Top Trends in Special Education in 2019

Special education teacher working with young girl
Special education teacher working with young girl

Working with individuals with special needs is a calling. It takes patience, diligence and formal education. Spring Arbor University offers an affordable, comprehensive Masters in Special Education program that equips students to address the social, emotional and behavioral needs of children and adolescents with various learning disabilities.  

There are more than 6.5 million children and youth with disabilities nationwide. As you consider this rewarding career, keep in mind some special education trends:


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How Has Special Education Changed?

Special education is very different today than when Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975. Historically, exclusion was common practice and children with special needs were isolated from their peers.

Protection of the rights of children with special needs and their parents was a focus of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004). The law ensures nationwide access to free public education and appropriate accommodation for children and youth with various disabilities.

IDEA 2004 promotes early intervention and authorizes grants to support each child’s unique educational needs. Funding also supports services to aid in the transition to independent living, as well as nonprofit research, technology development and parent training.

Standards-Based Accountability

As reform evolves, children with disabilities are included in some of the same performance measures as their peers. Policies around standards-based accountability have expanded, requiring schools to report standardized test results for all children in their accountability systems.

Previously, children with special needs were excluded from these academic measures as results could potentially lower a school’s accountability score. This methodology was a part of the accountability movement, which relied on test scores to evaluate the efficiency of schools, teachers, principals and districts. The movement led to education being heavily focused on test prep, particularly with math and reading.

Although standards-based accountability promotes the inclusion of all children, one argument it is that it overemphasizes academic skills. This emphasis as an academic practice might not be suitable for some children with disabilities, depending on their unique needs.

Alternative Education

School choice reform has become a modern trend. This practice allows children with special needs to choose alternatives to general education, empowering them to play an active role in their individualized learning plans.

The reform allows students to choose any public school within their designated district, or they may cross district lines. Families receive vouchers providing a designated amount of money to spend on education. Students can choose alternative special education like charter schools, magnet schools, second-chance options and workplace training.

Full Inclusion

With special education trends in 2019, students are seeing full inclusion regardless of ability. They receive a modified approach tailored to their needs while also being immersed in a general education classroom. General education teachers often work with special educators, paraprofessionals and other aides to meet special education needs in a group setting. Inclusion offers the opportunity for children with special needs to develop age-appropriate skills, improved socialization and increased responsibility.

Other benefits of full inclusion include:

  • Improved performance on standardized tests
  • Mastery of their Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals
  • Increased participation at school
  • Higher expectations
  • Fewer incomplete assignments
  • Improved attitudes and motivation
  • More frequent display of positive behavior
  • Additional friendships to peers
  • Increased involvement of families in the school and community

Early Intervention and Prevention

Rooted in child development research, early intervention and prevention have become prominent special education trends. During the first three years of life, brain connections are the most adaptable. These connections are the foundation for learning, behavior and health. With early detection, measures can be put in place to help skill-development.

Early intervention services may include speech therapy, physical therapy and other types of services based on the needs of the child. Swift intervention can help lessen the severity of certain disabilities or prevent future development in some cases. Early intervention and prevention can also decrease the need for and costs associated with long-term services.

Continuing Progress

Spring Arbor University’s online Masters in Special Education prepares students to meet the unique educational needs of each child. Take your advocacy to the next level and continue your journey with advanced education. Contact us today to learn more about our convenient online program.


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History of Special Education:


Urban Child Institute:

The Impact of Inclusion on Students With and Without Disabilities and Their Educators:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Why Act Early”:

Kids Together Inc.: