Why is math accessibility important?
The attainment of good math skills has been identified as one of the major
goals of the American educational system. In September of 1989, President
George Herbert Walker Bush together with the 50 State Governors convened the
National Education Summit, during which was developed a set of strategic
educational goals as part of an historic collaborative undertaking to transform our
country's schools. One of the
National
Educational Goals developed in that meeting, and later instituted in
federal legislation, was that "by the year 2000, United States students will
be the first in the world in mathematics and science achievement."
Despite the best intensions of policy makers to realize this laudable goal by the
year 2000, the current reality is that American school children are still falling
behind their peers in other industrialized countries. According to
a study
released by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), in
2003 US students ranked 24th in math literacy and 26th in problemsolving
capabilities among the 41 nations studied, and the report concluded that
American students "did not measure up to the international average in mathematics
literacy and problemsolving skills." In another study looking at a
different grouping of countries, the
2003
Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) found similar results
with a US ranking of 15th out of 45 countries examined for 8th grade math
skills. When commenting on this alarming trend in US math scores, the US
Department of Education stated in a recent publication entitled
No Child Left Behind: Expanding the Promise, Guide to President Bush’s FY
2006 Education Agenda that "the failure to provide our high school
students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed literally places
our national prosperity at risk."
Surely this is bad news for our country. But one often overlooked facet of
this problem is that as bad as the case may be for math literacy among our
nation's school children on the whole, the news is even bleaker when we
consider math skills attainment for the nation's 6.5 million students with
disabilities.
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, this issue has become all the more critical for each public school
in the country.
The NAEP attempts to examine a number of disparities that may exist
between disaggregated groups of students based upon such characteristics as
race/ethnicity, gender, and free/reduced lunch participation. However, the greatest
disparity ever recorded in NAEP's history of math assessments has been
between students with disabilities and those without. Thankfully, math
scores for all studentsincluding students with disabilitieshave improved
somewhat over the last several years, but the scores for students with
disabilities have not kept pace with those for students without
disabilities.
Although the level of
disparity between these two groups of students naturally fluctuates from year to year, it is hardly getting
better. For instance, the NAEP math scores for 4th and 8th grades in 2007 revealed that 67% of 8th
grade students with disabilities were found to be at the "below basic"
(lowest) level of math literacy, as compared to only 26% of students without
disabilities who fell into this category. On the other end of the spectrum, NAEP 2007 math scores revealed that 33% of
8th grade students without disabilities made it into the "at or above proficient"
category of math literacy, while only 8% of students with
disabilities performed at this level. While the results for 4th grade
students was similarly alarming, the divergence in scores was much broader
at the 8th grade level, which attests to the fact that when basic
math literacy is not obtained during the critical formative years of
elementary school, then the compounding academic consequences escalate this
divergence as the years go by and math gets more complex.
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 math instructional content as well
as math assessments are not designed to be accessible with the
assistive technology many students with disabilities use. Although there has
been a lot of focus over the past several years on universal design and
accessibility in literary materials, there continues to be a great need to
apply these same principles to math and science content.
One of the major benefits to accessible math content which is digitally
created and universally designed (such as math created using
MathML), is that
these materials can be used by all studentsboth those with and without
disabilitiesallowing everyone to benefit from the enhanced instructional value
that is available. Both students who use assistive technologies, and those who
do not, will be able to use these materials effectively. Using such universally
designed math materials can be a major aid to helping all of our country's
students reach new heights in math skills attainment. Making math instruction
accessible in this way will enable every student to excel, and will be a vital step in
protecting our nation's prosperity for decades to come.
Further Information and Resources
