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Predictors of Separate School Placement for Students with Moderate and Severe Disabilities

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posted on 01.12.2019, 00:00 authored by Samantha Alexandra Walte
Though research has consistently supported more inclusive educational settings for all students, many children with complex and intensive needs continue to attend separate schools. This dissertation examines this issue through historical, systematic, and empirical lenses to determine how and why individualized education program teams decide to place students with moderate and severe disabilities in separate school buildings. The first chapter of this compendium provides conceptual and historical background on the issue of student educational environment and the legal and traditional biases that may underlie placement decisions. Highlighting various aspects of the language of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and critically analyzing the dynamics of power and bias, this piece sets the stage for a systematic review of the literature in the second chapter. This review identified 20 research studies that investigated variables such as disability label and socioeconomic status and their relationship to the educational environments of students with moderate and severe disabilities. The original research study presented in the third chapter delves further into the processes that perpetuate segregated placements for this group. The factors that influence teachers’ opinions and students’ ultimate placement in separate schools were examined using a convergent mixed methods design. After analyzing nationwide data using logistic regression to identify the demographic variables that significantly predict placement (i.e., age and urbanicity), 17 teachers in urban schools were interviewed and asked to complete a survey of their students’ adaptive skills (i.e., Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales). Each teacher self-identified as having considered separate school placement for at least one student within the past school year and was asked to describe their experience. Four major themes emerged from their responses through qualitative coding, including students not making measurable progress, particular red flags like mental health diagnoses and hospitalization, limitations and expectations of neighborhood schools, and limited acceptance and inclusion with general education peers at their neighborhood schools. The findings from the research study described in the third chapter directly informed the suggestions for practice and future research described in the fourth and fifth chapters of this compilation.



Cushing, Lisa S


Cushing, Lisa S


Special Education

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level


Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Maggin, Daniel M Mayrowetz, David Yovanoff, Paul Brock, Matthew E

Submitted date

December 2019

Thesis type




Issue date


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