KU researchers land grant to study factors leading to special education placement, outcomes for students

KU News Headlines LAWRENCE — Every year, 6 million American children with disabilities are placed in a special education class or receive specialized services. Yet, there is very little data on what factors lead to such placements and what the students’ educational outcomes are. Researchers at the University of Kansas have landed a grant to determine those factors as well as the social and academic outcomes for students with significant cognitive disabilities.

The Institute for Education Sciences provided a three-year, $1.4 million grant for KU researchers and partners to study student, classroom and school/district-level factors that lead to special education placement. With that data and information on outcomes for the students, they will share information on effective interventions with schools nationally as well as inform policy about special education decisions. Jennifer Kurth, associate professor of special education and researcher with KU’s Life Span Institute, is principal investigator for the grant.

“We’re trying to understand the outcomes for students with significant cognitive disabilities in educational areas such as reading, writing, math, and in social outcomes such as behavior, social skills and communication skills,” Kurth said. “We’ll work with partners across the country to gather data. The decision to place these students is made 6 million times a year. When you think about it that way, it shows it’s a good idea to take a look at what the impacts of these placements are.”

Previous studies have all been small-scale in nature. KU researchers have already partnered with educators and schools in North Carolina, Utah, Wyoming, Oregon, New Mexico and Colorado, and they will add more throughout the project. Students with significant cognitive disabilities have Individual Education Plans, known as IEPs, that lead to interventions such as placement in a segregated special education classroom, individualized instruction and programs to improve communication or behavior. Research has shown these students, the 1 percent with the most significant …

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