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SIMPSON, University of Kansas)



Inclusion of students with disabilities, including children and youth diagnosed with emotional and behavioral disorders, has been a prominent and contentious issue for decades.

This journal discusses four research-oriented themes relative to inclusion of students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD) in general education settings :

i. The appropriateness and relevancy of current inclusion measurement targets ii. The extent to which inclusion is a clearly identified and independent treatment variable iii.The extent to which inclusion research has sufficient external validity to give it generalization value iv.The social validity value of research connected to inclusion of students with EBD


Appropriateness and Relevancy of Inclusion Measurement Targets

Inclusion-based service delivery models were popularized based on the arguments that : a. all students were best served in general education classrooms; b. students with special needs should receive services in these maximally normalized environments; and c. students with special needs were the shared responsibility of general and special educators (Wang, Reynolds and Walberg, 1986)

Rates of inclusion have historically been significantly lower for students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD) than for pupils with learning disabilities, mild mental retardation and other high-incidence disabilities (U.S. Department of Education, 1990-2003). Smaller percentages of children and youth with EBD are recommended for full-inclusion programs than other so-called mildly disabled students.

Students with EBD are a part of the general education scene; and these pupils are an especially difficult group to successfully integrate in general education settings, especially if full inclusion is the objective (Zionts, 1997). The acceptance and support of inclusion as a basic human right rather than a matter of scientific utility has been associated with a number of untested assumptions such as : a) students with EBD and their non-disabled peers enjoy and benefit from contact with one another; and b)general educators are willing and able to effectively assume primary teaching responsibility for students with EBD.

Collaborative consultation and cooperative teaching are often identified as basic tools for enhancing and facilitating inclusion (Warger and Pugach, 1996).

Most directly is the need for researchers to focus on salient targets that can be empirically measured, including : a. academic comparisons of students with EBD who are assigned to inclusion and non-inclusion programs; b. social, emotional and behavioral characteristics and functioning of students with EBD who are assigned to inclusion and non-inclusion programs; and c. social acceptance among peers and teachers of students with EBD who are in inclusion and noninclusion programs.

It is also essential that interpretation of data and reported findings of studies that purport to address inclusion of students with EBD be made with a prudent and conservative eye.

Inclusion as a Clearly Identified and Independent Treatment Variable

Kauffman (2005) observed that Many different definitions of inclusion have been offered, and much confusion about the term and its meaning persists. Different interpretations of whether least restrictive environment (LRE) is universally a general education classroom, regardless of students unique needs, abilities and circumstances; issues surrounding full vs. partial inclusion; and lack of clarity regarding the different types and diagnoses of students and the level of their disabilities are only a few of the issues that have served to confuse interpretation and comparison of reported research findings.

The issue of variable meanings and themes connected to the term inclusion is particularly problematic when examining inclusion as a research or treatment variable. Critical examination of inclusion of students with EBD as an internally valid independent variable offers little assurance that student outcomes can be directly attributed to general education and pullout program placement.

That is, differences among students identified as EBD who are educated in general and special class settings or programs generally cannot be scientifically judged to be the result of their inclusion experience, due to the lack of agreement on the meaning of inclusion and its operational components.

Relative to students with behaviorally based disabilities, one such conclusion is that true integration of these students into general education classrooms is contingent upon attitudinal and social support (Cook et al., 2000). Educators have known for decades that successful inclusion of students with disabilities, especially those with behavioral and emotional challenges, requires understanding and support from those with whom they share a classroom.

In spite of such cautionary notes, relatively little attention is generally given to the preparation of general education classrooms for accommodating students with disabilities, including those with EBD (McLeskey and Waldron, 2002). Considerable evidence suggests that many general education teachers leave their teacher preparation programs having received limited training and experience in integrating students with disabilities (Cook, 2002).

If school personnel fail to be appropriately supportive of inclusion, general classroom experiences for students with EBD will be less than satisfactory (Coutinho and Repp, 1999).

Researchers, practitioners, parents/families and policy makers can be expected to make highquality decisions related to inclusion of students with EBD only when provided with scientifically valid information. Essential and fundamental to this process is researchers and research consumers ability to critically evaluate the legitimacy of inclusion as a treatment variable.

School professionals are increasingly being urged and even required to base their practices on scientifically based methods (Chard, 2004) and use practices that have the highest probability of yielding the desired outcomes (Stanovich and Stanovich, 2003). The utility of research findings must be measured in terms of their potential to be translated and applied into practice within settings other than the specific circumstances where the original study was undertaken.

External Validity of Inclusion Research

Researchers advance their ideas and practices by submitting them for scrutiny and critical evaluation by peers, who the evaluate these colleagues procedures and findings. This process is designed to accomplish two major objectives. First, it allows other researchers to assess and permit them to attempt to replicate the findings of the original researchers to determine if they can obtain similar results.

Second, and equally important, it permits practitioners to use these same methods in applied settings, hopefully with the same positive outcomes that the original researchers reported. Practitioners may attempt to adapt methods for use with youth in a suburban setting that are based on research procedures originally developed for elementary-age students in an urban school.

Indeed, the most meaningful test of external validity occurs when results of various empirical research, case analyses, and qualitative studies reveal that consistent outcomes occur across various types of students in different types of settings and under other variable conditions.

Inclusion research must generalize such that the causal relationship of specified variables applies to other conditions, settings and individuals. Application of research-based procedures is contingent upon consumers ability to understand and evaluate the extent to which methods used in one or more studies generalize to other situations.

As noted previously, there is heretofore little assurance that inclusion research has sufficient external validity to be of much use to practitioners, parents/families, policy makers and other researchers. Recommendations that can be expected to advance this external validity dilemma include better descriptions of study participants, specification of the inclusion-related variables that were manipulated and careful empirical measurement of salient outcome variables.

Social Validity and Inclusion of Students with EBD in General Education

Social validation refers to stakeholders qualitative and subjective perceptions of intervention targets, processes and outcomes (Maag, 2004). Relative to inclusion of students with EBD in general education classrooms, social validity refers to the qualitative and subjective perceptions of : a. individuals connected to general education placement expectations and targets; b. the inclusion process itself; and c. the outcomes associated with inclusion.

Social validity is skewed to fit notions of perceived practical benefit as opposed to judging a particular strategy or outcome solely on the basis of quantitative findings. In many ways, inclusion of students with EBD is well-suited for social validation. Social validity is most effective when combined with quantitative and other scientific and objective information and when multiple judges who hold different stakeholder positions are independently permitted to offer their subjective evaluations.

Walker et al. (2004) observed that it is well established that children who are poorly accepted or rejected by peers, who have few friendships, and who adjust poorly to schooling are at much greater risk for lifelong maladaptive outcomes. Other inclusion modifications and supports that are recommended for social validity consideration include : i. the extent to which suitably trained support and related services personnel were available, used and effective;

ii. whether the class size was appropriate for accommodating one or more students with EBD; iii. the extent of collaborative problem-solving involving teachers and staff members, and the value of these activities; iv. whether there was adequate planning time to allow teachers to prepare for students with EBD; v. the extent to which para-educators were available to support inclusion, and the appropriateness and value of their involvement; and vi. the availability and quality of professional development and other training opportunities for faculty members and other staff associated with inclusion programs (Simpson et al., 2003).

Two general and all-inclusive social validity questions appear to be in need of considerations : a. Is the student with EBD socially benefiting from his/her general education environment experiences? b. Is the student with EBD academically benefiting from his/her general education experience? Answers to these questions are most clearly answered by multiple voices and when they consider the complexity and myriad factors that are associated with inclusion.


Inclusion of children with EBD in general education classrooms and programs presents major challenges to parents, professionals and students both in determining : 1. that the least restrictive environment is indeed a regular classroom; and 2.the subsequent steps that follow the decision to include a student with EBD.

These difficulties and complications are exacerbated by a general lack of : a. Research-based protocol and guidelines for identifying which students are most appropriate for various degrees of inclusion; b. Validated strategies for facilitating the integration process and accommodating students with EBD and their peers; and c. Research-based methods for evaluating outcomes associated with inclusion.

Indeed, the most salient student outcomes associated with inclusion have yet to be scientifically evaluated : a)Inclusion has clearly failed to be tested as a scientifically valid independent variable; b)Most existing inclusion research is replete with scientific internal and external validity problems; and c) The utility and value of the various purportedly effective inclusion facilitation strategies have yet to be scientifically evaluated.