Science Education Instruction for Elementary Students with Learning Disabilities
Effective Years: 2022-2026
Scientific literacy is essential for everyone. Unfortunately, many students with learning disabilities (LD) do not do well in science and, in turn, have limited career opportunities in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). For students’ with LD, difficulties in science start early, with a large achievement gap between students with LD and typically achieving peers evident by early elementary school. More concerning is that this science achievement discrepancy widens over time. While lower science achievement for students with LD is well documented, little is known about why this disparity exists. We know little about the quality of science instruction students with LD receive during the upper elementary school years when foundational scientific content and practices should be taught. Therefore, this project aims to conduct a large-scale survey and observational study using a nationally representative of U.S. elementary schools to investigate the science education of 4th and 5th graders with LD. The project will provide foundational knowledge on the quality and type of science instruction students with LD receive and how this instruction aligns with effective practices.
Using a crowdsourcing approach, researchers will work with ten different universities to collect and analyze data from 20 schools located across all nine U.S. census districts. This nationwide crowdsourced collaboration will allow for a generalizable sample of U.S. elementary schools and the students with LD educated in these schools. Through teacher surveys, interviews, and direct observations of science instruction, researchers will ascertain a myriad of critical information currently unknown to the field. The will investigate the time allotted to science instruction in 4th and 5th-grade elementary classrooms across the country and the amount of the allotted time enacted by teachers. Data collection will consider how often students with LD are present for science instruction, and the science content delivered and curricula used. Further, the team will quantify meaningful engagement (i.e., instructional interactions occurring between teachers and students) of students with LD during science instruction. They will ascertain if meaningful engagement levels vary by (a) type of science instruction (e.g., didactic, practice-based), (b) quality of science instruction (e.g., alignment with emerging effective practices), and (c) instructional supports (e.g., scaffolded material) provided to students with LD. Further, the team will investigate whether science instructional features are associated with higher achievement for students with LD.
This project is supported by NSF's EHR Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development. The program supports the accumulation of robust evidence to inform efforts to understand, build theory to explain, and suggest intervention and innovations to address persistent challenges in STEM interest, education, learning and participation.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.