Learning Disabilities in Mathematics: A Review of the Issues and Children's Performance across Mathematical Tests

Article excerpt


In recent years, the research literature on mathematics disabilities (MD) has shown relative growth. The characteristics of children with MD have thus been investigated from different perspectives. The purpose of this paper was to review one aspect of this growing literature: the performance of children with MD on arithmetic facts and word problems. Alongside this primary concern, the paper examined some of the issues surrounding MD. The results suggest that because of the unresolved issue on definition, investigators have used different operational definitions for MD. Despite this variation, studies were consistent in showing that the MD/RD children's performances on both number facts and word problems were significantly worse than the performances of NA children. Results were partly inconsistent when it comes to differences between MD-only and NA children, however. Whereas most studies documented better performance for the NA children, some showed that the two groups had comparable performances on both number facts and word problems particularly when these tasks were not complex or timed. The implications for further research are discussed.



For some years now, mathematics disabilities (MD) have been recognized as a type of learning disabilities (LD), as evidenced by the inclusion of mathematics in LD definitions (Bryant, Bryant, & Hammill, 2000). There is also general consensus among professionals in the field that MD is widespread in young children and that it has serious educational consequences (e.g., Bryant et al., 2000; Ginsburg, 1997; Jordan & Hanich, 2000; Jordan & Montani, 1997; Ostad, 1998). Despite this condition, discussions and research on LD have mostly been limited to difficulties in the area of reading and spelling for many years (Ginsburg, 1997; Hitch & McAuley, 1991; Jordan & Hanich, 2000; Jordan & Montani, 1997; Rourke & Conway, 1997). Little attention has thus been given to MD and there exists a relative lack of research in the area (Badian, 1983). The limited effort in research on MD is particularly evident when one examines the research efforts devoted to understanding poor reading achievement and reading disabilities (RD; Dockrell & McShane, 1993; Geary, Hoard, & Hamson, 1999).

However, in an attempt to redress this condition, researchers in the last decade have explored characteristics of children with MD from several perspectives. Consequently, the research literature is increasing year by year, although relatively slowly. The main purpose of this paper was to review this growing literature with a specific focus on comparing the mathematics performance profiles of children with MD and their normally achieving (NA) peers. The performance of these children could be assessed on different mathematical subtests such as simple computations, quantitative concepts, and word problem solving. Because such subtests are considered different at least in their difficulty (see Jordan & Montani, 1997; Ostad, 1998), examining between-group and within-group differences could provide useful information. The examination could raise the following important questions: Do students with MD differ from NA children in their performance? If so, on which subtests? Does their performance vary with difficulty of the subtests? Or do they perform worse than NA children on all subtests? Answers to these questions could provide useful directions for work with MD children as well as for further research. Among other things, the answers could help plan and develop appropriate intervention/remedial programs for children with MD. But before reviewing this literature, the paper first explores issues surrounding the MD concept. The rationale for raising these issues when the primary concern is examination of group differences derives from the belief that exploring group differences in an area like MD could not be complete without a discussion of the controversial issues. …


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