Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Preventing Mathematics Difficulties in the Primary Grades: The Critical Features of Instruction in Textbooks as Part of the Equation

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Preventing Mathematics Difficulties in the Primary Grades: The Critical Features of Instruction in Textbooks as Part of the Equation

Article excerpt

Abstract. High-quality core instruction in kindergarten and first and second grade is critical to prevent mathematics difficulties. Evidence-based critical features of instruction should be part of core instruction and be included in mathematics textbooks. This study examined lessons from kindergarten and first- and second-grade basal mathematics textbooks to determine the extent to which 11 critical features of instruction were present. Overall, results showed an "Approaching Acceptable" rating, meaning that the features were not fully incorporated. Implications include the need for textbook adoption committees to be mindful of the importance of including effective instructional practices when making textbook decisions and for teachers to scrutinize the components of lessons to determine if these features of effective instruction are included.


Mathematical literacy refers to the ability to apply concepts to reason, solve problems, and communicate about mathematical situations in the classroom and everyday life (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [NCTM], 2000). According to the NCTM's Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000), "those who understand and can do mathematics will have significantly enhanced opportunities and options for shaping their futures. A lack of mathematical competence keeps those doors closed" (p. 5).

Unfortunately, the mathematics performance of fourth- and eighth-grade students with disabilities who took the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP; Lee, Grigg, & Dion, 2007) continues to lag behind that of their typically achieving peers even when accommodations are permitted in the testing situation. Much like current practices in early reading instruction, the achievement gap of students with mathematics disabilities compared to their typically achieving peers will remain problematic without preventive practices initiated in the primary grades (i.e., kindergarten, first, and second grade). Preventive practices should include evidence-based critical features of instruction (i.e., instructional design) that help these students access the core or primary mathematics curriculum and instruction typically found in general education classrooms. "Access to the general education curriculum" refers to students with learning difficulties receiving and benefiting from evidence-based instruction that is designed, delivered, and evaluated for effectiveness (D. Bryant, Smith, & Bryant, 2008).

While students are not usually identified as having mathematics disabilities in the primary grades, recent studies have identified procedures to determine students who are at risk for mathematics difficulties at a young age (e.g., kindergarten, first, and second grade) (B. Bryant, Bryant, Gersten, Scammacca, & Chavez, in press; B. Bryant & Bryant, 2007; L. S. Fuchs et al., 2007; Jordan, Kaplan, Olah, & Locuniak, 2006). As part of the Individuals with Education Improvement Act (IDEA, 2004), the Response to Intervention (RtI) process allows schools the opportunity to identify young children who are struggling with the core instruction and to provide secondary interventions in hopes of remediating academic weaknesses and preventing learning failure (D. Fuchs & Deshler, 2007). Core or primary instruction should include the critical features of effective instruction to enhance the ability of students at risk for mathematics difficulties to learn the core mathematics instruction.

Critical Features of Core Instruction for At-Risk Students

A key ingredient of the RtI process is the provision of high-quality core classroom instruction that is based on research (Mellard, 2004). Core mathematics instruction should be responsive to the needs of all students and include instructional design features that have been found to be critical for at-risk students. For example, a meta-analysis of academic treatment outcomes, including mathematics, for students with learning disabilities (LD) identified the positive contribution (i. …

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