Special Education and Behavior Modification
An online guide to special education
processes and behavior modification principles
for educators and parents.

Math Learning Disabilities - Let's Learn About Math
Learning Disabilities

An Introduction to Math Learning
Disabilities - Anyone involved in the schools has
heard the term specific
learning disability (SLD) before.That said, people
often speak of SLD's in more general terms than the name
warrants.In other
words, the 'specific' part of SLD is important and should not be
glossed over.The
term refers to the actual area of achievement impacted by the
learning problem.One
well known SLD is a math learning disability.Those with math
learning disabilities in schools, as defined by IDEA,
require special
education services due to weaknesses in math calculation,
math reasoning, or both.

Of course, in order to
understand math disabilities more fully, one needs to know the
current diagnostic criteria that educators use to determine who
has a math learning disability vs. who does not.And that requires an
understanding of SRBI and/or RTI procedures.

How
Schools Used To Identify Math Learning Disabilities

First, a brief history
lesson.In the
past, educators were required to use the discrepancy model for
identifying learning disabilities, including math disabilities.This model was based
on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).The basics to this
model are as follows:

1) An IQ test was
given and a student's overall cognitive ability was determined.

2) An achievement test
was given in order to determine a student's reading, math,
written expression, oral expression, and/or further skills
related to academic achievement as identified by IDEA.

3) A determination was
made as to whether there was a significant difference between
ability and achievement in an area identified by IDEA law.For example, if the
student's IQ or ability score was significantly higher than
their math calculation skills, then a significant discrepancy or
difference was noted in basic reading.4) A determination was
made as to whether a processing deficit or cognitive issue was
impacting the area of academic need.

5) If a severe
discrepancy was found along with a processing deficit to explain
it, a student would have then qualified for special education
services with a learning disability in the area of achievement
identified.

Of course, it was a
little bit more complicated than this.Essentially though,
those were the nuts and bolts of things.What we didn't note
earlier is that every so often IDEA law is reauthorized, or
revised.In 2004,
very important changes were made to the definition of learning
disabilities. For
more specific information and background on why this occurred
and more, see this article: (Learning Disabilities).For just the
basics, keep reading here.

IDEA 2004 and Specific Learning
Disabilities

The reauthorization of
IDEA (IDEA 2004) did not change the definition of a specific
learning disability, which math disabilities fall under.See the definition
below:

“A disorder in one or more of the basic
psychological processes involved in understanding or in using
language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the
imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell,
or do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as
perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain
dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. Specific
learning disability does not include learning problems that are
primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities,
of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of
environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.” (34 CFR
§ 300.8(c)(10])

ThThat
said,
the process regarding how learning disabilities is diagnosed was
modified. Specifically,
IDEA 2004 indicated that each state:

1. Cannot require the former,
commonly used severe discrepancy model;which was a discrepancy
between intellectual ability and achievement for determining if
a child qualifies under SLD; 2. Must permit the use of a
process based on the child's response to scientific
research-based intervention (SRBI); and 3. May permit the use of the
other alternative research-based procedures for determining
whether a child qualifies under SLD

From SRBI To Response To
Intervention (RTI) For Math Disability Identification

Generally speaking,
many schools, states, etc., are using a process called response
to intervention (RTI) as their scientific research-based
intervention model.RTI
utilizes research based practices and interventions in attempts
to remedy academic weaknesses (in the case of this article, to
remedy math weaknesses in reasoning, calculation, or
both). Since
states must allow the use of a learning disability
identification process based on the child's response to
scientific research based intervention, RTI has gained
prominence.

RTI procedures are
generally tied to a 3-tiered approach to interventions. Tier
1 is about the regular classroom instruction and the
differentiation that may occur for students within that
environment. This is very
important, in that appropriate classroom instruction and general
education practices have been proven time and time again to make
a difference in student achievement. Things like flexible
grouping in regular education math classes designed to target
areas of identified math need as noted on formative assessments
is one thing that might be done under the Tier 1 umbrella.

Tier 2 usually refers
to more focused interventions for students that do not respond
or show significant improvement with Tier 1 strategies. These
tend to be done in smaller groups, involve more time during the
school day.For
example, a 10 student math lab for those who fell below goal on
a state testing measure would be a Tier 2 intervention.

Tier 3 interventions
are even more intense and individualized. They
are designed for those that do not respond to Tier 2 strategies.In fact, these
interventions typically involve a staff to student ratio of 1:1
or 1: 2.

Underpinning all of this in an RTI process
are the following:

1. RTI and SRBI practices involve the use of
universal screenings, so as to determine who in the regular
population is not responding to everyday practice. 2. Research based strategies,
which can be loosely defined as those that have been proven to
work and/or are peer reviewed, should be utilized. Though
there may be no perfect study to define all education practices
that may/will be required depending on the nature of the
problem, school staff "Should certainly rely on
such studies to the extent that they are available," (LD CT).

3. Frequent progress monitoring
and data driven decision making are all hallmarks of RTI and SRBI.
You can't make good decisions without good data! Regular Education
Math Practice And Appropriate Math Instruction

Whenever you're
talking about math learning disabilities, or any learning
disability for that matter, it's important to make sure that
appropriate math instruction and general math practice was
conducted with the student.In other words, students with math problems are not math
disabled if appropriate math instruction was not conducted with
them prior to identification.What's more, with new SRBI practices becoming more
prominent, the definition of what constitutes good math
instruction may be changing.

Areas of
Math Disability

When discussing math
disabilities, we're really talking about deficiencies in math
calculation/numerical operations and/or math reasoning.Math
calculation/numerical operations refers to a student's ability
to do math calculations of increasing difficulty (addition,
subtraction, multiplication, division, adding decimals, dividing
fractions, etc.).Math
reasoning refers to more higher level concepts, such as
understanding how to work with tables, word problems, etc.

Norm Referenced Math
Assessments

Norm referenced tests
are one which were derived from a normative group that initially
took the assessment.In
other words, a norm referenced evaluation offers an estimate of
where a student's score falls in relation to that initial
population regarding the trait being measured.So a norm referenced
math test would yield a score that compares a student's
performance next to the initial population, or normative sample,
that took the test.

Several standardized
math assessments are given by educators in order to determine
where a student's math skills are.In fact, there are way too many for us to attempt to name
them all.However,
some of the more popular ones include the Woodcock Johnson Tests
of Achievement (Third Edition), the Wechsler Individual
Achievement Test (Second Edition), and the Kaufman Test of
Education Achievement (Second Edition).

Speaking
of Testing- How Do Schools Consider Eligibility for Special
Education Services Under a Math Disability?

Generally, schools
will not refer to an IEP or special education meeting, which are
designed to determine eligibility for special education and/or
to plan for students who are already receiving special education
services, until a wealth of regular education interventions have
been attempted and proven inadequate to remedy the problem.That said, there are
exceptions to these rules and parents can request an evaluation
of their child, which will likely spur on an IEP team meeting.At this meeting, the
team will make decisions regarding eligibility and/or make
recommendations regarding what may be needed in order to
determine eligibility (a psycho-educational evaluation, for
example, might be recommended).Interestingly, these days it's not always necessary to
conduct a full evaluation due to the change in eligibility
guidelines.Regardless,
the IEP team is tasked with making such decisions.

Research
Based Math Interventions

Below is a list of
articles that delve into research based practices designed to
improve math skills.Given
the rise in SRBI practices, this is important.Each article links to
studies supporting the use of that specific instructional
technique.

Follow the links below
for more detailed information on each.