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Students With Disabilities

Elementary and secondary students with disabilities have special needs that may hinder their ability to participate fully in science and mathematics instruction. In 1993, approximately 7 percent of students in public elementary and secondary schools received services through programs for students with disabilities. (See appendix table 2-21.)

Special Education Services

The incidence of elementary/secondary students receiving services because of disabilities is increasing. Approximately 6 percent of the population of children in the United States from birth through age 21 were in federally supported special education programs in 1992-1993, compared with 4.5 percent in 1976-1977 (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services 1994, p. 7). The increase has variously been explained as due to an increased fraction of the Nation's children living in poverty, increased prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs, or an increase in reporting because of changes in eligibility criteria.

More than half of the children ages 6 through 21 with disabilities had specific learning disabilities, and another one-fifth had speech or language impairments. (See appendix table 2-22.) About 12 percent are mentally retarded, 9 percent have a serious emotional disturbance, and about 1 percent each have orthopedic, hearing, or other health impairments. Less than 1 percent have visual impairments.

Depending on the nature of their disability, students may be served in regular classrooms and be provided with special services via a resource room, or they may receive instruction at a variety of special sites. Special education sites may not offer the same access to science instruction as regular classrooms, because often science instruction needs, especially in the higher grades, are equipment or facility intensive. Students with speech or language impairments were most likely to spend more than half of their class time in regular education academic classes (see appendix table 2-23) and thus have access to science instruction similar to that of students without disabilities. Students with other, less prevalent disabilities, such as hearing or mobility impairments, were more likely to be taught in separate classes.

Science and Mathematics Education

Students with physical disabilities make up 4 to 6 percent of the science students and 2 to 6 percent of the mathematics students in grades 1-12. Students with mental disabilities make up 2 to 9 percent of the science students and 1 to 5 percent of the mathematics students in grades 1-12. Students with mental disabilities are more likely to be included in regular science instruction than in mathematics instruction.

The fraction of students with learning disabilities is much smaller in high school than in the earlier grades. Slightly more than half of the science and mathematics classes in grades 1-4 but only 31 percent of the science classes and 24 percent of the mathematics classes in grades 9-12 have students with learning disabilities. (See figure 2-6.) The fraction of students with physical and mental disabilities is much smaller and varies less by grade. Four percent of science classes and 6 percent of mathematics classes in grades 1-4 have at least one student with a physical disability, compared with 5 percent of science classes and 2 percent of mathematics classes in grades 9-12.

See appendix table 2-24.

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