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Standardized Writing Opportunities: A Case Study of Writing Instruction in Inclusive Classrooms


by Laura E. Bray, Alicia A. Mrachko & Christopher J. Lemons — 2014

Background/Context: For an increasing percentage of students with disabilities, writing instruction is taking place in general education classrooms. The practice of instructing students with disabilities in general education classrooms is commonly referred to as inclusion. For elementary and middle school English teachers, inclusion requires that they teach students with varying instructional needs how to write. While numerous studies have examined writing instruction and interventions for students with disabilities, little research has closely examined the phenomenon and implications of providing writing instruction in inclusive classrooms.

Focus of Study: In this study, we examined the writing opportunities provided to students in four eighth-grade English classrooms at a full inclusion middle school.

Research Design: We employed a qualitative case study design to collect multiple sources of data, including writing tasks, grading requirements, prewriting activities, lesson plans, writing task information sheets, and interviews with teachers. Our analysis sought to triangulate findings from these multiple data sources to examine the types and quality of writing instruction provided in these inclusive English classrooms, along with the factors that influenced this instruction.

Findings: The findings from this study indicate the writing opportunities provided to students were of poor quality and were influenced by state standards and high-stakes accountability assessments. Furthermore, students with disabilities were provided with nearly the same writing opportunities as their nondisabled peers, with little differentiation, modification, or accommodation. The study also exposed organizational features and accountability policy pressures that promoted the instructional practice of standardization.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Our findings suggest that including students with disabilities into a general education English classroom does not necessarily lead to high-quality writing opportunities for those students. Current accountability policy emphasizes the standardization of learning goals and outcomes, with little focus on the actual types and quality of instruction provided to students. We argue that for students with disabilities, focusing solely on teaching grade-level learning standards and improving high-stakes accountability assessments is not the solution for improving instructional opportunities and outcomes. Our findings also revealed that, under certain conditions, standardization of instruction is a potential unintended consequence of inclusive education.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 6, 2014, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17459, Date Accessed: 8/21/2017 1:55:14 PM

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About the Author
  • Laura Bray
    University of Pittsburgh
    E-mail Author
    LAURA E. BRAY is an advanced doctoral student in the Learning Sciences and Policy program at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research examines the effects of educational policy, organizational features, and instructional practices on the learning opportunities and academic outcomes of students, with a particular focus on students with disabilities. Her current research examines the intersection between high-stakes accountability policy pressure and inclusive education. She recently co-authored an article in Education Policy Analysis Archives entitled, “Crafting Coherence from Complex Policy Messages: Educators’ Perceptions of Special Education and Standards-Based Accountability Policies.”
  • Alicia Mrachko
    University of Pittsburgh
    E-mail Author
    ALICIA A. MRACHKO is an advanced doctoral student in early intervention in the Department of Instruction & Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. She is a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) and her research interests include children with autism and children with intellectual disabilities in inclusive settings. Her current research examines teacher behavior in inclusive elementary classrooms. She recently coauthored an article in Exceptional Children titled “Effectiveness of Decoding and Phonological Awareness Interventions for Children with Down Syndrome.”
  • Christopher Lemons
    Vanderbilt University
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTOPHER J. LEMONS is an assistant professor of special education at the Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. His research interests include literacy intervention and related assessment for students with disabilities. His research has been published in Exceptional Children, Reading Research Quarterly, and other peer-reviewed journals.
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