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Journal Issue: Special Education for Students with Disabilities Volume 6 Number 1 Spring 1996

Effectiveness of Special Education: Is Placement the Critical Factor?
Anne M. Hocutt


Research indicates that various program models, implemented both in special education and general education, can have moderately positive academic and social impacts for students with disabilities. However, no intervention has been designed that eliminates the impact of having a disability. With few exceptions, students with disabilities have not achieved commensurately with their nondisabled peers; even students with learning disabilities as a group have not been able to achieve at the level of low-achieving nondisabled students.

In general, the most effective interventions for students with disabilities, whether in special education or general education settings, have employed intensive and reasonably individualized instruction, combined with careful, frequent monitoring of student progress.

There is no compelling evidence that placement rather than instruction is the critical factor in student academic or social success. Further, studies have indicated that typical practice in general education is substantially different from practice in the model programs that showed greatest success for students with disabilities. The interventions that were effective in improving academic outcomes for students with disabilities required a considerable investment of resources, including time and effort, as well as extensive support for teachers.

The research does not support full-time inclusion for all students with disabilities. On the contrary, it appears that there is a clear need for special education. At the same time, given adequate resources, schools should be able to assist more students to be more successful in general education settings.