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Research on Inclusive Education

You may have heard that there is over 40 years of research on the benefits of inclusive education. Our goal is to make sure that research more accessible to parents (and educators). In many cases, research papers are published behind paywalls because that's what makes research journals economically viable. Where we cannot post a link to a public access paper, we would like to write a summary. This is an ongoing project and more resources will be added. If you would like to be a part of this project please contact us at info@include-ca.orgPrint-friendly version.


Research Centers & Organizations

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Benefits of Inclusion

Gee, K., Gonzalez, M., & Cooper, C. (2020).

Outcomes of Inclusive Versus Separate Placements: A Matched Pairs Comparison Study.

Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities,

45(4), 223–240.

The study matched 15 pairs of students, in the same school district, with like abilities and disabilities entering school in which one was fully included and the other taught in a segregated class or school. By observing the kids at intervals through their day they compared engagement and outcomes, including progress on IEP goals.
Significant funding was the low levels of engagement in segregated classrooms. The higher levels of progress for students in general education settings was significant. 

Hehir, T., Grindal, T., Freeman, B., Lamoreau, R., Borquaye, Y., & Burke, S. (2016).

A Summary of the Research Evidence on Inclusive Education [

Available Online.

A very thorough and compreshensive summary of the research on inclusion.

Taylor, J. P., Rooney-Kron, M., Whittenburg, H. N., Thoma, C. A., Avellone, L., & Seward, H. (2020). Inclusion of Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Postsecondary Outcomes: A Systematic Literature Review. Inclusion, 3 1 December; 8 (4) 303–319.

This study reviewed research aricles between 1997-2018 and found articles reported positive associations between inclusive education and later employment and post-secondary education.

Baer, R. M., Daviso, A. W., Flexer, R. W., McMahan Queen, R., & Meindl, R. S. (2011). 

Students With Intellectual Disabilities: Predictors of Transition Outcomes. 

Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 34(3), 132–141. 


This study interviewed 409 students with ID or MD from 177 school districts 1 year after exiting school. They were looking to see if being in inclusive academic classes could make the students more likely to go to post-secondary education or if work-study or career and vocational training could make it more likely to be in employment. Inclusion was a significant predictor of postsecondary education, but neither career and technical education or work-study programs were predictors of post-school employment. Only 21% of the sample was included and students with ID were more likely to be in life skills classes.

Jackson, L., Agran, M., Lansey, K. R., Baker, D., Matthews, S., Fitzpatrick, H., Jameson, M., Ryndak, D., Burnette, K., & Taub, D. (2022).

Examination of Contextual Variables Across and Within Different Types of Placement for Elementary Students With Complex Support Needs. 


Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 47(4), 191–208. 

The article was part of a larger study on inclusive education for students with complex needs across several universities, published in late 2022. They found many indicators here to suggest the superiority of inclusive placements in terms of outcomes. One factor that may surprise many people is that school districts in the study with more inclusive placements spent considerably less money on special education.

Cole, S. M., Murphy, H. R., Frisby, M. B., Grossi, T. A., & Bolte, H. R. (2021).

The Relationship of Special Education Placement and Student Academic Outcomes.   Available Online

The Journal of Special Education, 54(4), 217–227. 

The study followed students with disabilities divided into two groups, high inclusion, and low inclusion (students whose inclusion did not reach 80% at any time during the study. The researchers tracked their scores in the Indiana State Test of Educational Progress (ISTEP+ English/Language Arts and math) from 4th grade in 2014 through 8th grade in 2018. 96% of their results showed that inclusive settings had more favorable results.

Note that the study excluded students with SLI but included students with ED, Autism, SLD and mild cognitive disabilities. By using state testing to measure outcomes, the study excluded students with the most significant cognitive disabilities that take an alternative test.

"(D)istricts’ annual budgets and per special education student expenditure increased incrementally as districts offered more restrictive placements. Districts that offered Placement D had an average annual budget of 47.1 thousand more dollars compared to districts that offered Placement A. Districts that offered Placement D paid 8.2 thousand more dollars per student who received special education services compared to districts that offered Placement A. Furthermore, districts that offered Placement D had an average special education budget of 15.2 thousand more dollars compared to districts that offered Placement A."

Lewis Jackson, et al

The How of Inclusion

Shogren, K. A., McCart, A. B., Lyon, K. J., & Sailor, W. S. (2015).

All Means All: Building Knowledge for Inclusive Schoolwide Transformation. 

Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities,

40(3), 173–191.

SWIFT Center conducted in-depth analyses of six schools identified as national leaders in inclusion, to inform implementation of inclusive schoolwide reform. The study looks at classroom practices, teacher & administrators, family & community, and supports for students with the most significant needs.

The study found that the inclusive schools were focused on the where of inclusion (how to change prevailing segregated models) or the how of inclusion, how students with disabilities can be effectively taught in inclusive settings (co-teaching, differentiated instruction, MTSS, and family–professional partnerships), and not so much on the what (how students can access challenging general education curricular content).
Findings suggest areas of for future research and technical assistance to schools engaging in schoolwide
inclusive transformation: (a) building a positive school culture; (b) addressing the where, how, and what of inclusion; and (c) leadership and sustainability.


Sailor, W. S., & McCart, A. B. (2014).

Stars in Alignment.

Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities. 39(1), 55–64.

Sailor & MCCartfter flip the narrative by defining inclusion through structures and interventions, not student characteristics. They review several emerging best practices, such as UDL, MTSS, and Family & Community partnerships, that can promote system change to advance inclusive education for all students.

“Most models of inclusion have been driven almost entirely by special education with little or no design involvement from general education. We argue here that it is time for a different approach: a schoolwide approach to inclusive education, driven by MTSS, guided by design teams of both general and special educators, utilizing universal design for learning (UDL) principles, and implemented in a manner resulting in demonstrable gains for all students.”

Barriers to Inclusion

Agran, M., Jackson, L., Kurth, J. A., Ryndak, D., Burnette, K., Jameson, M., Zagona, A., Fitzpatrick, H., Wehmeyer, M., (2019).


Why Aren't Students with Severe Disabilities Being Placed in General Education Classrooms: Examining the Relations among Classroom Placement, Learner Outcomes, and Other Factors? ONLINE


Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 1–10.

  • Examines perspectives on placement as a factor in student learning, and whether it matters to student outcomes

  • Identifies six determinants of placement that have little to
    do with the individual educational needs of students

(a) perceptions of competence and resulting placement policies,

(b) economic and demographic stratification,

(c) biases,

(d) teacher preparation and experience,

(e) lack of resources and capacity, and

(f) absence of knowledge of current research.
Promising Federal intiatives includes SWIFT & TIES Center, and MTSS

How of Inclusion
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