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Full Inclusion Is Not for Every Student

Updated on September 26, 2019
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects including education and creative writing.


Here's a possible scenario

The English teacher did everything humanly possible to accommodate Pete. The student had been diagnosed with visual and auditory processing disorder that hindered his ability to obtain the daily lessons or perform certain tasks without accommodations.

Despite Pete’s effort, he still struggled to grasp and understand the lessons. And, this was happening after the teacher and the special education case-carrier for Pete had met and collaborated on ways to accommodate him.

Other teachers reported the same problem; Pete was failing tests and was not turning in his work. In some cases, teachers reported that he was becoming increasingly disruptive or apathetic in their classrooms.

Others pointed out that he was performing way below grade level. This was supported by assessments made for his three-year review for his Individual Education Plan (IEP). This review – known as the triennial – indicated that the high-school age student had fourth grade reading and writing skills.

With the English teacher’s observation, as well as reports from his other teachers, the case-carrier came to the realization full inclusion was not working well for Pete.

The use of full inclusion is often used for students who are at or near the same academic levels as their peers or have been observed to have minor disabilities that can be alleviated with help of accommodations...

Is Full Inclusion the Right Approach?

The scenario is merely a case study. But, events like this have played out in numerous public schools around the country. The struggle has to do with including students with disabilities in a general education setting. In some cases, the student may have one or two special education classes for the day. In the situation describe in the case-study, the student is 100% enrolled in general education classes with accommodations made by a case-carrier and the general educations teachers. This is known by several names; however, the most popular term is full inclusion.

Full inclusion sounds like a great concept; it calls for mainstreaming students with disabilities into regular education classrooms with appropriate accommodations. The philosophy - guided by federal regulations – contends that the best way for students with disabilities to obtain the same education as their non-disabled peers is to include them in the general education population. However, this system has a flaw; not every student with a disability will benefit from it.

For some students, this looks like chicken scratch, instead of important information.
For some students, this looks like chicken scratch, instead of important information. | Source

Special Education and its Goal of Inclusion

Understanding full inclusion and its flaw can be done by examining the philosophy and goals of the broad educational program that uses it. Special education is meant to address the educational concerns and needs of a child with disabilities. By law (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, American with Disability Act, and Individual with Disability Education Act or IDEA), students with disabilities must have the same access to the material and lessons that their non-disabled peers have.

The use of full inclusion is often used for students who are at or near the same academic levels as their peers or have been observed to have minor disabilities that can be alleviated with help of accommodations that can be done by the general education teachers.

However, some students may have skills levels far below their peers, or they have severe or emotional disorders that may render their abilities to operate or access the same education as their non-disabled peers have. When this is the situation, the student needs to have his/her lessons modified to fit their skills or to be placed in an environment that will impose the least restrictions on his/her learning abilities.

Why Some School Use Full Inclusion

Most school districts and individual schools will adhere to full inclusion practices and rules as stipulated by IDEA. However, some administrators have used it for nefarious means. In one case, a principal at a Southern California high school misused full inclusion by forcing the enrollment of special education students into honor or AP classes. He did this by bypassing the exams needed to admission to these courses.

It was believed he did this to convince state officials and visiting administrators that his educational programs were so good that special education students were being advanced to the highest level of academics.

Whatever the reason may have been, most – if not all – the students placed in an honor’s course ended up failing it being removed and placed in a regular course.

The Double-Edge Sword of LRE

In special education circles the concept of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is often listed as the crucial reason to fully include a student with disabilities in a classroom. However, this concept works both ways. If the student with mild/moderate disabilities is able to attend general education classrooms (with observation by the special education teacher or minor accommodations by the general education teacher), then a special education classroom would be considered too restrictive for him to learn the same things that his non-disabled peers are learning.

Accommodation is an effective tool for helping these students in a fully included classroom. Practices such as repetition of information, visual or auditory cues, flexible or extra time on assignments, or strategic placement near the teacher or the board are often used to help these students. For the most part, this helps the student with mild/moderate learning or physical disabilities.

On the other hand, accommodation may not be enough for students with severe or emotional disabilities. Some students simply have skills and abilities far below their peers. They will struggle or get lost in a general education setting. As a result, the speed, skill and knowledge base of a general education course may prove to be the most restrictive environment that prevents them from learning. In all likelihood a student with one of these disabilities will need modifications (a change in the curriculum, not the method to acquiring the curriculum).

Why Some Students Don’t Need Full Inclusion

Students with limitations in reading, writing and math skills will need a specialized classroom. They may attend for a third or half the day. Others will need it for most of the day. Full inclusion is next to impossible for this latter group. The deficiencies in these area need to addressed and improved.

Students with severe mental retardation or low-functioning autism may not benefit from a fully included classroom at all. In most cases, these students will be in a self-contained life-skill classroom. Their levels will be far below their non-disabled peers. Also, they will most likely continue with their education until 22 years of age, and will probably continue educationally into a work transition program or regional center.

Who will it Work For?

Full inclusion works for students with mild/moderate disabilities. Often these students are already taking general education courses for the majority of the day (they are also known as resource special program – RSP students). However, when the student is low in a skill, he'll need extra help that may not be applicable in a general education setting. They'll need accommodation or modifications to help them learn. For these students, specialized classes or programs are needed.

Also, this concept should be considered a goal. Full inclusion will always be there for students with disabilities. It has to. Students with mild or moderate disabilities have been shown to improve academically over the years.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Dean Traylor


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    • letstalkabouteduc profile image

      McKenna Meyers 

      5 years ago

      It's interesting for me to read about inclusion at the high school level, Dean, because I have only experienced it in early childhood education. Unfortunately, many special education bureaucrats use inclusion as a way of denying young children the early intervention services they so desperately need: speech and occupational therapies, one-on-one direction instruction, small group activities. It's a money-saving measure. California has become a leader in providing outstanding early intervention services while states such as Oregon, where I currently live, fall way behind and use inclusion as their only strategy.Unfortunately, in this time of political correctness, most people think inclusion is all good and don't look deeper. Classroom teachers get overwhelmed and frustrated. The kids get neglected, and then the parents wonder why nobody told them that their child needed special services.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great post. In addition to what is hehtlighgid in these videos, I think the social impact of dyslexia is equally important to understand as well. I believe that the loss of engagement with people is the most important limitation when you have trouble reading, you don't have access to information which can make it difficult to be part of the conversation in school, at work or even with your friends talking about your favorite sports team. I think because of this, I've always found such a connection with other people, like me, who have dyslexia it's like an exclusive club that transcends age, gender, occupation, etc. Which is why I believe it is important for people to talk with one another about their experiences, whether you are a person who has dyslexia, or a parent, teacher or friend, to know that you are not alone and there are tools and resources that can help you on your journey.


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