By Diane Pedrotty Bryant, Ph.D.
Educators and researchers are beginning to pay more attention to the notion that some students have difficulty learning math skills and concepts taught in today's classrooms. It is important for school personnel and parents to work together to identify math problems when they arise and to address them both at school and home. Identifying and addressing math difficulties in the early grades can potentially prevent more serious problems in later grades. This article will explain how children are identified as having a math disability and suggest ways to work with your child's teacher to address the problems.
Mathematics disabilities are identified through a variety of procedures. Usually the classroom teacher or parent observes that the child is having persistent difficulty learning mathematics and tends to perform poorly on classroom math assessments compared to the rest of the class. For example, the child may have trouble remembering what the teacher has taught or she may have difficulty using effective strategies to solve math problems. By observing and working directly with a child over time, the teacher can determine if her difficulty learning mathematics is persistent. Unfortunately, mathematics disabilities are usually not identified until the upper elementary school years because early problems often go undetected and assessment results may not be sensitive enough to detect a problem until the later grades.
Information about the child's performance can be gathered in several ways. Weekly tests, homework, and class work samples are examples of information the teacher can collect about the child's progress learning the mathematics curriculum. The teacher may adapt how instruction is provided to accommodate a child's learning needs and then note how the child responds to those adaptations. The teacher may also seek assistance from a specialist or school support team who can offer additional ideas about how to adapt instruction for the child who is struggling to learn the curriculum. The teacher may also consult with the child's parents to understand how the child is doing on math homework. All of this information helps the teacher and school support team develop a profile of the child's learning difficulties and her response to instruction and adaptations.
If the child continues to exhibit learning problems, a formal referral for special education assessment might be recommended. There are a variety of formal assessments that can be used to identify math skills and concepts that are problematic for the child. Some of these measures are specific to the curriculum, some are diagnostic in nature, and others are viewed as measures of achievement. The school psychologist or other diagnostician determines which assessment measures to use for testing purposes. The following are examples of some of the more common assessment measures:
Curriculum-based assessments relate specifically to the skills and concepts typically taught in a certain grade level. Examples include:
Diagnostic assessments provide information about a student's strengths and weaknesses compared to students of the same age or grade level. Examples include:
Achievement assessments broadly measure areas of academic knowledge and application and compare a child's performance to that of students of the same age or grade level. Examples include:
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