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Education Research International
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 260403, 12 pages
Research Article

A Comparison between Young Students with and without Special Needs on Their Understanding of Scientific Concepts

Department of Developmental Psychology, Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences, University of Groningen, Grote Kruisstraat 2/1, 9712 TS Groningen, The Netherlands

Received 9 July 2012; Revised 20 September 2012; Accepted 25 October 2012

Academic Editor: David Neumann

Copyright © 2012 Steffie Van Der Steen et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This paper examines whether young special needs (SN) students with emotional/behavioral difficulties (age 3–5, ) reach lower understanding levels than regular students (age 3–5, ) while working on two scientific tasks under a condition of scaffolding (e.g., follow-up questions depending on students' levels of understanding). Understanding was measured microgenetically, per utterance, using a scale related to Skill Theory. Monte Carlo analyses showed that SN students gave more wrong and (the lowest) Level 1 (single sensorimotor set) answers than regular students and fewer answers on (higher) Level 3 (sensorimotor system). However, no difference was found in their mean understanding level and mean number of answers. Both groups also had a comparable number of answers on the highest levels (Levels 4 and 5; single representation and representational mapping). These results do not point to substantial differences in scientific understanding between SN and regular students, as earlier studies using standardized tests have pointed out, and highlight the important role of scaffolding students' understanding. Standardized tests do not seem to indicate the bandwidth of possible scores students show or give an indication of their optimal scores, whereas a gap exists between student's task performance under conditions of individual performance and performance under a condition of support.