Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Algebra Progress Monitoring and Interventions for Students with Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Algebra Progress Monitoring and Interventions for Students with Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Abstract. Competence in algebra is linked to access to higher education, employment in better-paying jobs, and, increasingly, the ability to earn a high school diploma. For many students with learning disabilities, developing proficiency in algebra represents a challenging, but necessary goal. Teachers of students with learning disabilities need access to assessment tools and instructional strategies that support algebra learning. This article reports research on a group of measures designed to monitor student progress in algebra and highlights findings specific to students with disabilities. In addition, evidence-based instructional strategies for algebra are summarized. Implications for practitioners and future research are discussed for both progress monitoring assessment tools and algebra instructional practices.


Proficiency in mathematics is strongly associated with students' access to higher education and quality employment (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). That is, students who complete advanced mathematics courses, such as algebra, are more likely to succeed in college and obtain better-paying jobs (Cavanagh, 2007) than those who don't. The importance of higher standards for mathematics, and proficiency in algebra in particular, is evident in changing graduation requirements. Currently, 24 states require Algebra I or will have such a requirement in place in the next three years (Dounay, 2007).

National and international assessments across multiple years have highlighted the desperate need for more effective teaching and learning of mathematics in general, and algebra in particular (Carpenter et al., 1981; Silver & Kenney, 2000; U.S. Department of Education, 1997). For students with disabilities, reports of mathematics achievement are particularly discouraging. The National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (Wagner, Newman, Cameto, & Levine, 2006) found that more than half of high school students with disabilities demonstrated mathematics computation and problem-solving levels below the 25th percentile on an individually administered achievement test. Results of the 2005 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) Mathematics assessment revealed that 69% of eighth-grade students with disabilities in the sample performed at the "below basic" level, while only 28% of nondisabled students performed at this level (Perle, Grigg, & Dion, 2005). Similar results are found when looking specifically at achievement levels in algebra. More than 75% of eighth-grade students with disabilities earned a scale score on the Algebra and Functions strand of NAEP Mathematics that was below the mean score for the full sample (National Center for Education Statistics, n.d.).

The underlying causes for these difficulties are not clear. Gersten, Clarke, and Mazzocco (2007) observed that no consensus exists on the components that contribute to mathematics difficulties. In an effort to identify possible causes, investigations of children's mathematics difficulties have spanned a diverse range of fields and theoretical perspectives (Berch & Mazzocco, 2007), including behavioral genetics (Petrill & Plomin, 2007), neuropsychology (Zamarian, Lopez-Rolon, & Delazer, 2007), and cognitive science (Butterworth & Reigosa, 2007). Proposed mechanisms include deficits in general cognitive abilities (e.g., working memory capacity, strategy selection) (Geary, Hoard, Nugent, & Byrd-Craven, 2007), and domain-specific cognitive abilities such as recognizing "numerosities" and comparing quantities (Butterworth & Reigosa, 2007).

However, the vast majority of this work has focused on students' initial development of mathematical thinking and has been conducted almost exclusively with mathematics topics and content typical of elementary school classrooms. Geary et al. (2007) noted that the bulk of the work to date has focused on basic number concepts and simple arithmetic, with little attention to conceptual understanding and even less research in other mathematical domains. …

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