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  • Honora Wall

Dyscalculia: 4th Grade Math Accommodations

This week, a parent asked me or some practical advice to help her son as he starts 4th grade. This is the weekly email his teachers sent home: "This week in standard math, we will understand place value up to a million, how to write numbers in expanded and word form, comparing numbers, and rounding numbers. It will be a busy start to 4th grade."

Here's my answer:

First, his accommodations and interventions should allow him to have a place value chart to refer to at all times (yes, even quizzes and tests). Place value, time, and money are what I call the Dyscalculia Trifecta, and are almost always difficult for people with dyscalculia to understand and remember. Students should be able to use a place value chart at school and always use one at home. Second, this student also has dyslexia (his neuropsychological evaluation showed low scores in nonsense word decoding and low visual working memory scores); reading through worksheets and tests will take him longer to finish and he will learn less from them, which can lead to students rushing through printed work.

His verbal comprehension scores and vocabulary scores are average to high, so he will perform better with verbal assessments than pencil and paper ones. I told mom to ask his teachers if they will let him tell them the right answers, rather than having him write them out. Or, if he can choose the right answer from a set (using multiple choice questions, circling the right answer, or drawing a line matching the problem and the answer), that would be better than having to write out word form or expanded form numbers. He'd make fewer mistakes, have less frustration, and finish his work without rushing if he could talk about the right and wrong answers. His auditory working memory score is high (63rd percentile), but his visual working memory and processing speed is very low (16th percentile). This explains why he can talk circles around people, but struggles to get through printed tests and doesn't like reading very much.

Finally, rounding and comparing numbers are difficult for people with dyscalculia because they don't have a strong ANS (approximate number sense), which is basically a mental number line. He should be able to use a 1 to 100 chart or number line while he's working. Again, anytime he can say his answer instead of writing it down, he will perform better. His auditory scores are almost 6 times higher than his visual scores-- looking at a worksheet isn't going to be his strong suit. Plus, he's smart enough to understand that he should be able to get the right answer, and he's probably going to develop some very negative classroom behaviors if he feels frustrated by worksheets and by getting answers wrong to topics he understands better when he talks about them.

I strongly advise parents to use these accommodations at home, regardless of what is allowed at school. Let students use the support tools. Read the homework questions with your children. Let them tell you the answers. Readers, let me know what accommodations you are able to make for your students, and let me know how they work!

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