Federal legislation, that has existed now for generations, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, mandates that children with disabilities are taught in the same classroom that they would be if they were not disabled, to the greatest extent possible, and that they are always placed in the “least restrictive environment (LRE)”
The same law mandates schools to report the data on how many children with disabilities (age 5-22) spend 80 percent or more of their school day in the 'regular classroom” (#A), how many spend less than 40 percent of their day in a regular classroom (#B), and how many are at separate schools (#C), in hospital or prison or privately placed by their parents. This data is often called LRE data. It is provided by the US Department of Education by state, by disability (using 13 IEP eligibility categories), by gender, and by race, and assessed for disparities by the Office of Civil Rights. It is also reported by the state for each Local Education Authority – that is the district or a charter school on a State Annual Performance Report – data report on each district every year.
Of course, placement in a regular classroom alone is not inclusion. A student can spend all day in a general education classroom but sitting with their aide, only interacting with their aide and working on their own curriculum, delivered by their aide. This child would show up in the 80% LRE data – but really isn't included at all.
Our children need to be supported in their learning and provided access to the general education curriculum. They need not only to be invited and accommodated but also welcomed and valued in their learning community. They need to belong. The LRE data tells us nothing about that. However, it is the only readily available public data that we have to compare school districts, compare California to other states, and measure progress toward inclusive education. You can view the data for your district, SELPA, or County using this great new Annual Performance Report Dashboard.
California Schools Ranked Fourth Worst in the U.S. for Inclusive Education measured by LRE data.
In 2021-2022 60.82 percent of children with disabilities (CWD) in California spent 80 percent of their day or more in a regular classroom, 17.38 percent were partially included, spending 79-40 percent of their day in a regular classroom. 18.6 percent of children with disabilities (CWD) spent 40 percent or less in that classroom. Remember that 40 percent or less includes students who spent no time (zero percent) in the general education classroom, but were instead in segregated special education classrooms in public schools.
Adding the 2.16 percent who were in a separate school, that means 20.76 percent of disabled students spent most of their day in a segregated special education classroom, away from students without disabilities. That makes California the fourth-worst-performing state in the nation for including CWD in regular classrooms. (CA is actually in the top 4 for EX-cluding)
California Students with Intellectual and Multiple Disabilities are Most Excluded from the General Education Classroom
Under IDEA, students can be found eligible for Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) across 13 recognized categories of disability.
The data found that students who qualified for IEPs under the categories of Intellectual Disabilities (ID) and Multiple Disabilities have much lower access to general education environments. The overall LRE data is skewed by the large numbers of children with disabilities who have Speech and Language eligibility or a Specific Learning Disability (for example Dyslexia). Students in these two groups tend to be included for most of their school day. This hides the true extent of segregation for students with extensive support needs.
By focusing on two categories: Intellectual Disability and Multiple Disabilities, we see the true extent of the problem.
In 2021-2022, 8.53 percent of CWD in the ID eligibility category in California spent 80 percent or more of their day in a regular classroom, while 19.96 percent were partially included, spending 79 to 40 percent of their day in a regular classroom, and 63.69 percent spent 40 percent or less (and less can be zero – no time) in the general education classroom. Adding 6.67 percent who were in separate special-education schools, that’s 70.36 percent (of students with ID) that spent most of their day in a segregated classroom. Though the ID population is small, that's 28,961 kids.
In the same year, 4.93 percent of CWD in the Multiple Disabilities (MD) eligibility category in California spent 80 percent of their day or more in a regular classroom. 7.66 percent were partially included, spending 79 to 40 percent of their day in a regular classroom, and 64.32 percent spent 40 percent or less (and less can be zero - no time) in that classroom. Adding 13.06 percent who were in a separate school, that’s 77.38 percent that spent most of their day in a segregated classroom only with children with disabilities. 4,871 more kids.
Children with autism fare better. 35.66 percent are in regular classrooms for 80% of the day but still 42.6 percent are educated in separate classrooms for at least 60 percent of the day, and 4.7 percent are in segregated schools with no access to children with no disability. Due to the far greater number of children identified in their IEP with autism, that is 56,204 children excluded from general education classrooms.
Two measurable goals to hold the state accountable
These disturbing statistics drive our mission here at Include CA. There are two crucial and measurable goals by which we can hold the state education system accountable for increasing access to inclusive education:
Goal 2: Increase the percentage of Californian children with intellectual and multiple disabilities in general education for more than 40 percent of their school day, ie. to increase #A and decrease (#B+#C) for ID & MD eligibility categories.
The State Board of Education sets annual targets for the LRE figures for all IEPs. For 2021-2022 the target was
5a: LRE Rate: In Regular Class more than 80% ≥60%
5b: LRE Rate: In Regular Class less than 40% <18%
5c: LRE Rate: Separate Schools <3.2%
So from the California Department of Education's point of view, these 2021-2022 LRE numbers met the target on two measures, only failing on 5b.
In November 2021 The CDE reviewed all the annual targets in the Special Education Annual Performance reports. For the LRE data (known as Indicator 5) they agreed that a more ambitious target for 5a (full inclusion) would encourage better placement and earlier interventions for students with disabilities. The new targets are more rigorous aiming for a 12 percent growth over six years. For students in segregated classrooms more than 60% of their day (5b), the CDE recommended a 1.5 percent per year decrease, while placements in segregated schools are expected to continue to decrease gradually at 0.2 percent per year.
Indicator 5 5a Target 5b Target 5c Target
2020 58% 19.5% 3.4%
2021 60% 18% 3.2%
2022 62% 16.5% 3.0%
2023 64% 15% 2.8%
2024 67% 13.5% 2.6%
2025 70% 12% 2.4%
There is no target for each eligibility category and obviously, the numbers of children with ID and MD are so low that California schools could meet the Indicator 5 targets in 2026 and barely make a dent in the data for children in those eligibility categories. There is no way for the public to track a school district's performance data for individual eligibility categories. even if the inclusion of kids with ID kept pace with 5a in 2025 we could still expect the 2025-26 LRE data to report only 9.95 percent of children with ID to be included for 80% of the day.
We can and we must do better.
Other states do. In Vermont, 54.69 percent of children with ID are included. Even if the current target rate of change applied to children in the ID eligibility category – to reach that level of inclusion in California will take at least 13 years – in which time an entire generation of children will have passed through our public schools, excluded from equal access to general education. Without even tracking it – even that slow pace of change is unlikely.
States that have high inclusion rates for students with ID and MD, like Vermont, often fully include over 80% of children with disabilities.
The California Department of Education is working towards its 70% target. Many school districts are way behind, and many do better than 70%. Use this great website to find your school district's annual performance report for 2021-22. If you would rather not leave an email address you can also download the reports here.
The California Department of Education (CDE) has made efforts to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. They have established System Improvement Leads (SILs) to enhance the capabilities of Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs), county offices of education and school districts. The CDE is also expanding the use of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) through the Orange County Department of Education’s Scale-Up MTSS Statewide (SUMS) initiative, believing that MTSS has the potential to bring about systematic change by integrating services and supports to identify and address the needs of all students quickly.
The System Improvement Leads and MTSS Initiative offer assistance to school districts and charter schools in implementing practices to enhance outcomes for students with disabilities. Supporting Inclusive Practices (SIP) is another state initiative, offering technical support to grantees selected by the California Department of Education.
However, many districts are not fully utilizing this support. Despite the recognition of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) data on the CA Dashboard, districts may lack the motivation to meet the state-set targets. Parents need to advocate locally to make it something their school district cares about. Bringing attention to both the district's performance and the available support could serve as a gentle nudge in the right direction.
Find more information:
We used data downloaded from the US Department of Education IDEA Section 618 Data Products: Static Tables: Part B Child Count and Educational Environments
You can find local data in the new Annual Performance Report Dashboard.
Information on System Improvement Leads support for Districts can be found here.