Research to Practice Brief
Improving Secondary Education and Transition Services through Research
April 2004 • Vol. 3, Issue 2
Building Bridges Toward Science Careers for Youth with Disabilities
By Peg Lamb, Mary Brown, Bill Hodges, and Dave Foy
Several researchers have addressed the issue of accommodating students with
disabilities in college science classrooms (Brazier, Parry, & Fischbach,
2000; Womble & Walker, 2001). However, little research has focused on the
types of accommodations and supports needed for students with disabilities at
the college level (Stodden, 2000). This brief outlines results of research conducted
by the Bridges Project funded by the National Science Foundation Program for
Persons with Disabilities. The major goals of the project were (a) to create
a model facilitating greater access for students with disabilities to postsecondary
education and careers in science and technology, and (b) to investigate issues
related to the transition from high school to college for students with disabilities.
The Bridges Research Project
Students with disabilities are entering college in increasing numbers. According
to HEATH Resource Center, postsecondary enrollment for students with disabilities
has increased 173% between 1989 and 1998 (Henderson, 1999). Despite increased
enrollment, successful outcomes remain low, with only 25% of students with disabilities
earning an associate’s degree after five years of study at community colleges
(Burgstahler, Crawford, & Acosta, 2001). According to the U.S. Department
of Education, 32% of students with a learning disability reported not receiving
the services or accommodations they needed at the postsecondary level.
In high school many students with disabilities are excluded from general science
classrooms, making the transition from high school to college science courses
more challenging. The Bridges Project attempted to address this issue by examining
the differences between high school and college science curricula and the transfer
issues that might prevent success.
Bridges researchers sought to gather information to promote a seamless transition
for high school students with disabilities to math, science, engineering, and
technology education at community colleges. A team of individuals from the partner
organizations, Holt High School (HHS) and Lansing Community College (LCC) in
Michigan, investigated student transfers involving students with disabilities
needing special assistance who might wish to pursue coursework in math, science,
and technology. Nine of the students were from HHS, and 16 were from high schools
in the Lansing Tri-County Region.
Discussion within the research team centered on the differences and similarities
of the two institutions and expectations of their students. Holt High School
is in a suburb approximately 10 miles from Lansing Community College. HHS sends
30% of its graduating class to LCC each year. HHS has an inclusion policy, which
means that students with disabilities are accommodated within regular education
classrooms. Subsequently, students with disabilities have been successful in
math, science, and technology classes. HHS is a suburban school with approximately
17% of students claiming a specific non-Caucasian ethnic identity. The total
population of the high school is approximately 1,200, but includes only 10th
through 12th grade. More than 60 percent of the graduating seniors enter college.
And, within the high school, more than 200 students are classified as needing
Lansing Community College has approximately 19,000 students. Students with
disabilities must register with the Office of Disabilities Services with documentation
validating their need for accommodations. The science department hires instructors
exclusively for their knowledge within the science discipline; the majority
of the instructors have neither a teaching certificate nor experience within
formal education classes, and little, if any, knowledge about accommodating
students with special needs. The total minority enrollment at LCC is very similar
to the minority enrollment at HHS with nearly 16% of students of minority status.
Nearly 30% of students enrolled at LCC intend to transfer to a four-year institution.
Each LCC student is required to show competency either by waiver from previous
experience or testing in reading, writing, and math. Students who cannot demonstrate
college-level skills take skill-building courses to remedy their deficiencies
prior to their enrollment in academic-level courses, which are transferable
to universities across Michigan.
At HHS, students meet with their science class four and one-half hours per
week for 19 weeks. The time is structured so that students meet for a one-hour
block. Teachers expect about two or three hours of independent work per week
compared to six hours of class time per week for 16 weeks at LCC. The typical
college science class occurs in a two- or three-hour time block, and instructors
expect about 15-18 hours of independent work per week. In sum, not only are
college science students expected to learn more independently, but they are
also expected to learn at least three times as fast as high school students.
At HHS, laboratory experience within the sciences is expected. There are no
science classes that have a pure lecture format. However, at LCC, laboratory
experiences vary according to discipline. In physics and chemistry, the laboratory
is a separate course not necessarily taken by all students enrolled. In the
biological sciences, one of the three sessions each week is lab-based. Currently,
it is only within the integrated sciences, offered primarily for nonscience
majors, that the laboratory experience is infused through the entire course.
At HHS, each student takes six classes at a time, and there are 24 students
per teacher per class. LCC students are typically enrolled in three or four
classes or 12 to 16 credits. The student to teacher ratio is comparable, with
24 students in lab courses and 30 in lecture courses. This contrasts with universities
across Michigan where beginning-level science lecture courses may have an enrollment
of a few hundred.
Each institution has curriculum guidelines that determine the science content
and pedagogy of the courses offered. At the high school level, curriculum is
driven by the state’s objectives and benchmarks. Students are tested through
the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) with scores made available
to the general public. At the community college, the standards for curriculum
come from accrediting agencies, such as the North Central Association of Colleges
and Schools. Advisory committees including members of the community who employ
students in science-related careers (specifically within the six science certificate
programs) also determine curriculum. Because 30% of students intend to transfer,
universities evaluate community college science courses based on their acceptance
or rejection for transfer.
Another area of contrast is the final exam. Instructors at HHS have complete
autonomy on the content and format of their final exam as long as they honor
state curriculum standards. Collaboration is encouraged and alternative assessments
are permitted. At LCC the science department promotes consistency of all classes
taught by many instructors by having final exams developed by a course coordinator
who is full-time faculty member. Generally all students enrolled in a particular
course take the same final exam.
Accommodations and curriculum modification are approached very differently
by the two institutions. Accommodations are changes in materials or procedures
that provide students with disabilities access to instruction and assessments
(Thurlow, 2002). They do not substantially change the instructional level, the
content of the course, or the performance criteria. Modifications are adaptations
that are made to the environment, the curriculum, instruction, or assessment.
A modification changes what a student is expected to learn and demonstrate.
It does alter the instruction level, the content of the course, and
the performance criteria (Castagnera, Fisher, Rodifer, & Sax, 1998).
In terms of accommodations, all LCC students have Internet access via computer
labs on campus, access to a Blackboard Web site providing direct communication
with instructors and classmates, and access to many skill-building classes for
students who need developmental assistance. HHS does not provide such services;
however, it offers a structured study-skills class for students with disabilities.
Both institutions provide traditional accommodations for students with disabilities,
such as Braille, large print, signers, test readers, extended time on exams,
books on tape, audiotaped lectures, note takers, and a quiet room for testing.
At the high school level both eligibility and accommodations are determined
by an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) committee comprised of the student,
parent, and educators. The IEP is written annually and is a legally binding
contract until the student exits the program or graduates. The IEP committee
has the authority to override both local and state curriculum requirements.
At the college level the institution determines the eligibility of the student
and the accommodations to be provided. There is no written equivalent of the
IEP at the college level.
LCC only allows testing in a different format when the limitation is a documented
physical limitation, such as cerebral palsy or a hearing impairment. Tutoring
at LCC is free to all students, while students at HHS must pay for tutoring.
English as a Second Language courses are not available at HHS, but are offered
at LCC. Both institutions allow students to bring laptops into classrooms. However,
HHS will provide a paraprofessional or a special education teacher for students,
where such assistance is not available at LCC. Neither LCC nor HHS provides
a separate curriculum for students with disabilities desiring a degree or diploma.
Twenty-five students with disabilities who were graduates of HHS and other
area high schools participated in the Bridges Project. Their participation included
enrollment in a college success class focusing on the development of self-determination/self-advocacy
skills and continuing career exploration taught by members of the Bridges team.
Core components of the course included student construction of a self-advocacy
plan and presentation of the plan to faculty. As a final activity students were
required to develop a disabilities workshop describing characteristics of college
students with disabilities and classroom accommodations necessary for their
learning. The workshop was advertised through LCC’s Center for Teaching
Excellence and offered to college instructors and administrators as an optional
professional development activity. For elective credit, the college success
course was offered in the fall semester of years two and three of the project
(2001-03). During the winter semester and subsequent semester, students met
two or three times with the college disabilities counselor, the project director,
and their rehabilitation counselor for continuing support and career counseling.
All of the students had chosen careers in a scientific or technical field when
they enrolled in the project, but many changed their career goals after further
investigation. Students were required to interview someone employed in their
career interest area and spend a few hours observing that person on the job,
as well as to research the career regarding required education and training,
salary range, and future employment demand. Through this process 20 students
clarified and revised their career goals, and five ended the process undecided
(see Table 1 for a listing of their career interests). At the
end of the project, 22 of the 25 students were still enrolled in college. Of
the three who discontinued their college program, one joined the military, one
relocated to another state, and one opted for full-time work.
Table 1. Career Interests of Bridges Students
(n = 25)
||Number of Students
Computer network engineering
In their final evaluation of the college success class and the Bridges Project,
all students reported that the project was helpful. The majority of students
(90%) were better able to define self-determination, and 80% could more fully
explain self-advocacy. Seventy-five percent reported more confidence in speaking
with their college instructors about their need for accommodations, and 80%
reported talking with all of their instructors about their needs (Lamb, in press).
Based on student experiences as well as their own teaching experiences, the
Bridges team developed a list of recommendations for teachers, administrators,
and students with disabilities.
- In high school special education, self-advocacy should be explicitly taught
and practiced so students with disabilities are prepared to assume this responsibility
at the college level.
- College teachers should include a statement in their syllabus regarding
the institution’s policy on accommodations and should invite students
to meet with them regarding their needs.
- In both settings, teachers should use multiple sensory formats (auditory,
visual, and kinesthetic) to maximize learning. The importance of independent
learning that is not directly evaluated should be emphasized by instructors
in both settings.
- Guided notes of class lectures (such as copies of overheads) should be
provided when possible, enhancing the learning of all students, especially
students with disabilities who have limitations in auditory and visual processing
and cannot take accurate notes.
- All teachers should expect active engagement and participation as well as
accountability from all students. Historically teachers in the early grades
have lowered their expectations and diluted the curriculum for students with
disabilities, thereby disempowering them as successful learners in both high
school and college environments.
- Both secondary-level and college instructors need to provide students with
frequent feedback on their performance and opportunities to experience a variety
of testing formats. Classroom instruction in both settings should incorporate
models, demonstrations, analogies, storytelling, problem-solving, and simulations
within teaching methodologies and should use multiple formats for classroom
- High school administrators and teachers should include students with disabilities
in regular and advanced science/mathematics courses that are the foundation
for certificates and associate’s degrees at the college level.
- In both high schools and colleges, a climate that supports students seeking
the assistance they need for academic success should be established.
- Administrators from both the high school and the college should promote
postsecondary education for students with disabilities so that they can be
employable in a wide range of careers.
- Students should take responsibility for their educational needs by practicing
self-advocacy and seeking out their instructors for individual help as needed.
Students should use available resources, such as organizers, study guides,
and assistive technology.
- Students should develop the habit of studying even when they feel the information
is not going to be evaluated. They should develop independent study skills
and should monitor and evaluate their own performance.
- In addition, students should anticipate the sequential pattern of science
and math curricula and ask clarifying questions as the need arises in class
or in meetings with their instructors.
In conclusion, the Bridges Project team identified vast differences in student
and instructor expectations and the laws governing both institutions. Based
on the student outcomes of the college success class developed by the Bridges
Project, the team concluded that self-determination is a key to understanding
one’s disability and therefore needs to be explicitly encouraged at every
level. Self-advocacy is essential in securing accommodations in college. To
experience college success that can lead to science careers, students must know
how they learn best, be able to self-advocate, and use the necessary tools,
resources, and technology. Faculty and administrators in both settings must
hold high expectations for students with disabilities and ensure that their
institution provides the necessary accommodations to facilitate academic success.
Brazier, M., Parry, M., & Fischbach, E. (2000). Blind students: Facing
challenges in a college physics course—Leveling the playing field for
the visually impaired. Journal of College Science Teaching, 30(2),
Burgstahler, S., Crawford, M., & Acosta, J. (2001). Transition from
two-year institutions for students with disabilities. Manoa, HI: University
of Hawaii, National Center of Postsecondary Education Supports, Rehabilitation
Research and Training Center. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Castagnera, E., Fisher, D., Rodifer, K., & Sax, C. (1998). Deciding
what to teach and how to teach it: Connecting students through curriculum and
instruction. Colorado Springs, CO: PEAK Parent Center, Inc.
Henderson, C. (1999). College freshman with disabilities statistical year
1998: A biennial statistical profile. Washington, DC: American Council
on Education, HEATH Resource Center.
Lamb, P. (in press). Fostering the self-determination and self-advocacy skills
of college students with disabilities through a college success class. Review
of Disability Studies: An International Journal.
Stodden, R. (2000, March). The study of postsecondary educational supports:
A formative approach to an emerging area of study. National Review Form
Briefing Materials. Manoa, HI: University of Hawaii, Center for the Study
of Postsecondary Education Support, Rehabilitation Research Training Center.
Thurlow, M. (2002). Accommodations for students with disabilities in high school.
Minneapolis, MN: National Center on Secondary Education and Transition. Issue
U.S. Department of Education. The
Condition of Education, 2003. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved January
12, 2004, from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2003067.
Womble, M., & Walker, G. (2001). Teaching biology to the visually impaired:
Accommodating students’ special needs. Journal of College Science
Teaching, 30(6), 394–396.
Authors Peg Lamb and Mary Brown are with LCC, and Bill Hodges and Dave
Foy are with HHS. For further information contact Peg Lamb, Bridges Project
Director, at email@example.com.
The development of this publication was supported in part by National Science
Foundation HRD grant #HRD9906043.
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This report was supported in whole or in part by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, (Cooperative Agreement No. H326J000005). The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, and no official endorsement by the Department should be inferred.
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