Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Middle-School Mathematics Curricula and Students with Learning Disabilities: Is One Curriculum Better?

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Middle-School Mathematics Curricula and Students with Learning Disabilities: Is One Curriculum Better?

Article excerpt

Abstract. Little is known about how best to teach mathematics to students with learning disabilities. This study explored the performance and self-reported calculator use of 13 sixth-grade and 15 seventh-grade students with learning disabilities educated in either standards-based or traditional mathematics curricula on multiple-choice and open-ended assessments. Across both groups of students: (a) curriculum did not impact the number of problems students answered correctly, (b) students answered more problems correctly on the multiple-choice than on the open-ended assessments, (c) students self-reported low percentages of calculator use, and (d) curriculum did not impact students' self-reported calculator use. Overall, the results suggest that students with learning disabilities are not advantaged or disadvantaged by receiving either a traditional or a standards-based mathematics curriculum.


Students with learning disabilities often struggle with mathematics, ranging from basic facts to problem solving (Calhoon, Emerson, Flores, & Houchins, 2007; Jitendra, DiPipi, & Perron-Jones, 20002; Parmar, Cawley, & Frazita, 1996). These students are typically behind their peers without disabilities, often performing below grade level (Cawley & Miller, 1989; Wagner, 1995). While some research has documented these struggles, much less research has been conducted on mathematics and students with learning disabilities than on literacy (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2005; Fuchs et al., 2007).

The limited research in this area is a critical deficiency considering that mathematics is a core content area and, under No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2002), is to be assessed yearly in grades 3-8 and once again in high school for all students, including students with disabilities. Further, mathematics, and specifically algebra, is considered foundational to general success in life as well as future job options (Algozzine, O'Shea, Crews, & Stoddard, 1987; Maccini, McNaughton, & Ruhl, 1999; Xin, Jitendra, & Deatline-Buchman, 2005).

For students with learning disabilities, the issue of curricular philosophy and approach to teaching and learning mathematics has received little attention. Thus, largely absent are pedagogical discussions comparing standards-based instructional materials that are problem centered and focus on conceptual development to traditional materials that focus on learning rules, procedures, and definitions (Cawley, 2002; Hudson, Miller, & Butler, 2006). Yet, within the last decade, curricular emphasis has become more important as school mathematics programs implement instructional materials aligned with the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards (NCTM, 2000), and hence take a more problem-centered, conceptually based approach to teaching and learning (Maccini & Gagnon, 2002; Woodward, 2004). The concern over curricular emphasis has been particularly directed at the middle grades (i.e., sixth, seventh, and eighth) (Riordan & Noyce, 2001), due to the falling U.S. scores at these grades compared to international achievement. The poor performance of students in the United States has made middle-grades mathematics a national concern and points to the need for additional research (Schmidt, Houng, & Cogan, 2002).

While limited research has isolated and examined students with disabilities with respect to curricular impact, the research from general education suggests that mathematics curricular orientation matters (Carroll, 1998; Cobb et al., 1991; Reys, Reys, Lapan, Holliday, & Wasman, 2003; Riordan & Noyce, 2001; Wood & Sellers, 1997). Reys et al. and Riordan and Noyce found that middle-school students, without documented disabilities, who received a standards-based curriculum performed better on assessments than those who received a traditional curriculum. Although these studies highlight the promise of standards-based curricula, the exclusion of students with disabilities is a concern. …

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