A Preliminary Investigation of Placement and Predictors of Success for Students with Learning Disabilities in University-Required Mathematics Courses

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The number of students with learning disabilities attending institutions of higher education has dramatically increased in the last ten years and will continue to do so. Since federal laws in the United States and other counties require appropriate accommodations for students with learning disabilities, it is important for universities to evaluate the effectiveness of accommodations and services. This study was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of a class reserved for students with learning disabilities and to identify predictors of success based on student documentation. Evaluation of the relationship between student success and specific student documentation will facilitate the development of sound, researched policies for making accommodation and placement decisions.


Increased attention to and legal support for those with learning disabilities in education has led to a dramatic increase in the number of students with learning disabilities attending colleges and universities. Unfortunately, few institutions are monitoring performance, graduation rates, attrition, satisfaction, or other indicators of success for students with learning disabilities in their learning services programs (Vogel & Adelman, 1992). Evaluation of what little information there is available for these programs suggest that there is reason to be concerned with success of students with learning disabilities (Vogel & Adelman, 1992). Most universities have ways to assess academic courses through student evaluations of teaching but few have a system in place for feedback on their learning services programs. This raises serious questions about the assessment and implementation of good accommodation and placement practices and the importance of evaluating the services that are in place.

Mathematics learning is crucial to the overall academic success of students with learning disabilities. A significant number of students with learning disabilities have difficulty with mathematics learning (Miller & Mercer, 1997) and other learning disabilities may interfere with testing ability and mathematics learning even if students are not diagnosed with specific mathematics learning impairments (Nolting, 2000). Students with learning disabilities are more likely to fail to organize information, both mentally and physically, in a way that allows for easy retrieval, use, and generalization (Scheid, 1990). Often, students with learning disabilities achieve approximately one year of mathematical understanding for every two years of school attendance (Miller & Mercer, 1997). This progress continues into adulthood, leaving students with learning disabilities behind their contemporaries (Raskind, Goldburg, Higgins, & Herman, 1999). All of this suggests the placement and accommodations associated with mathematics learning are important in the success of students with learning disabilities in higher education.

Placement and Accommodations Practices

Ofiesh and McAfee (2000) surveyed ninety-one college learning services programs to examine current use of psycho-educational evaluations such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) and the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities and Tests of Achievement (WJ). They found that these tests were being consistently used for eligibility, placement, and accommodation determinations. For eligibility purposes, a diagnostician has a formal and systematic process for interpreting scores supported by research.

However, the process of how test scores are being used to determine accommodations and placement is much less structured and is widely undocumented through survey or empirical data at the postsecondary level. There is a strong need for further research to validate the practice of interpreting specific parts of psycho-educational test scores to make accommodation decisions (Ofiesh & McAfee, 2000). These decisions are often left to a learning services specialist who must make practical connections between test scores and available accommodations or courses. …


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