Promoting Scientific Explorers Among Students With Learning Disabilities


A robust understanding of disciplinary core ideas and practices is necessary for obtaining jobs in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields and making everyday informed decisions. Despite these occupational and practical affordances, early elementary school teachers have limited materials at their disposal to promote a rich knowledge of science among the full range of learners. Additionally, the field has yet to develop reliable and valid science assessments that effectively document students’ knowledge of complex phenomena.


  • Fully developed second-grade science program
  • Reliable and valid science achievement measures
  • Science achievement
  • Evidence-based teaching practices

Project Design


The primary aim of this project is to iteratively design and empirically evaluate a second-grade science program to promote an early foundation for learning science among all students, including students at risk for or with learning disabilities and dyslexia. Specifically, the Scientific Explorers program is designed to improve students’ knowledge and understanding of disciplinary core ideas and cross-cutting concepts related to Earth’s Systems in the Next Generation Science Standards. Another aim of this project is to develop and empirically validate science assessments that measure students’ knowledge and application of disciplinary core ideas and practices related to Earth’s Systems.


Employing a mixed-method approach, this project investigates the feasibility and initial efficacy of the Scientific Explorers program. Additional research activities include establishing the reliability and validity of the second-grade science assessments. Using multilevel modeling and item response theory techniques, this project addresses the following three primary research questions:

  1. To what extent can teachers feasibly implement the Scientific Explorers program?
  2. What is the impact of Scientific Explorers on the science achievement of students in participating classrooms?
  3. To what extent do the early science achievement measures demonstrate technical adequacy (reliability and validity)?


In a recent randomized controlled trial (Doabler et al., 2021), we investigated the initial efficacy of the Scientific Explorers program. A total of 18 second-grade classrooms with approximately 300 students, including those with learning disabilities, participated in the study. Classrooms were randomly assigned to either treatment or control conditions. Treatment classrooms implemented the Scientific Explorers program; control classrooms used business-as-usual district-approved science instructional practices and materials. Overall, findings suggested promise of the program to increase student science achievement. Treatment effects were observed on three of four science outcome measures.