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Advances in Special Education Research

Getting research-based practices into the hands of teachers is one of the most important challenges for special education. This collection highlights the most compelling research in special education that has the potential to improve classroom outcomes for students with disabilities.

A new report shows that students with disabilities make more academic growth during a school year than typically abled students, but they are also more likely to lose ground over summer break.


Special education research aims to develop, examine and disseminate sustainable practices that result in high achievement and successful independent living for students with disabilities. Students will develop the expertise to design ecologically valid studies, develop a research agenda and work with practitioners to implement and sustain evidence-based practices.

The landscape of recent special education research is a diverse one, with an emphasis on both quantitative and qualitative methods. Quantitative researchers use standardized and non-standardized instruments to measure observable phenomena, then convert these measurements into numerical data for analysis.

Qualitative researchers collect and analyze individual, in-depth, face-to-face interviews with special educators to understand their perspectives and experiences. These interviews are then analyzed using thematic coding and cross-case analysis.

This information helps teachers, administrators, and teacher-trainers become more active consumers (and, with additional training, producers) of research to improve the quality of student outcomes. Currently, special education research is published in a variety of professional journals, including those focused on specific disciplines or topics like teaching strategies, classroom environments and assistive technology.


In the special education field, qualitative research methods are becoming increasingly popular. These techniques provide valuable insights that can help scholars understand complex issues and develop effective strategies for improving educational outcomes. However, they also present unique challenges that researchers need to address. This article explores some of the key issues associated with the use of qualitative research in special education.

Students with disabilities often benefit from accommodations that improve access to curriculum materials, physical spaces, or classrooms. They may also require one-on-one instruction or other specialized interventions that support their emotional and behavioral needs. These accommodations may be provided by a teacher, psychologist, or social worker.

IES researchers are working to identify policies and practices at the national, state, local, and classroom levels that can improve the academic, social, and behavioral outcomes of learners with learning differences. This work is grounded in a multitiered systems of support (MTSS) framework, with a particular emphasis on positive behavior intervention and supports.


In the last two decades, researchers have found new approaches to special education that significantly improve student outcomes. These advancements have included early reading initiatives, classroom-wide positive behavior interventions, and learning strategy interventions for adolescents.

Many of these new methods and practices have been developed with the help of federal research grants, which are crucial to supporting innovative education strategies. Researchers also need to ensure that their findings are accessible to practitioners by publishing their work in well-respected journals and disseminating them through peer-reviewed conferences.

Publishes empirical and theoretically grounded position papers, reviews of the literature, evaluations of personnel preparation programs, and policy analyses related to students with disabilities. Also includes articles on topics in educational leadership and supervision for students with disabilities.


Evelyn Deno was an activist in state and federal policies on special education, influencing the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Law that eventually became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Her contributions to special education are far reaching.

Frank Wood left the general education classroom to become the first public school teacher for students classified as emotionally disturbed, and then was the first University of Minnesota PhD student to graduate with a specialization in emotional and behavioral disabilities. His contributions to special education are widely recognized.

Getting research-based practices into the hands of special educators is one of the biggest challenges to pushing the field forward. To better understand barriers to technology integration in special education, researchers employed a multiple case study design with one-on-one, 45-60 minute semi-structured individual video-chat interviews complemented by teacher surveys. Findings suggest that while teacher-level factors play a role, structural issues related to resource allocation and technology decision-making may also influence how teachers use technology.