“We’ve known for a long time that students with MR (mental retardation) are better off educationally if they can spend at least part of the day in a typical classroom,” said James McLeskey, chair of special education in UF’s College of Education and an author of the study. “We’ve found that there are still lot of students who could be included in the general classroom, but aren’t included.”
Before the mid-1970s, most children with mental retardation were completely segregated from other children in the school system, if they were formally educated at all. Society widely viewed these children as uneducable, and those who did attend school were sent to institutions solely for children with mental retardation.
Both children and their parents often viewed these institutions as dehumanizing and ineffective – and by the late 1960s, educators had assembled a large body of research to show that children with mental retardation did indeed perform much better when schooled, at least part-time, among the general student population. That research led Congress to pass a 1975 law requiring a more inclusive environment for students with mental retardation.
Surveys in the 1980s and early 1990s showed that schools had made little progress toward implementing that mandate. In an article published in the spring 2006 issue of the journal Exceptional Children, UF researchers – including doctoral candidates Pam Williamson, David Hoppey and Tarcha Rentz – revisited the question, taking a comprehensive look at placement rates for students with mental retardation in all 50 states and the District of Columbia during the 1990s. They found some very good news.
“Inclusion seems to have genuinely caught on in the 1990s,” said Williamson, the lead author of the study. “By the end of the decade, a student with MR was almost twice as likely to be educated in the general