Reaching the Next Stephen Hawking: Five Ways to Help Students with Disabilities in Advanced Placement Science Classes

Article excerpt

As the federal government encourages all students to attempt advanced math and science courses, more students with disabilities are enrolling in Advanced Placement (AP) science classes. AP science teachers can better serve these students by understanding the various types of disabilities (whether physical, learning, emotional, or behavioral), associated legal issues, and ways to adapt instruction to improve learning by all students in the class. This article offers examples of adjustments you may need to use in your class.

AP science classes (biology, chemistry, physics, and environmental science) have unique features not found in most other AP classes, such as hands-on labs, working with potentially dangerous chemicals and glassware, demonstrations involving animals (live or dead), and exercises with expensive, and inherently fragile, equipment. Each is integral to a successful course and is frequently mandatory for College Board approval.

Some science teachers team-teach science with a special education teacher (Linz, Heater, and Howard 2011). In a co-taught classroom, the special education teacher can take the lead on how to implement required accommodations and obtaining assistive technology such as computer programs that will read text aloud for a student with a vision impairment. However, our experience in Virginia schools has been that most AP science classes are not co-taught with a special education teacher. AP science teachers should, therefore, be familiar with principles and techniques to help ensure success for all students in their AP classes. The following five principles can help students reach their potential:

1. Set high standards for all students in your AP science class. Students with disabilities can do the work and learn the material. They should be held to the same grading and behavioral standards as other students; the few exceptions, called accommodations, are legal requirements stated on the student's individualized education program (IEP). These may include preferred seating, providing class notes and extra time on tests (for students with impaired writing or processing delays), and designated lab partners (for students who need added structure). This assistance is intended to help the student function academically as though they had no disability (Edgemon, Jablonski, and Lloyd 2006). Some AP science students might resist accommodations to avoid being different from their peers. If this happens, seek advice from the student's assigned special education teacher. Know what the student's accommodations are at the beginning of the school year so you have time to make necessary arrangements.

2. Communicate with the special education teacher, the IEP team, other science teachers, and parents. Ask the special education teacher what accommodations other science teachers have found most useful in lab settings. Because most AP science students have successfully completed earlier science courses, teachers of general or honors classes can tell you what did and didn't work for special education students doing labs involving, for example, acids and glassware. You may need to consider lab space, such as assigning a wheelchair-bound student to a specific lab station where he or she has room to work without bumping into other students. As with all students, safety must always be a top priority.

The special education teacher can help you follow the letter and intent of special education law. For instance, the special educator may ask that you help him or her demonstrate the student's progress toward goals by collecting specific data at various points in the school year or by observing a lab. A student with a mild emotional or behavioral disorder may need your cooperation in filling out a daily data sheet to track certain behaviors in the classroom. Talk to the special educator if you have concerns about that behavior.

Parents of children with special needs are often in close contact with the student's special education case manager and teachers. …