With the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other legislation in the 1960s and 1970s, the federal government began to push for more integrated educational opportunities for all students. This effort had a profound effect on the education of persons with retardation. Today, far greater numbers of students with mental retardation attend school in regular classrooms with mainstream students. For example, in a process known as inclusion, educators provide a variety of classroom activities and experiences designed so that all students, including those with mental retardation, can attend conventional schools. However, inclusion is a controversial method. Many parents, students, and advocates for disabled children believe that exposure to role models in regular educational settings might improve the achievement levels and social skills of students with mental retardation. Others, including many parents and students, believe that some individuals may feel stigmatized when forced to be in a classroom in which they obviously function at a lower level than their peers.
The prominence of intelligence tests also sparks controversy in this field of education. Results from these tests consistently show that Asian Americans outperform European Americans, who in turn outperform African Americans. Because of these results, African Americans can be disproportionately represented in the group labeled mentally retarded. Critics argue that intelligence tests reflect social and cultural biases and do not adequately assess the intelligence or academic potential of students reared in different backgrounds. Critics of intelligence tests also claim that differences in income levels between racial groups contribute to misleading test results. Others argue that the tests remain the best tool for placing children in special education programs based on their intelligence and skill levels.