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The Benefits of Inclusive Education

Friends in school high-fiving each other for good grades

There are numerous benefits to inclusive education, both academic and social, and for students with developmental disabilities as well as those without. Here is a summary of what the research shows!

Academic benefits for disabled students

"Included students were nearly twice as likely as their non-included peers to enroll in some form of post-secondary education"

  • Students with disabilities who spent a larger proportion of their school day with their non-disabled peers performed significantly better on measures of language and mathematics than students with similar disabilities who spent a smaller proportion of their school day with their non-disabled peers (Heir 2012)

  • The language skills of students with disabilities benefit substantially from having the opportunity to attend preschool with non-disabled students (Justice 2014)

  • Included students with language disabilities read 23 to 43 words per minute faster than otherwise similar students who took fewer academic classes (Blackorby 2007)

  • Comparing the academic performance of mainstreamed and segregated students with disabilities, Garter and Lipsky (1987) found that the average academic achievement of the integrated group was 30 percentiles higher


  • Students with disabilities in inclusive settings attended school an average of three more days per year, were eight percentage points less likely to receive a disciplinary referral, and were four percentage points more likely to belong to school groups (Marder, Wagner, & Sumi, 2003; Newman, Davies, & Marder, 2003)


  • Students with disabilities in fully inclusive placements were almost five times more likely to graduate on time than students in segregated settings (Schifter, 2015)


  • Included students were nearly twice as likely as their non-included peers to enroll in some form of post-secondary education (Baer, Daviso, Flexer, Queen, & Meindl, 2011)


  • Included high school students were 11 percentage points more likely to be employed and earned approximately $2,100 more per year (in 1990 United States dollars) when compared to otherwise similar students who spent 50 percent or less of their school time in general education (Wagner 1993)

  • Included students were more than 75 percent more likely to earn a vocational or academic credential than students educated in special classes (Myklebust 2007)

  • Down syndrome children in mainstream schools were one and a half years ahead of their peers in specialized schools in vocabulary development and nine months ahead in grammar comprehension (Laws 2000).


Social benefits for disabled students

"Learners in general education classrooms had much larger friendship networks"

  • Developmentally disabled students in inclusive classrooms demonstrated higher levels of engaged behavior than did students with developmental disabilities in special education classrooms (Katz & Mirenda, 2002)

  • Disabled students who were educated primarily in a mainstream setting were more accepted by their peers, had better social relationships, were less lonely, and exhibited fewer behavioral problems than similar children who were educated in resource room or self-contained special education classroom settings (Wiener & Tardif, 2004)


  • Students who spent three-quarters of their day or more in general education classes were four percentage points more likely to belong to school or community groups than students who spent less time in general education classes (Marder et al., 2003)

  • Students with disabilities in mainstream placements demonstrate more independence and self-sufficiency (Newman & Davies-Mercier, 2005; Sumi et al., 2005)


  • A study comparing 8th grade students in an inclusive classroom with those in a special education system found that the inclusive education group had better attendance (Rea, McLaughlan, and Walther-Thomas, 2002)

  • School personnel, parents and students have observed significant improvement in the area of communication skills for students with disabilities who experience full-time placement in inclusive settings (Carter and Maxwell 1998, Park 1998)

  • Disabled learners who were placed in the general education classrooms received and provided higher levels of social support and had much larger friendship networks (Fryxell and Kennedy 1985)

Benefits for non-disabled students

"Non-disabled students attending inclusive schools demonstrated less prejudice, patronizing, or pitying behaviors"

  • A review of studies by Ruijs & Peetsma (2009) found that inclusion was generally associated with either positive or neutral effects on academic outcomes for non-disabled students

  • Researchers found that the overall quality of instruction in a school plays a bigger role in shaping the achievement of non-disabled students than whether or not that student was educated alongside children with a disability (Dessemontet & Bless, 2013)


  • Salend & Duhaney (1999) found that typically developing students in inclusive classrooms received the same level of teacher attention as students in non-inclusive classrooms and had similar levels of academic achievement

  • A literature review describes five benefits of inclusion for non-disabled students:

  1. Reduced fear of human differences and increased comfort and awareness

  2. Increased tolerance of others and more effective communication with all peers

  3. Increased self-esteem, perceived status, and sense of belonging

  4. Less prejudice, higher responsiveness to the needs of others

  5. Warm and caring friendships (Staub & Peck, 1995).


  • Bunch & Valeo (2004) conducted detailed interviews with dozens of non-disabled Canadian students and found that students in inclusive schools had more friendships with students with disabilities and were more likely to support inclusion when compared to students in non-inclusive schools.


  • Bruce and Valeo (2004) also found less peer abuse (teasing, insults, social rejection) of students with disabilities in inclusive schools, possibly because students in inclusive schools were more likely to stand up for their peers with disabilities.

  • Non-disabled students attending inclusive schools demonstrated less prejudice, patronizing, or pitying behaviors toward students with Down syndrome when compared to students attending non-inclusive schools (Sirlopú et al., 2008)

  • Peers attending inclusive schools also expressed more positive attitudes towards children with intellectual disabilities (Georgiadi, Kalyva, Kourkoutas, & Tsakiris, 2012)

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