Anyone who cares for or knows a disabled child has likely wondered how to educate that person to lead a productive adult life. Is it best to educate the child in a conventional classroom, mixing disabled with non-disabled together? Should parents be more involved in a disabled child’s education? Depending on the severity of the disability, should the child be pushed to prepare for college or be tracked into a technical career? The questions go on and on. And now, nearly four decades after the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) granted access to public education for students with disabilities in the United States, we still have no idea what works.
That’s the conclusion of a large team of researchers from Colorado State University, Mathematica Policy Research, University of South Florida, University of Montana, and Concordia University, with support from the National Library of Education, in an August 2013 paper, “Improving Post-High School Outcomes for Transition-Age Students with Disabilities: An Evidence Review,” for the Institute of Education Sciences under the Department of Education. The team looked at 43 studies of interventions for disabled students and found that none of the studies were designed well. Many lacked control groups who did not get the treatment. Others, for example, tested their treatment only once and could not replicate the result again. Others lumped children with very different types of disabilities together and it was unclear which types of disabilities were responding to the treatment.
“Finally, perhaps because of pressures to keep costs low and turnaround of results quick, many researchers do not follow students beyond high school to ascertain whether secondary school interventions have the desired ultimate effects after the transition from high school,” the authors wrote.
The studies covered a wide range of disabilities, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; ataxia; cerebral palsy; deafness, visual impairment, Down syndrome; emotional or behavioral disability; epilepsy; intellectual disability; learning disability; physical disability; seizure disorder; sensory impairment; Tourette syndrome; and traumatic brain injury.
Desperate to give some guidance to policy makers, parents and educators, the authors highlighted some of the imperfect studies as guides for further research. They saw some potential in further study of these hypotheses:
* Participation in career and technical education may be important for promoting employment outcomes.
* Employment in at least one job before students with disabilities leave high school may be an integral part of transition support.
* Inclusive education settings may be a key dimension of transitioning to postsecondary education.
* Computer-based instruction and prompting, may help students with intellectual disabilities to live more independently by increasing their functional skills.