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Greater Inclusion, Equity in STEM Education for Multilingual Students is Focus of New Research

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AUSTIN, Texas — Approximately 5 million multilingual students — the fastest-growing student group in U.S. schools — are in classrooms today. Yet as the country continues to push to build science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) literacy for all, multilingual students face systemic barriers in accessing high-quality instruction and entering the workforce.

To bridge this gap and promote greater diversity, equity and inclusion in early STEM, the National Science Foundation has awarded a $5 million grant to a team of researchers led by principal investigator Christian T. Doabler, an assistant professor of special education in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin, to study what may ensure a successful start in STEM for multilingual students. The project seeks to analyze a diverse population that brings a wide variety of cultures, experiences and communication skills to the classroom.

“Credible evidence suggests purposefully designed STEM instruction can move the student achievement dial,” Doabler said. “This project embraces that empirical literature by delivering evidence-based instruction to support students’ development of STEM proficiency.”

The benefits of early STEM education extend beyond the classroom. Research suggests early success in STEM can shape a child’s interest and aspirations in a variety of STEM-related careers.

“This research addresses the urgent need to advance equity, increase diversity and eliminate disparities in STEM education, which can have a societal impact beyond a student’s school years,” said Charles R. Martinez, Jr., dean of the College of Education. “Diversifying our future STEM workforce creates opportunities for multilingual students to bring new ideas, perspectives and solutions to our nation’s complex and challenging problems.”

Approximately 900 multilingual first grade students across Texas and Oregon will participate in the five-year study that builds on the development work of Doabler and his colleagues with a STEM intervention called Precision Mathematics – First-Grade (PM-1), which strives to expand and advance effective instructional practices.

The PM-1 intervention embraces an integrated STEM approach, connecting concepts and practices of early science and mathematics within real-world activities relevant to students’ lives. An example is using statistical investigation and length measurement skills to examine how young animals are like, but not exactly the same as, their parents.

Co-principal investigators include Leticia R. Martinez, director of the Language for Learning Institute at The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk (MCPER); and Eric Knuth, professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. MCPER’s Maria Longhi is the study’s project director.