Thursday, June 25, 2009

Math disabilities: JPA special issue

The current issue of the Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment focuses on math disabilities (often referred to as dyscalculia), an area less investigated than reading disabilities (aka, dyslexia).

Highlights from the issue are summarized in the guest editors introductory article:

  • GrĂ©goire, J. & Desoete, A. (2009). Mathematical Disabilities:  An Underestimated Topic?  Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment 27, 171-174

According to the special issue editors, and well understood by most people, is the fact that math literacy is becoming increasing important in our technological and information-based society. Furthermore, "differences in mathematics skills and abilities between and within individuals are normal. Teachers are expected to cope with learning differences and to adjust their teaching style to the needs of all students. However, in some cases, these differences appear to be so severe or resistant that they can be considered as characteristics of “problems” or even “disabilities” (Desoete, 2008; Geary, 2004)."  The editors cite statistics that the prevalence of mathematical disabilities as been reported between 3% and 14% of children.  Despite a prevalance rate similar to reading disabilities, the research focusing on math disabilities is much less than that for reading disabilities.  According to the editors, "from 2000 to 2008, only 202 articles on mathematics disabilities and 211 articles on dyscalculia were cited in Web of Knowledge, whereas 302 articles on reading disabilities and 2,918 articles on dyslexia could be found, although the prevalence of both learning disabilities is about the same."

This JPA special issue "is devoted to the assessment of mathematical disabilities, the comorbidity with reading disability, the risk of underestimating potentials because of math anxiety, potential markers for mathematical learning disabilities, and the sensitivity and specificity of tests."

Below are a few highlights from the guest editors intro:
  • One of the unresolved questions is the comorbidity rate with other disabilities.
  • The comorbidity rate varies from 17% to 43%
  • There can be little dispute that the presence of comorbidity poses a serious challenge to existing assessment and comprehension of mathematical disabilities.
  • Mathematical learning disabilities are often associated with math anxiety. Moreover, math anxiety might lead to an underestimation of true ability. Ashcraft and Moore (2009) focus on risk factors for math anxiety and some factors that should be kept in mind when assessing math anxious students. Krinzinger, Kaufmann, and Willmes (2009) add to this body of knowledge by investigating the relationship between calculation ability, self reported evaluation of mathematics, and math anxiety in primary school children.
  • The last decade, increased attention has been given to the assessment of early numeracy (e.g., GrĂ©goire, 2005). The current interest in early predictors is stimulated by the fact that if predictors and core deficits can be assessed and addressed as key components in remediation programs, children might not fall farther behind. Moreover, during the past few years, a large body of empirical evidence suggested that the earlier we recognise vulnerable young children, the more likely we will be to support their subsequent development (Coleman, Buysse, & Neitzel, 2006). Therefore, this special issue is also focused on the assessment of individual differences in early numeracy and on the role of executive functions and subitizing (Kroesbergen, Van Luit, Van Lieshout, Van Loosbroek, & Van de Rijt, 2009), as well as on the role of preparatory arithmetic markers and intelligence (Stock, Desoete, & Roeyers, 2009) to add to our psychological understanding of initial development arithmetic skills and to help respond to young children who may be at risk for mathematical learning disabilities as early as possible.

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