Experts outline challenges facing math instruction

Students with disabilities, as well as their teachers, need support in math classes.

Numerous studies point to a fact that cannot be ignored: U.S. students’ math and science performance trails that of several other countries, and the nation’s classrooms need qualified, committed teachers to help students with disabilities, English Language Learners (ELLs), and at-risk students succeed in higher-level math and science courses.

During the Texas Instruments T3 (Teachers Teaching with Technology) International Conference in late February, educators got the chance to learn how technology can be integrated into math and science instruction. The conference included sessions dedicated to the instruction of at-risk students, including those with disabilities and ELLs.

“Math disabilities … are quite significant in some students, and then less obvious in others, but they do exist,” said Dr. Phoebe Gillespie, director of the Personnel Improvement Center at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.

For more information on improving math achievement, see:

Boosting Math Skills Through Personalized Instruction

Solving the STEM Education Crisis

Gillespie said math is one of the core subject areas in which both students with disabilities and their teachers struggle in particular.

“The preparation of teachers of students with disabilities has not included a good, firm foundation in mathematics—and especially not to teach algebra,” she said.

Many students with disabilities have poor auditory and visual memory skills, rendering them unable to remember basic math facts using typical mathematics instruction. Sequential memory problems, often found in students with an executive functioning disability, make it difficult for students to categorize and sequence numbers. Conceptual processing disabilities present a challenge when students try to understand math and algebraic concepts.

Laura Ascione
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