Doing the Math: How Prepared are College-Bound Students With Disabilities?

This spring 2013 study was conducted by Adam D. King, masters student in the Utah State University Transition Specialist Program.

In the process of moving through secondary grades towards high school graduation, many students with mild disabilities (e.g., specific learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, emotional disturbance) fall behind their peers without disabilities in math achievement (Powell, Fuchs, & Fuchs, 2013; Wagner, Newman, Cameto, & Levine, 2006). This gap in math achievement places students with mild disabilities at a disadvantage when it comes to entering postsecondary education. Over half of all students with specific learning disabilities enter higher education (e.g., applied technology colleges, community colleges, universities), but only about one-fourth of them are awarded diplomas (compared to 54% of peers without disabilities).

The gap in math achievement is likely caused by several factors. First, many students are well behind grade level expectations when they are evaluated for special education eligibility. Second, special education teachers themselves are often not specialists in math assessment and instruction. Third, special instruction is often delivered in resource rooms which may reduce opportunities of both teachers and students from interacting in the general education classroom and understanding the high math expectations. Fourth, limitations in funding have eliminated qualified teacher and paraprofessional positions critical to provision of intensive, individualized instruction (Strawser & Miller, 2001).

We wanted to determine the extent to which students with mild disabilities were ready for college math, but by investigating teacher perception rather than test scores. Teacher perceptions are important because they have a powerful influence over what is taught in the classroom and how. We conducted a survey to find out the extent to which resource classroom special education teachers in high schools perceived students with mild disabilities (those who had postsecondary education goals) to be prepared for math at the college level. “College” was defined as either two or four-year post-secondary institutions. We also wanted to find out what resource teachers perceived as barriers to math preparedness and what they suggested as possible solutions.

Continue reading here.

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