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No Child Left Behind and Accessible Math: Where Are We Now?

Steve Noble, Director of Accessibility Policy
Design Science, Inc.

According to data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), there is great disparity between the levels of math literacy for students with disabilities when compared to the results for students without disabilities. Since math scores for students with disabilities are also being closely examined by the State assessments required under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), this issue will become even more critical for all public schools in the coming years.

There are undoubtedly many factors at work which have a connection to the poor math performance of students with disabilities. A fundamental contributing factor is that virtually all mainstream math instructional content and math assessments are not designed to be used with the assistive technology products that many students with disabilities use, and are thus not accessible. This is especially true of classroom textbooks and assessments, which are typically used to determine the instructional math program for students in most school settings. Math textbooks and assessments will provide much greater accessibility for students with print disabilities when they are made available in accessible digital formats. Formats that include math content as opposed to images allow assistive technology like screen readers to read math equations out loud. In addition, they provide means for students to navigate aurally through complex math formulas, output the math to refreshable Braille displays, and highlight expressions as they are read.

Under NCLB requirements, States are to provide statewide reading and math assessments to all students at designated grade levels. States have had some flexibility in determining when and how to implement these requirements, and have primarily focused on reading assessments to date, but are now coming to terms with the legislative mandates for math assessments as well. In an effort to streamline the scoring and grade-feedback process, many States have turned to online and computer-based reading assessments, and some States like Kentucky have made significant accomplishments in making these assessments accessible to students with disabilities who require assistive technology to read and/or complete test components. However, the ability to provide for information technology accessibility to mathematical information is not as well understood within the educational community, and presents a number of challenges in implementation.

Design Science received funding from the Southeast DBTAC to conduct a pilot project called AMATIS, the Accessible Math Assessment Technologies in Schools Project, which is aimed at trying to define the scope of math accessibility issues that exist in the domains of planning, developing and delivering accessible online or locally delivered computer-mediated math assessments. This project is limited to the eight-state region served by the SE-DBTAC: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Tennessee. This session will provide details on the state of math accessibility in both instructional content and assessment in these and other States, giving attendees a better understanding of the current landscape and issues involved in making math accessible.

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