How should mathematics instruction change to fit the needs of students with learning disabilities? Fred Gross, principal investigator of EDC’s Addressing Accessibility in Mathematics, has been helping teachers across the United States answer this question. He and his team have recently been to Arlington, Virginia; Austin, Texas; and Salt Lake City, Utah.
“About 15 percent of students in the country are identified as students with disabilities, and about half of those are learning disabilities. In many school districts, these students are not performing well on state assessments.
At least 7 million students across the country are struggling with math, and those are just the ones who are identified as ‘special needs.’ We don’t know how many others are struggling who aren’t on Individualized Education Programs. Schools and teachers are getting students with diagnoses they’ve never heard of before, such as Asperger’s syndrome. ADD [Attention-Deficit Disorder] wasn’t called that 20 years ago, and the implications for students still aren’t clear.
So many jobs today require analytical skills and the ability to collaborate. The economic implications are significant, because if this population is not getting access to quality math curriculum, then that affects their chances for success once they get into the workforce.
What does ‘access’ mean for these students? Access doesn’t just mean that a student with special needs is placed in a regular math class. It means that the instructional practices and materials provide students with access to rich mathematics by addressing the learning disability that may be a barrier. For example, students trying to identify a pattern in mathematics to create a rule or an equation may need concrete models, color coding, and paired activities to help them identify the pattern and then translate it into a generalization.
Across the country, I see teachers who really do care. The administrators care. They don’t want any students shut out from learning math. They want students to be successful in mathematics. They just don’t know what to do and how to do it.
Our project provides joint professional development for math and special education teachers. Their combined expertise and cooperation can lead to more access to the curriculum through instructional methods and materials. We’re developing two courses—one for math and special ed teachers together, and another for administrative teams. Through our professional development, we’re helping schools think more critically about collaboration, instructional strategies, structure, and supports as they work with a wider range of students.”
Originally published on July 25, 2008