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The 1990s: More, But Slow, Progress. From Integration to Inclusion. From Placement to Outcome.

In 1970, only one in five students with disabilities was educated in American schools. In 1993, fewer than 7% of school-aged children with developmental disabilities were educated in general education classrooms. The struggle had shifted over the years from getting children with disabilities into public schools to supporting them to learn in the classrooms of neighborhood schools.

In 1997, IDEA was amended. It formalized a shift in thinking that was kick started by Madeleine Will back in 1986. In 1986, Ms. Will, and many others, observed that little had changed in the schools of the nation since 1974 and 1977 when P. L. 94-142 and P. L. 93-380 required integration into the least restrictive environment.

Many educators, parents, and lawmakers agreed that there were unresolved problems that warranted attention. Educational outcomes remained less for students with disabilities than for other students, often leaving them unprepared to graduate and subsequently transition to work. For example, according to information compiled by the Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS):

Woman and child interacting
Photo courtesy Ann Marsden
  • Many students with disabilities are still excluded from the curriculum and assessments used with their nondisabled peers, limiting their possibilities of performing to higher standards.
  • In the 1997–98 school year, only 25 percent of students ages 17 and older with disabilities graduated with a high school diploma. Graduation rates varied by state, ranging from 6.8 percent to 45.5 percent.
  • Twice as many children with disabilities drop out of school.
  • Dropouts rarely return to school, have difficulty finding jobs, and often end up in the criminal justice system.
Children interacting with an adult
Photo courtesy Ann Marsden