NYU Professor's Study Asks if Students with Disabilities Feel Included

By Sarah Jackson on January 23, 2018

A new study led by NYU professor Leanna Stiefel examined the extent to which students with disabilities in New York City middle schools feel included within their school environments.

Stiefel co-authored the research with fellow NYU Wagner professor Menbere Shiferaw, Syracuse University professor Amy Ellen Schwartz and University of California, Santa Barbara, professor Michael Gottfried. The study was conducted using longitudinal administrative data, as well as survey responses, on approximately 249,000 of the city’s middle school students, according to a university news release.

via Pixabay.com

“Our results suggest that SWDs [students with disabilities] in general feel only modestly less included with their classmates but are somewhat more likely to report favorable feelings with regard to teachers, especially feeling known,” the study finds.

Stiefel is careful to distinguish between the inclusive measures schools can implement and the level of inclusion students with disabilities report feeling at school.

“Including students with disabilities in the general education curriculum, to the extent appropriate, is a national and local policy emphasis, but to date, no one asked how they feel about it,” Stiefel said. “How students feel about school can have a big impact on their absenteeism rates and their performance, as well as their socio-emotional well-being.”

Carla Montoya, the vice principal of the sixth and seventh grades at East Side Community School in Manhattan, oversees the school’s program for special education students and says her school makes every effort to be inclusive of students with disabilities.

“It’s the same curriculum; it’s just accommodated to meet their needs,” Montoya said. “We try to scaffold and lay things out in a way that’s more tangible. It’s all inclusive for everyone.”

The grades 6-12 preparatory school had nearly six times as many students with disabilities apply as there were available spots in the previous school year, although it is a common trend among the city’s middle schools for applicants to far outnumber accepted students, according to data from the Middle School Directory released by the New York City Department of Education.

Montoya says that, despite the tight budget that often keeps schools from accepting more students with disabilities, the school employs 10 paraprofessionals who work alongside teachers to offer additional support to these students in the classroom.

Image by Katielee321 via Wikimedia Commons

Jacqueline Abrams, a special education teacher at The Shirley Tanyhill School, estimates that approximately 30 percent of the students at the Brooklyn school have disabilities. She says that psychological evaluations determine whether students with disabilities are placed in self-contained classrooms—those from which general education students are exempt—or inclusive classrooms.

Abrams adds that the grade K-8 school offers many resources, including approximately 20 paraprofessionals and 23 special education teachers, to better integrate students with disabilities into a general education learning environment and social setting.

“There are support staff available,” Abrams said. “[We have] social services, counseling, academic intervention, paraprofessionals.”

Stiefel thinks taking such measures is crucial to making students with disabilities feel welcome at school.

“I think they are moving in the right direction for sure,” Stiefel said. “Over the past years, they are educating higher percents of students in inclusive schools—ones that educate both students with disabilities and general education students—and within those schools, in inclusive services.”

Hi there! My name is Sarah, and I'm majoring in Journalism and English at NYU. In my spare time, I like to play the violin, explore the city, and discover more indie rock bands.

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