Schools Screen for Dyslexia. 'Dyscalculia,' Not So Much

Hundreds of thousands of students have learning disabilities that make math harder
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 21, 2023 5:20 PM CDT
Schools Screen for Dyslexia. 'Dyscalculia,' Not So Much
Preschool students practice math at a public school in Boston in 2016.   (Lillian Mongeau/The Hechinger Report via AP)

Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of students face challenges learning math due to disabilities like dyscalculia, a neurodevelopmental learning disorder caused by differences in parts of the brain that are involved with numbers and calculations. There are often obstacles to getting help, and America's schools have long struggled to identify and support students with learning disabilities of all kinds, per the AP. Kids often languish while waiting to receive a diagnosis, and families frequently have to turn to private providers to get one. Even with a diagnosis, some schools are unable to provide children the help they need. That's now slowly changing—for some disabilities.

Most states have passed laws that mandate screening early elementary students for the most common reading disability, dyslexia, and countless districts train teachers to recognize struggling readers. Meanwhile, parents and experts say schools neglect students with math disabilities like dyscalculia, which affects up to 7% of the population and often coexists with dyslexia. "There's not as much research on math disorders or dyscalculia" as there is on reading disabilities, said Karen Wilson, a clinical neuropsychologist who specializes in the assessment of children with learning differences. "That also trickles down into schools." Math scores in the US have remained dismal for years and only worsened during the COVID pandemic. Learning struggles for some may be due to dyscalculia or other math learning disabilities, yet few teachers report their students have been screened for dyscalculia.

Some signs of dyscalculia are obvious early, if parents and educators know what to look for. Young children may have difficulty recognizing numbers or patterns. In elementary school, students may have trouble with addition and subtraction, word problems, counting money, or remembering directions. There are pockets of progress around the country in screening more children for math disabilities, but movement at the federal level—and in most states—is "nonexistent," said Amelia Malone of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Students with dyscalculia often need a more structured approach to learning math that involves "systematic and explicit" instruction, said special education professor Lynn Fuchs, of Vanderbilt University. Experts say learning the most effective methods for teaching students with math disabilities could strengthen math instruction for all students. Much more here.

(More mathematics stories.)

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