You are here

Research Center

Science for Students with Disabilities

Essentials on education data and research analysis from Edvantia

According to the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), average sci-ence scores compared to 2006, have made slow progress at Grade 4, come to a standstill at Grade 8, and lost ground at Grade 12.

No Child Left Behind legislation stipulates that students with disabilities must be assessed in science once during each grade span (3-5, 6-9, and 10-12), along with all other students, beginning with the 2007-2008 school year. Appropriate testing accommodations and alter-nate assessment may be offered, but research indicates that attention to instructional issues plays a vital role in helping students with disabilities master academic content.

Instructional strategies

Researchers Margo Mastropieri and Thomas Scruggs (George Mason University) identify the benefits of vocabulary enhancement, text adaptation, test processing strategies, and hands-on science activities.

Rich Grumbine and Peg Brigham Alden of Landmark College identified six instructional principles for improving the achievement of students with learning disabilities (see below). For these students, problems with organization, memory, reading, and writing can make it difficult to grasp and retain complex material. Teachers can help by presenting important concepts in a variety of ways, providing structure, and monitoring student progress.

Instructional modifications An Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) review of the research literature noted that depending on the disability, students may need modifica--tions such as "advance and graphic organizers, instructional scaffolding, additional practice and time to com--plete assignments, and/or alternative media (e.g., large-print materials, audiotapes, or electronic materials)."

Peer-assisted, differentiated instruction In a study conducted by Mastropieri and Scruggs, and colleagues, 13 classes of 213 students (44 of whom were classfied with disabilities) participated in a field trial. Classrooms were randomly assigned to the control or experimental condition. In the control condition, students received traditional teacher-directed instruction-lecture, note taking, class lab activities, media presentations, and worksheets. In the experimental condition, students received identical teacher presentations, but peer-assisted learning was used in place of worksheets (teachers paired stu-dents needing assistance with higher achieving partners and directed the pair to begin with Level 1 activities, moving to Level 2 and 3 activities once proficiency was achieved). The experimental approach generated academic gains for all students. Average scores on posttests and state high-stakes achievement tests show that students with learning disabilities outperformed their peers in the comparison group by 42.5 percent (for "typically achieving students," the difference was 16.1 percent).

Supports for improved instruction Schools and districts can support improved science instruction by providing access to appropriate assistive and instructional technologies and modified curricular materials. They can also encourage collaboration between mainstream science educators and special education teachers. In addition, science teachers can help special education teachers understand science standards and lesson objectives. And special educators can identify modifications and strategies for helping students with various disabilities achieve these objectives.

For citation of the references used in this article, go to