Research on STEM: Empowering Students with Learning Differences in Mathematics

In recognition of her work, Dr. Zhang was honored as a 2016 postdoctoral fellow of Spencer Foundation and as an outstanding Asian American Researcher by P.Y. Chou Foundation. Her diverse background in special education, educational psychology, and math education enabled her to become a leading expert in developing and validating accommodation techniques and intervention strategies for students with math learning differences.


Dr. Dake Zhang’s research focuses on developing effective accommodations for students with math learning difficulties so as to empower them to develop true mathematical reasoning skills and to create assessment methods to measure those skills.

Dr. Zhang was inspired to pursue this line of research due to her personal experiences struggling with math when she was growing up. That struggle evolved into her research work. “I was determined to find appropriate accommodations to empower students with learning differences to realize their true abilities,” stated Dr. Zhang. “I want to empower students to move beyond simply memorizing math facts to develop mathematical reasoning abilities so they can solve real world problems.”

“The GSE has a really strong educational psychology program and great opportunities for collaboration with colleagues at the GSE, Rutgers, and external parties such as ETS,” said Dr. Zhang. “I am collaborating on a project with them to design standardized high stakes test that can better assess the true abilities of students with special needs.”

Her vision for her work is to establish a comprehensive research program on accommodations and assessments to help develop math reasoning abilities among students with learning differences. In the long-term, Dr. Zhang hopes to change the beliefs of teachers about what their students can achieve and through professional development to help teachers learn how to teach and assess students with learning differences.