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Integrated classroom versus resource model: academic viability and effectiveness.

Integrated Classroom Versus Resource Model: Academic Viability and Effectiveness

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (P.L. 94-142) mandates that all handicapped children be educated in the least restrictive environment to the maximum extent possible. Segregation in public schools is illegal in this country, unless a student is handicapped and requires a more restrictive placement. However, for the mildly handicapped elementary school population, the present state of practice of "least restrictive environment" has become synonymous with partially segregated instruction through the use of resource room programs (Meyen, 1982). Special educators voice two concerns about the present state of the practice: the lack of data affirming the resource model's efficacy, and the cost-effectiveness of the model.


The first concern focuses on the effectiveness of resource room programs. The bulk of the research using academic achievement as a dependent measure involves comparisons of full-time special class placement with either full-time regular class placement or resource room models (Madden & Slavin, 1983). Two studies which have compared resource room programming with regular class placement are of interest here. Smith and Kennedy (1967) randomly assigned educable mentally retarded students to receive either daily part-time instruction in a self-contained classoom or full-time regular class placement. They found no significant differences in academic achievement between the groups. However, Glavin, Quay, Annesley, and Werry (1971) randomly assigned behaviorally disordered students to either a resource program or regular class placement. The resource students gained significantly in reading and math achievement. Recent research using an integrated approach has shown favorable academic and social effects when compared with resource room students (Wang & Birch, 1984a, 1984b).


Budget considerations, the second concern, directly influence the number of students referred for special education services (Roddy, 1984). When money is available, more students are classified as needing special education services. During the last decade, there has been unprecedented growth in the number of students identified as handicapped (Gerber, 1984). Federal and state officials are reacting to the excessive growth with tighter eligibility guidelines as noted by Greenberg (1984). No one is willing to accept the increased costs associated with runaway increases in special education enrollment. Policy makers are loking for a new approach that offers an alternative to expensive pullout programs. Madeleine Will (1986) stated that special education programs "must be allowed to establish a partnership with regular education to cooperatively assess the educational needs of students with learning problems and to cooperatively develop effective educational strategies for meeting those needs" (p. 415).

Because of these concerns, some educators are advocating a redefinition of special education services and an investigation into alternative service delivery methods. In particular, several are calling for a return of much of the responsibility for education of the mildly handicapped to regular educators. Sontag (1982) suggested making use of inclusion concepts within the regular education construct, and Lilly (1982a) re-emphasized the worth of regular education as valuable for all children. In fact, Lilly (1982b) stated, "some of the most exciting current work in special education has to do with what I have called 'rediscovery of the regular curriculum'" (p.11). And, on the basis of their investigation of identification procedures, Edgar and Hayden (1982) also advocated placing the major responsibilities for educating the mildly handicapped with regular education. However, it seems important to safeguard the legal protections, such as Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), and the individualized instruction inherent in special education. Therefore, providing special education in a regular education setting would seem to be an attractive option.


To offer an alternative to present special education practice, the University of Washington and the Issaquah, Washington, School District developed a service delivery model for educating mildly handicapped children in integrated classrooms administered jointly by regular and special education personnel. This effort is the ongoing result of a 16-year collaboration between the district and the university which has generated a number of products and research findings (Affleck, Lehning, & Brow, 1973; Affleck & Lowenbraun, 1981; Affleck, Lowenbraun, & Archer, 1980). The university and the school district have moved toward developing systems that increasingly integrate handicapped students with their nonhandicapped peers. The Integrated Classroom Model (ICM) is one system currently being developed. It is unique in that it shapes regular education to meet the needs of special education students and expands special education to meet the needs of regular education students. The program began in 1980, when one teacher implemented the idea in a first-grade classroom. During the 3 years included in this study, the program expanded to include 13 classrooms in 3 buildings, at grade levels 1 through 6.


The ICM is designed to educate mildly handicapped children in the same classrooms with regular education children for the entire school day. Regular school district curriculum and materials are used, and the teachers have all had successful prior experience either in special education or regular education settings. Each integrated classroom is also assigned a half-time aide.

Integrated classrooms are composed of approximately one third mildly handicapped students, and two thirds average to above average regular education students. Mildly handicapped students include those who meet state eligibility criteria for learning disabled, mildly mentally retarded, and seriously behaviorally disabled. All eligible students are assigned to the integrated classroom at the appropriate grade level in the building they would normally attend. The target size for a classroom is 24 students, 8 of whom are mildly handicapped. The regular education students are assigned to the integrated classrooms on the same basis as all other class assignments (Issaquah School District, 1986).

Instructional Staff

The ICM teachers are selected jointly by the building principals and special education administrators. Teachers are either former special education self-contained and resource teachers or former regular education teachers who received further personnel preparation to fulfill Washington State requirements for teaching special education. Qualifications for integrated classroom teachers include successful teaching experience, ability to individualize and adapt curriculum and behavior management techniques, effective communication and classroom management skills, and flexibility.

Each integrated classroom is assigned from 1-1/2 to 3 hours of aide time per day. Aides carry out programs designed by the teachers, collect data on student performance, tutor students on a one-to-one and small-group basis, and monitor classroom activities. Classrooms with 4 to 8 handicapped students are assigned 3.0 hours of aide time per day; classrooms with 1 to 3 handicapped students are assigned 1.5 hours. For each additional special education student over 8, an additional half hour of aide time is added. Attempts are made to assign one aide to each ICM teacher so an optimum instructional schedule can be planned.

Best Practices

Integrated classrooms are highly structured, with clear behavioral and academic expectations. Teachers use a variety of teaching methods to meet student needs and abilities indicated by the goals specified in the student IEPs. These methods include direct instruction of new skills presented to whole or small groups followed by guided practice until a child is ready to work independently. The seatwork may be modified to accomodate the various skill levels of the students. Cooperative learning is often used for practice of skills previously introduced by the teacher (Johnson & Johnson, 1978). For higher performing students, the teacher may provide opportunities for independent study.

The district-adopted curriculum and materials are used in the integrated classrooms and are modified to meet the needs of the students. The goals and objectives specified in the curriculum provide guidance to the teachers in determining the concepts and content that receive instructional emphasis. The district curricula are supplemented by highly structured materials when needed, such as Reading Mastery (Engelmann & Bruner, 1983) and/or Corrective Reading (Engelmann, Becker, Hanner, & Johnson, 1978).

In 1983, the ICM teachers identified four Best Practices that they felt were essential to the success of the integrated classroom:

1. Complete inclusion of the special education students into the classroom. They were not to be singled out from the group.

2. The majority of teacher time spent on active instruction.

3. At least a 2:1 ratio of positive to negative comments from the teacher.

4. Adaptation of material by the teachers for individual instruction.

To validate the presence of these factors in the integrated classrooms, five education professionals were asked to observe two integrated classrooms and two regular classrooms. The observations were focused around teacher-teacher and teacher-student interaction; style of instruction; evidence of individualized instruction; and evidence of a behavior management system. A synthesis of the observations showed that in the integrated classrooms, there were five positive and differentiating areas that were continuously reported. These were (a) clear directions/expectations; (b) high reinforcement levels; (c) grouping for instruction; (d) direct, sequential instruction; and (e) individual attention.

As a further validity check, a series of observations was scheduled. The series consisted of two observations per year, in January and April, in both integrated and regular classrooms. The results of these observations continued to substantiate the presence of the five positive areas of instruction in the integrated classroom to a greater extent than in regular classrooms. During the last 3 years a number of studies of the ICM have been conducted by the University of Washington, three of which are reported in this article. Results of the Best Practice Study will be discussed in more detail in a future publication.




The nature of the 3-year study made it impossible to randomly select buildings to house integrated classrooms, students to be served in integrated classrooms, or teachers to teach in the program. In each building in which the ICM was implemented at each grade level, a limited number of students met eligibility qualifications as mildly mentally retarded, seriously behavior disordered, or learning disabled. All students so identified were assigned to the integrated classrooms; however, only those identified as learning disabled were included in this study because there were insufficient numbers of students with other mild handicaps.

A contrast group was composed of special education students in the same district who were enrolled in a resource room program. They were housed in one school building that did not have integrated classrooms. In the resource room model, students were pulled out from a regular classroom from 30 to 150 minutes daily for instruction in basic skill areas (reading, language arts, and/or mathematics). The same instructional materials and methods for basic skill instruction are used in the resource room model as in the integrated classroom model. Students were assigned to either the integrated or resource program according to the school building catchment areas they resided in. Individual characteristics, such as academic achievement, social behavior, or handicapping condition did not affect their program assignments. All of the students in both groups were Caucasian, and both groups had equal socioeconomic status as determined by the district's reduced school lunch data. Table 1 gives a detailed breakdown on the subjects for the 3-year study.

The teachers of both the ICM and resource room model had similar experience and background. Similar specialized materials and methods were used in both models. Teachers from both models participated in staff development activities offered to all special education teachers during the 3 years of the study.


The reading, math, and language subtests of the Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-Educational Battery (Woodcock & Johnson, 1977) were administered individually to the subjects and the contrast group in October and May each year by four professionals who were trained to use the instrument. The Battery is widely used, standardized instrument which yields age scores, grade scores, and percentile scores for each of the three subtests. Each test session was approximately a half-hour in length.

Design and Analysis

A nonequivalent control group design (Campbell & Stanley, 1966) was used. Age percentile scores of the three subtests were converted to normal curve equivalent (NCE) scores to allow a more appropriate statistical analysis. An analysis of covariance was applied, using the pretest scores as the covariate on the posttest scores. Also, a trait-treatment-interactional analysis (Keogh, 1984) was used to determine further effects of treatment. The number of gain (or loss) scores was counted, then percentages were calculated to determine the number of children making gains (and losses) in the integrated classroom as contrasted with those in the resource setting.


Table 2 shows the original and adjusted means for the integrated and resource groups for the 3 years. Tables 3 through 5 show the results of the ANCOVAs in the areas of reading, math, and language. There were no significant differences between groups during all 3 years in either reading or language. There was one significant difference in math during Year 1, in which the adjusted mean for the integrated students was significantly higher than that for the resource students.

In addition, Table 6 shows the mean grade score equivalents for the areas of reading, math, and language for Year 3. Both groups are within grade level at posttest in reading and math, and both groups are scoring somewhat lower in language.

Table 7 shows the results of the Trait Treatment Analysis for the 3 years. The table shows that there are more gains than losses in each subject in each program by at least 2:1, with one exception. In Year 1, the students in the resource room had more losses than gains in math. Results also suggest that math shows the most variable gains/losses in both programs. Finally, the results suggest virtually no difference in gains/losses between the two programs.



Subjects for this study were 39 regular education students in grades 3 and 4 from one building, and grade 5 from another building. These students were placed in the ICM during Year 1 of the study, and in a regular classroom the following year. A contrast group was randomly selected from each corresponding grade level at the same building. Table 8 gives a detailed description of these groups.

The California Achievement Test Battery was group-administered in the fall of Year 1 (pretest) and Year 2 (posttest). The total battery percentile scores were converted to NCE scores, and an analysis of variance was used on the pre, post, and gain scores. Table 9 shows the results of the analysts, which indicate no significant differences between the two groups.


An analysis was made of the cost of staffing an elementary school in the Issaquah, Washington, School District to serve students in special and regular education under a resource room model and an integrated classroom model. This analysis was based on "ideal" conditions, with regular and special education students spread equally across grades 1 through 5.

In the Issaquah, Washington School District an ICM teacher is funded 25% by special education and 75% by regular education. A school with 450 students (grades 1-5 with 8 mildly handicapped students per grade) with an integrated model uses the equivalent of 1.25 full-time teachers (FTE) (5 classrooms X .25) funded by special education at a cost of $41,250. With a resource room model, 2.0 resource teachers are required with a special education cost of $66,000.

Special education funding for aides increases with the change to the ICM from the resource model. The resource rooms used 7 hours per day of aide time at a cost of $9,765. In the ICM classrooms, with 5 teachers each receiving 3 hours of aide time daily, the cost was $20,925. When combining the costs for special education teacher FTE and aide service, the savings for special education in an ICM when compared to a resource model are $13,590.

There are savings in regular education also. Using the same school figures noted above, in a school with a resource model, 15 regular classroom teachers are needed to serve the 450 students, at a cost of $495,000. The same school, when converted to an ICM, uses 5 teachers partially funded by special education. Therefore, regular education funds only 13.75 FTE, at a cost of $453,750, resulting in a savings of $41,250. The combined cost savings for regular and special education under the ICM is therefore $54,840.


The results of Study 1 support the integrated classroom model as a viable alternative service delivery model for students with learning disabilities, as the results are virtually indistinguishable from those of the resource room program. Any significant differences found supported the integrated model; however, they were not in sufficient number to support the ICM as a more favorable program. Similarly, Study 2 supports the ICM as an effective program for regular education students, as again there were no distinguishable differences in achievement between those students in an ICM classroom and those in a classroom with no handicapped peers.

Viable Alternative

To consider the ICM as a viable alternative service delivery model the concerns voiced at the beginning of this article over efficacy and cost-effectiveness are addressed here.

Efficacy. The research results indicate that the model is at least as effective academically as the resource room in the Issaquah District, and provides services in a less restrictive environment. By the nature of its design, it also automatically alleviates some of the longstanding concerns surrounding the resource room program, including the possible stigma caused by a child being pulled out, scheduling frustrations, and coordination of different curricula used in the two settings.

In addition, the model can be considered to be a practical application of the current thinking of those special educators who are calling for greater involvement of both disciplines, regular and special education, in the education of all children. The integrated classroom model is co-funded by both special and regular education budgets. It can be effectively taught by teachers with success in either background. The model makes use of regular curriculum with added modifications from special education as necessary, and it eliminates the need for and the resulting stigma of the pullout model. Special education students in the ICM make comparable gains to their peers in resource rooms, and regular education students function similarly, regardless of whether they are in the ICM or a regular classroom.

Cost-effectiveness. The Issaquah School District has realized cost savings in schools that have fully converted from resource programs to an ICM, as shown in Study 3. The cost savings have been associated with changes in staffing patterns as regular and special education programs interface. These figures may vary across school districts based on current student/teacher ratio patterns for resource and regular classrooms, and decisions on how to split the funding for an ICM teacher.

There may be additional costs related to staff development when converting to an ICM model. In Issaquah, no additional training was required for resource room teachers who became ICM teachers. But staff development was provided during Year 1 of the study to regular classroom teachers who were chosen for the ICM and who had not met the requirements for special education certification. The costs of the course-work offered in-district and at nearby universities were shared by the teachers, district, and through a P.L. 94-142 staff development grant awarded through the state special education office.

Also, during this one transition year, a half-time consultant assisted the new ICM teachers. There have not been major differences in the costs of supplies and materials in an ICM or resource model. Because the resource room had specialized materials for students of all grade levels, the materials were dispersed to the appropriate ICM grade levels. There have been other indirect cost savings with the ICM model due to the fact that an additional one or two rooms have not been needed as resource rooms.

Limitations of the Study

The school district has had a long history of integrative efforts preceding the ICM, and was predisposed to the ideas and philosophy of the ICM before its adoption. We cannot, at this time, generalize these findings to urban, rural, or culturally diverse school settings. However, the ICM appears to be a viable model for students with learning disabilities in middle- to upper-middle-class suburban school districts. During the 3 years of data collection, the district also made available other service delivery options, including resource room and self-contained classes. The results of this research indicate that the ICM can take its place as an effective and efficient alternative model in such districts; they do not indicate that the ICM can or should be the only alternative available to mildly handicapped students.


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Affleck, J. Q., Lowenbraun, S., & Archer, A. (1980). Teaching the mildly handicapped in the regular classroom. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill.

Campbell, D. T., & Stanley, J. C. (1966). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for research. Chicago: Rand McNally.

Edgar, E. E., & Hayden, A. H. (1982). Who are the children special education should serve and how many children are there? Unpublished manuscript, University of Washington, Seattle.

Engelmann, S., Becker, W. C., Hanner, S., & Johnson, G. (1978). Corrective reading. Chicago: SRA.

Engelmann, S., & Bruner, E. C. (1983). Reading mastery. Chicago: SRA.

Gerber, M. M. (1984). The Department of Education's Sixth Annual Report to Congress on PL 94-142: Is Congress getting the full story? Exceptional Children, 51(3), 209-224.

Glavin, J., Quay, H., Annesley, F., & Werry, J. (1971). An experimental resource room for behavior problem children. Exceptional Children, 38, 131-138.

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Keogh, B. K. (Ed.) (1984). Advances in special education: Documenting program impact (Vol. 4). Greenwich, CT: J.A.I. Press.

Lilly, M. S. (1982a). Divestiture in special education: A personal point of view. Paper presented to the President's Roundtable, Council for Exceptional Children International Convention, Houston, TX.

Lilly, M. S. (1982b). The education of mildly handicapped children and implication for teacher education. In M. C. Reynolds (Ed.), The future of mainstreaming: Next steps in teacher education (pp. 52-64). Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

Madden, N. A., & Slavin, R. E. (1983). Mainstreaming students with mild handicaps: Academic and social outcomes. Review of Education Research, 53, 519-569.

Meyen, E. L. (Ed.). (1982). Exceptional children in today's schools: An alternative resource book. Denver: Love Publishing.

Roddy, E. A. (1984). When are resource rooms going to share in the declining enrollment trend? Another look at mainstreaming. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 16(1), 26-27.

Smith, H. W., & Kennedy, W. (1967). Effects of three educational programs on mentally retarded children. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 24, 174.

Sontag, E. (1982). Perspectives on the status and future of special education and regular education. In M. C. Reynolds (Ed.), The future of mainstreaming: Next steps in teacher education (pp. 65-73). Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

Wang, M. C., & Birch, J. W. (1984a). Effective special education in regular classes. Exceptional Children, 50, 391-398.

Wang, M. C., & Birch, J. W. (1984b). Comparison of a full-time mainstreaming program and a resource room approach. Exceptional Children, 51, 33-40.

Will, M. C. (1986). Educating children with learning problems: A shared responsibility. Exceptional Children, 52, 411-415.

Woodcock, R. W., & Johnson, M. B. (1977). Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-Educational Battery. Hingham, MA: Teaching Resources.

JAMES Q. AFFLECK is Principal Investigator, and Professor of Education, Area of Special Education, Experimental Education Unit WJ-10, University of Washington, Seattle. SALLY MADGE is Project Director, Experimental Education Unit WJ-10, University of Washington, Seattle. ABBY ADAMS is Director of Special Services, Issaquah School District, Washington. SHEILA LOWENBRAUN is Professor of Education, Area of Special Education, University of Washington, Seattle.
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Title Annotation:includes bibliography; comparisons
Author:Affleck, James Q.; Madge, Sally; Adams, Abby; Lowenbraun, Sheila
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Jan 1, 1988
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