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Policy in Practice: Examining Variability and Predictors of Educational Placement for Students with Autism, Intellectual Disabilities, and Specific Learning Disabilities in an Urban District


Limited research has been conducted that examines trends, predictors, and decision-making processes regarding educational placement practices for students receiving special education services in American schools. Of the literature available, studies suggest that students with autism and intellectual disabilities are included in general education settings at some of the lowest rates compared to students with other eligibility labels. In contrast, students with specific learning disabilities are educated in general education settings at the highest rates. Moreover, urban regions and regions with higher percentages of Black and Latinx students have significantly lower general education placements rates. The present study had two aims: (1) to examine the variability in educational placements across three eligibility categories (autism, intellectual disability, and specific learning disability) and (2) to determine the extent to which student level and district and neighborhood-level factors are associated with educational placement.

Administrative data from the 2016-2017 school year were utilized to conduct the analyses. Results indicated that students with learning disabilities were included to a greater degree than students with autism, and both were included more than students with intellectual disabilities. Students identified as Black, Latinx, English Language learners, and eligible for free and reduced meals were less likely to be included in general education classrooms. District region and neighborhood income were also factors associated with lower odds of being included in general education classrooms. These findings corroborate and extend earlier data suggesting that the system has not made appreciable improvements in the last ten years. Future studies need to delve into why these data are stable by examining the policy and local decision-making processes concerning segregation and inclusion for students with disabilities.

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