Promoting Assets and Access: Reframing the Standards to Include All Students

December 1, 2002

Standards-based reform is bringing increased rigor and quality into mathematics and science education, but, for a variety of reasons, these improvements have not been fully available to students with physical, developmental, and learning disabilities. This limits participation and achievement in science and mathematics by students with disabilities, and denies the scientific and human enterprise their talents and contributions. Both our reform rhetoric and the health of science demand that high-quality education be available to all students, so exclusion of whole groups from opportunities to excel is not an issue of equity but rather a failing in our definitions of excellence.

The Promoting Assets and Access Project was designed to promote high-quality mathematics and science education for students with disabilities in grades K-6. To this end, we worked closely with individuals and organizations involved in school reform and advocacy, including the standards committees, to examine the standards and make recommendations for how they need to be modified to reflect the contributions and assets that disabled students bring to the learning process. We also developed, implemented, formatively evaluated, and disseminated model activities and materials that illustrate the achievement of national mathematics and science standards by students with disabilities in general education settings. This report describes our efforts and reports our findings on the program's effectiveness.

The purposes and goals of the Promoting Assets and Access Project were closely aligned with the strategic and organizational goals of the National Science Foundation (NSF). In its strategic plan for fiscal years 2001-2006, NSF committed itself to three key outcome goals, including the development of "a diverse, internationally competitive and globally engaged workforce of scientists and engineers, and well prepared citizens" (NSF, 2000). The Promoting Assets and Access Project contributed to this goal by working to increase the participation and advancement of people with disabilities in science and mathematics at the K-6 level in an effort to improve their opportunities to lead productive lives in an increasingly technology-based society and to increase their participation in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce. Research indicates that the number and type of science and mathematics courses taken are positively related to students' achievement in and pursuit of science and mathematics courses at higher grade levels (Oakes, 1995). Specifically, the Promoting Assets and Access Project engaged in laying the groundwork for improving the mathematics, science, and technology skills for students and teachers at the K-6 level by:

  • Increasing the awareness and recognition of the capabilities of students with disabilities on the part of practitioners, policy makers, and the general public;
  • Developing and adapting techniques, materials, and curricula for teaching science and mathematics that are appropriate for students with and without disabilities;
  • Improving the preparation of pre-service and in-service teachers to teach science and mathematics to a student population that is diverse in capabilities and needs.


Ellen Wahl
Louisa Anderson