Responding to Math Learning Disability in K-12 Schools
Educational psychology and cognitive science have long recognized the existence of a math learning disability (MLD) called dyscalculia, but the research on the topic trails far behind that of dyslexia. In 2014 it is not uncommon for students with a reading learning disability to be identified early in their academic career, receive interventions by a reading specialist, or be held back in school if there is not adequate response to intervention. Students with MLD are not identified, not provided any math specialist nor held back in school.
However, today’s requirements for graduating high school with a regular diploma include 4 full credits of high school mathematics and passing end-of-course exams in algebra and geometry. For students with an undiagnosed and untreated disability, this is comparable to requiring colorblind students to identify colors of the rainbow as well as students who are able to distinguish colors.
To meet the current graduation requirements in math depends on students entering high school on target for completing 4 years of secondary-level coursework. For this to occur, students who are severely behind in math need to be identified for special services in lower middle school at the latest. However, math learning disabilities are rarely identified at any stage in students’ academic careers. The outcomes for these students go beyond test scores and their failure to obtain a regular diploma, but instead exacerbate dwindling self-esteem and magnify discouragement to pursue future endeavors. This is unfortunate, unnecessary, and socially harmful.
School districts would benefit from recognizing this learning disability, the symptoms typically demonstrated by affected students, and specific strategies for making math accessible to dyscalculic learners. By doing so:
MLD students would be identified for testing and thereby receive the help they need to perform mathematical procedures;
MLD students would increase their FCAT scores and gain ground towards being on target for normal high school completion;
Teachers would be armed with strategies useful for all learners, including gifted students and typically developing students stuck on the common trouble spots (fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios, and proportions).
To obtain professional development training on dyscalculia for your school, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have worked with hundreds of students, teachers, and teams of educators on developing and evaluating math curricula, training pre-service teachers, improving Head Start and VPK math instruction, even with NASA on K12 STEM initiatives.
Dyscalculia Professional Development achieves the following:
(1) Presents research and current information about dyscalculia to teachers and math coaches;
(2) Documents the experiences of teachers and math coaches with
students they now suspect have or had MLD;
(3) Provides classroom teachers and coaches with diagnostic resources they can use to identify
students with MLD in order to refer them for further testing;
(4) Discusses research-based strategies for intervention;
(5) Facilitates conversations concerning unrecognized strategies and methods
that require further evaluation; and
(6) Tracks the outcomes of these efforts for the purposes of:
(a) disseminating valuable information to LD organizations and websites,
(b) highlighting the importance of this issue across the state, and
(c) attracting university and federal grant dollars to support ongoing efforts within ESE.