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How Effective Is Special Education? A Best-Evidence Synthesis

aThe Pennsylvania State University, USA
bSRI International, USA

Revitalizing Special Education

ISBN: 978-1-80117-495-4, eISBN: 978-1-80117-494-7

Publication date: 26 September 2022


We evaluated the best-available evidence for the effects of receiving business-as-usual or naturally delivered special education services in K-12 US schools. Our best-evidence synthesis of 44 empirical studies evaluated which outcome domains and disability types have been investigated and whether findings varied by the rigor of the study design and methods. Regression-based studies comparing students with educational disabilities (SWED) to students without disabilities (SWOD) yielded mostly negative associations of receiving special education with academic achievement, behavior, and long-term or other outcomes. In contrast, regression-based studies that contrasted SWED receiving special education to other SWED not receiving special education produced a pattern of estimates similar to quasi-experimental designs that contrast SWED to SWOD. The most rigorous designs utilized quasi-experimental methods that compared SWED receiving special education services with SWED not receiving special education services, and generally reported more positive than negative evidence of receiving special education services across most outcome domains. Future research that utilizes rigorous quasi-experimental methodology and appropriate comparison groups to investigate the effectiveness of special education is needed, particularly for nonachievement outcome domains.



Gloski, C.A., Woods, A.D., Wang, Y. and Morgan, P.L. (2022), "How Effective Is Special Education? A Best-Evidence Synthesis", Kauffman, J.M. (Ed.) Revitalizing Special Education, Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 143-168.



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Copyright © 2022 Cecelia A. Gloski, Adrienne D. Woods, Yangyang Wang and Paul L. Morgan. Published under exclusive licence by Emerald Publishing Limited