Making Reform-based Mathematics Work For Academically Low-achieving Middle School Students

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Publication Title

Teaching Mathematics To Middle School Students With Learning Difficulties.




For many years, special educators have perceived competence in mathematics to be fluency in math facts and computational procedures as well as the ability to solve problems quickly and accurately. This image of basic skills mastery is alluring because these targeted outcomes are relatively straightforward. They lend themselves to hierarchical instruction, with each step in the sequence taught to mastery. This perspective, however, is a great distance from what the National Research Council's Adding It Up (Kilpatrick, Swafford, & Findell, 2001) recently described as mathematical proficiency: (1) conceptual understanding; (2) procedural fluency; (3) strategic competence, the ability to formulate and represent problems; (4) adaptive reasoning, the capacity for logical thought, explanation, and justification; and (5) productive disposition, the belief that mathematics makes sense and is useful. These dimensions of proficiency make for an ambitious agenda for moving American students to much higher levels of mathematics achievement. The gap between typical special education practice and the current state of mathematics reform is discussed at the beginning of this chapter. The remainder of the chapter describes new ways of conceptualizing math instruction for many students with learning disabilities (LD). The different sections draw on emerging directions in the field of special education where researchers are attempting to rethink or broaden the instructional experiences for these students. It is hoped that this perspective will move students toward increased mathematical proficiency as articulated in Adding It Up (Kilpatrick et al., 2001). Finally, LD as they exist in schools (vs. idealized accounts in the professional literature) are markedly heterogeneous. Thus, what is presented may not be well suited to all students in the category of LD.



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