Designing assessments for students with mathematics learning disability

Students with mathematics learning disability (MLD) face growing challenges in their learning as they age. Students with MLD, or dyscalculia, often struggle with understanding number concepts and systems – such as with counting, abstract ideas (e.g. time, temperature, speed), estimation, and remembering number facts. In addition, more so than their peers, these students may:

  • Have difficulty relating general strategies to real-life tasks
  • Find it easier to build from specific strategies to more general, problem-solving strategies
  • Require a clear link between the strategy and the classroom tasks

As mathematics learning moves from simple, concrete ideas to more complex, abstract ones in the later grades, understanding these foundational components of the subject are necessary for future learning.

Teachers need to understand how these students process and understand information in order to promote numeracy learning. Likely stemming from short-term memory impairments, students with MLD require particular cognitive strategies as part of their learning to address their developmental needs.

Authentic Assessment

For her Werklund Undergraduate Research project, Stephanie Mah designed an authentic mathematics assessment to support students with MLD in grade 3. Authentic assessments include problems and activities which relate directly to real-life situations.

In this case, she designed (summative) assessment tasks that explore fractions in different circumstances. Stephanie used authentic assessment not only to increase student motivation for learning, but to help the students understand why they may need to use fractions to solve problems. These include examples of food, money, travel, and time.

Stephanie evaluated her project using the Manual for Scoring Teacher Assessment Tasks in Mathematics from Koh (2011). To better meet the needs of students, Stephanie designed the tasks to avoid relying on students’ factual and procedural knowledge, instead requiring students to organize, compare, and interpret information. Students must apply their strategies, and explain their mathematical thinking throughout.

Designing Math Assessment

When designing an assessment tasks, it is necessary to remember that individual differences may make certain elements more or less difficult for each student. Since MLD covers a broad spectrum of characteristics and abilities, teachers may be required to adapt or change the different aspects of the design.

Connected Citations

Koh, K. (2011). Improving teachers’ assessment literacy. Singapore: Pearson.