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Strengthening the Third "R"
Research Connections
Fall 2002

Strengthening the Third "R"
Helping Students with Disabilities Achieve in Mathematics

In all areas of life, math helps people solve problems and make good decisions. In recognition of the need for math knowledge, the 1997 Amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) raised the bar on what students with disabilities are expected to learn. If students with disabilities are to achieve to their potential, they must have mathematical knowledge and skills as reflected in the general education curriculum.

A significant element of the standards-driven reform effort is the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (first published in 1989 and revised in 2000). The NCTM Standards focus on conceptual understanding and problem solving rather than procedural knowledge or rule-driven computation. Most states and districts have used the NCTM Standards to some degree in revamping their mathematics curricula. [For more information on NCTM Standards, visit the NCTM web site at http://standards.nctm.org.]

According to OSEP-funded researchers Paula Maccini and Joe Gagnon, most special education teachers do not have sufficient knowledge about the NCTM Standards and this undermines their ability to provide support to students with disabilities. "In our survey, we found that many special education teachers were unfamiliar with the NCTM Standards, and those who were felt they had insufficient information, support, and materials for implementing the standards," Maccini reports. On the positive side, however, Maccini and Gagnon found a link between teacher familiarity with the NCTM Standards, teacher confidence teaching math, and student response. "Teachers who implemented activities, lessons, and strategies consistent with the NCTM Standards indicated that students with disabilities responded favorably," Maccini says. "Many students with mild disabilities experience difficulties with the math curriculum, but with the right support, they can succeed in a higher level math curriculum," Gagnon adds.

The challenge for teachers is to provide effective math instruction to students with disabilities so that they can meet high standards. Researchers featured in this Research Connections are helping us understand what it will take to ensure that students with disabilities succeed.

Next: Knowing and Doing Math

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