (n=5). The latter of the chosen sample will represent Group two which includes grades third (n=5), fourth (n=5), and fifth (n=5). Male students and female students were dispersed as equal as possible among the two groups–15 males and 15 females. Of these 30 students, however, there were only 10 African-Americans and 20 were Caucasian students. The ages of the children range from 5-year-olds to 11-year-olds. The students chosen to participate were treated in accordance with the “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct” (American Psychological Association, 1992).
After the children had been diagnosed by the school board as learning disabled, the children were then given the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement-Revised to measure the students initial standing at the beginning of the semester. Because the School Board has different forms of each test for each grade level, a different form of the test was used at the end of the semester to detect for any difference in the scores. These achievement tests are standard Jefferson Parish School Board tests that are used by the schools to see how well the learning disabled students are performing in school, but are usually only given once a year in May. These tests consist of 200 questions and are given over a two-day period. The tests cover five subjects and contain 40 questions for each different subject. The five subjects that are used to test achievement are as follows: reading comprehension, English and grammar skills, math, science, and social studies. The tests are scored on a 200-point scale with each question being worth one point each. If a student scores a 100 or below on these achievement tests, the child is considered as having a learning disability.
Design and Procedure
The 30 students were then tested at the beginning of the semester before the inclusion treatment was implemented. Each student’s score was then configured and recorded. The learning disabled students were then placed in a general education classroom where the “collaborative approach” was exercised. There were two different teachers that were placed in each of the classrooms. One was a general education teacher who did most of the instruction; the other was a special education teacher who was there mostly for assistance for the learning disabled students if needed. At the end of the semester, the students were then again tested by a different, but similar in difficulty, achievement test. The tests were then again scored individually and then recorded. The scores were then placed in the corresponding groups. Kindergarten, first, and second grade scores were placed in Group one, and third, fourth, and fifth grade scores were placed in Group two.
A statistical t-test was performed on the students’ difference in test scores to test the effect that inclusion had on the children’s improvement in a mainstreamed classroom.The difference of the scores (final score minus initial score) was then configured and used to compare between the two independent groups. The mean difference score from Group one was 8.73; the mean difference score from Group two was 5.2. These results were then tested and indicated a strong statistical significant difference between Group one and Group two. When df=28 and the alpha level is set at 0.01, a one-directional t-test was used to test the null and alternative hypotheses. The obtained t-value from the t-chart was 2.467, and the calculated t-value was 5.903. The null hypothesis was then rejected, and the alternative hypothesis was accepted. No other results were statistically significant.
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The results of the present study provide strong support that mainstreaming is more effective for learning disabled children when it is implemented in early elementary years (kindergarten through second grades) versus later elementary years (third through fifth grade). The students’ differences in scores from Group one proved that mainstreaming is more beneficial when brought into the school system as early as possible–the idea here is the earlier the better. The students in Group one showed a much more increase in achievement than the students from Group two. It should also be noted that all students improved in achievement scores, but the difference in achievement was greater for those in Group one. Through the “collaborative teaching” method, mainstreaming children with moderate learning disabilities is a positive form of reaching out to children who are suffering with disabilities. This study will hopefully show to other schools that not only mainstreaming a huge part of helping students deal with their learning disabilities, but it is extremely important for mainstreaming to be exercised in an early classroom environment.
This study is a major contribution to the field of education and psychology, because it should lead to the realization that early detection of learning disabilities is crucial. It is to be hoped that more and more teachers and parents will be more concerned and aware of early detection of learning disabilities in their children. I would hope that future research would attempt to find better and more efficient ways to detect learning disabilities in even earlier ages of children than this study used.
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