Teachers' Knowledge and Implementation of Least Restrictive Environment in Physical Education

Wilson, Wesley, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Kelly, Luke, Cu-Kinesiology, University of Virginia
Block, Martin, Department of Kinesiology, University of Virginia
Boyce, Barbara, Cu-Kinesiology, University of Virginia
Whaley, Diane, Cu-Leadshp Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia

The implementation of the Least Restrictive Environment mandate has been challenging since its conception in 1975, with little recent research on its use in physical education. This legislation states that students with disabilities must be educated with their peers to the maximum extent possible and if a student cannot satisfactorily learn in a general education setting, then a continuum of alternative placements must be provided. However, it is not clear how the mandate is currently being implemented in U.S. schools. Therefore, this study’s purpose was to examine physical education and adapted physical education teachers’ implementation of Least Restrictive Environment by examining their knowledge of related law, how they practice decision-making regarding placement, and the barriers that prevent them from best implementing the law.

A mixed methods design examined the knowledge and implementation of Least Restrictive Environment of 30 physical education and 48 adapted physical education teachers. First, participants completed a validated and reliable survey. Five physical education and seven adapted physical education teachers were then purposively selected for interviews to gain more understanding of the teachers’ experiences with Least Restrictive Environment and the development and implementation of individual education programs.

A multivariate analysis of variance revealed significant differences between physical education and adapted physical education teachers in related knowledge and implementation, F (44, 33) = 2.60, p < .005; Wilk's Λ = .224, partial η2 = .78. A significant follow-up univariate test (F (1, 76) = 23.48, p < .001; partial η2 = .24) indicated a difference in perceived understanding of Least Restrictive Environment between groups, with physical education and adapted physical education teachers rating their understanding 3.70 (SD = .84) and 4.48 (SD = .58), respectively (with five being “completely understand”). Further, 23% of physical education teachers conflated inclusion with the law’s intent of Least Restrictive Environment to only 4% of adapted physical education teachers. There was a significant difference in the level of involvement in decision-making, F (1, 76) = 42.40, p < .001; partial η2 = .36. With a score of 100 being complete involvement, physical education teachers were generally less involved than their counterparts with a score of 25.47 (SD = 37.16) to the adapted physical education teachers’ score of 71.98 (SD = 38.89). Among all teachers, the largest barriers to implementation were staff knowledge on how to educate students in Least Restrictive Environment (M = 62.46, SD = 29.22) and access to support staff (M = 63.76, SD = 27.30), with a rating of 100 being “completely adequate”.

Constant comparison and analytical induction of the qualitative data revealed four themes to contextualize the quantitative data: 1) importance of teacher training, 2) varying degrees of understanding of special education legislation, 3) implementation of Least Restrictive Environment, individual education programs, and physical education services, and 4) barriers to Least Restrictive Environment implementation. Importance of teacher training illustrated the differences in coursework foci between physical education and adapted physical education teachers, which in part, helped explain the varying degrees of understanding of special education legislation (i.e., why adapted physical education teachers tended to know more about the law than their counterparts). Most of the coursework that physical education teachers received during teacher training revolved around modifications rather than learning about special education law. Further, implementation of Least Restrictive Environment, individual education programs, and physical education services revealed a stark contrast in involvement regarding decision-making, which heavily favored the adapted physical education teachers. This lack of involvement in the decision-making process was often perceived as marginalization by physical education teachers. Likewise, similar barriers to Least Restrictive Environment implementation were reported by the adapted physical education teachers, indicating that their physical education teachers prevented appropriate placement through inappropriate practices and an unwillingness to teach students.

These results create a clearer picture of current Least Restrictive Environment implementation. The data show that, while adapted physical education teachers are generally more equipped than their counterparts, there remains miseducation on the intent of the law as well as the presence of barriers that prevent appropriate practice. Teacher training programs are urged to target the lack of knowledge through coursework and practicum experiences, and build an expectation that teachers must be prepared to advocate for students in whatever workplace they find themselves in.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Adapted physical education, physical education, special education legislation, Least Restrictive Environment
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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