Archive for the 'Dyscalculia' Category

Are read alouds cheating?

Over on his Science and Education blog, Dan Willinghom, a friend of LD Blog, posted an intriguing examination of this question: “Is Listening to an audio book ‘Cheating?’” Consistent with Professor Willingham’s perspective, he takes a cognitive psychology look at this question. It’s worth reading.

He says he’s heard this question often, and I wonder whether there’s been a hint of objection to the idea of having students listen to audio books. Now maybe it is just about whether one is slighting her- or himself by listening to books on tape.

But, I wonder whether at least some of the objection to listening to audio books being a form of cheating reflects concern about children who receive special treatment in school testing situations. I can imagine a conversation in which a parent might say, “I heard that the Smith’s boy gets to have a teacher read the test to him. And it’s not just the story, but the teacher also reads the answers, too!”

Parents of students with disabilities will recognize this situation as a “read-aloud accommodation.” (People who conduct a lot of research on accommodations such as Rogers, Lazarus, and Thurlow, 2016, refer to read-alouds as “oral delivery,” by the way.) Whether they are called “read alouds” or “oral presentations,” these accommodations are pretty common. They were provided to approximately 33% of secondary students with disabilities who took standardized tests in the early 2000s, according to a report by the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (2004).

Does having someone read test content and items convey an unfair advantage? Ahh, herein lies a rub. Two meta-analyses (Buzick & Stone, 2014; Li, 2014) both reached similar conclusions. Studies that compared the effects of oral presentation for individuals with disabilities and those without disabilities found that “read alouds” helped the students with disabilities and those without disabilities, but they helped those with disabilities significantly more. The benefits were more substantial in reading or language arts areas than in arithmetic or mathematics areas.

So, is it cheating for those students who do not have fluent decoding skills? Apparently, it allows them to show what they know and can do when the handicap is removed.

For my money, the evidence is also a strong argument for doing a very good job of teaching decoding skills very well right from the beginning, thereby eliminating or reducing that handicap.


Buzick, H., & Stone, E. (2014). A meta‐analysis of research on the read aloud accommodation. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 33(3), 17-30.

Li, H. (2014). The effects of read‐aloud accommodations for students with and without disabilities: A meta‐analysis. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 33(3), 3-16.

National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (2004, April). Standardized testing among secondary school students with disabilities. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

Rogers, C. M., Lazarus, S. S., & Thurlow, M. L. (2016). A summary of the research on the effects of test accommodations: 2013-2014 (NCEO Report 402). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.

Thompson Road by Scott Wyatt

Because he thought I would be interested in reviewing it, Scott Wyatt, an author of contemporary fiction, sent me a copy of a new title called “Thompson Road.” The reasons he thought it was fitting for LD Blog will become clear as I describe the story.

Thompson Road follows adolescents who grow into adulthood in the Pacific Northwest in the 1930s-40s-50s. Mr.’s Wyatt’s choice of this time allows him to highlight many important ideas that touch on how people personally view learning disabilities (LD) and on issues about public policy in disabilities. But that’s not what Thompson Road is really about.
Continue reading ‘Thompson Road by Scott Wyatt’

Testing fraud of a different sort

In a puzzling case of a student who appears to have had problems throughout the primary grades and did not get help until fourth grade, Liz Ditz asks the question, How Often Does This Happen? Teacher accused of testing fraud to avoid special education referral for her student. Not until the parents had pushed for years were the child’s problems recognized. Was this a well-meaning, but misguided teacher? Has anti-LD sentiment become so strong that folks cheat to keep kids from having the label?

Dyscalculia gets good ink

In the prestigious journal Science, Professors Brian Butterworth, Sashank Varma, and Diana Laurillard published a review article discussing dyscalculia, the Learning Disability that makes arithmetic and mathematics an especially- miserable muddle for some students. In their review they explain why mathematical problems are important to individuals and society, what dyscalculia is, what neuroscientists know about mathematics and dyscalculia, and what they see as the outlook for dyscalculia.
Continue reading ‘Dyscalculia gets good ink’

LearningRx in the popular press

Sandy Hausman, Charlottesville (VA, US) reporter for WVTF (one of the local public radio stations available in my listening area), carried a story about LearningRx and Learning Disabilities this morning. Unlike the credible coverage provided by many reporters for popular-but-unproven therapies for LD and other disorders, Ms. Hausman provided a sensible and balanced story about LearningRx. Here’s the blurb from WVTF’s Web site

Americans spend millions of dollars keeping our bodies in shape. Now a Charlottesville man is offering a workout for the brain. His center–part of a nationwide franchise–promises to help children and adults improve their concentration, memory, reasoning, and other mental skills. Sandy Hausman has the story.

Unlike many reporters who too-often fall for pop-psych and pop-ed theories (as regularly noted in other posts here on LD Blog), Ms. Hausman gets many facts right (e.g., prevalence of LD), phrases her report carefully (describes LearningRx reports as “internal studies”), includes appropriate caveats along with personal-interest angles, and even incorporates alternative explanations from the experts she interviews.

This is an example of journalism done better. Listen to an MP3 of Ms. Hausman’s report and explore

DLD conference sessions filling

Although registration continues for the Division for Learning Disabilities conference, “Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice,” some of the sessions are reaching their limits and will be closed. As a part of its emphasis on creating workshop settings where participants learn how to implement evidence-based practices, DLD caps the number of participants in sessions.

Linda Siegel has put together a very impressive line-up of presenters and topics. As one can see here, the agenda for the meeting in San Diego 23 & 24 October 2009 is chocked full of good sessions by internationally renowned presenters.



David F. Bateman How to Prepare for and Survive a Due Process Hearing
Jenny Sue Flannagan & Lucinda S. Spaulding Best Practices for Inclusive Science Instruction
Steve Graham & Sharlene Kiuhara Writing Problems and Writing Solutions
Paige C. Pullen Phonological Awareness Assessment and Instruction: A Sound Beginning
Karen R. Harris, Karin Sandmel, & Mary Brindle, “The Magna Carta Provided That No Free Man Should be Hanged Twice for the Same Offense”: Self-Regulated Strategy Development for Writing
Charles A. Hughes Two Recent SIM Writing Strategies: The Essay Test-Taking Strategy and the Editing Strategy
Erica Lembke & Todd Busch Using Curriculum-Based Measurement for Data-Based Decision Making within a Response to Intervention System
Maureen W. Lovett Multiple Component Intervention to Improve the Outcomes of Struggling Readers: Remediating Reading Skill Deficits and Misguided Beliefs About Effort and Achievement at the Same Time
Marjorie Montague Improving Mathematical Problem Solving of Middle School Students with LD
Brian Bottge Teaching Mathematics to Adolescents with LD in Rich Problem-Solving Contexts
Rosemary Tannock Understanding and Engaging Children’s Wandering Minds
Karen J. Rooney Adolescent Literacy: Putting Research into Practice to Develop the Literacy Skills of Older Students
Deborah C. Simmons Integrating Vocabulary Strategies into Social Studies Instruction
David Scanlon The ORDER Routine: For Comprehending Content-Area Concepts
José Luis Alvarado & Anne Graves RTI for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners: Supporting Teachers to Implement Tier I and Tier II Literacy Instruction for Older Struggling
Susan P. Miller Building a Strong Numbers and Operations Foundation to Enhance Mathematics Success
Nicole Ofiesh “Got Accommodations?” Implications for Planning Instruction and Transition from Secondary to Postsecondary Settings
Rollanda E. O’Connor Successful Tier 2 Interventions in Reading: Grades K-4
Kimberly Bright & Paul Riccomini I THINK: A Real-Life Problem-solving Strategy for secondary students with Learning Disabilities

Link to the conference page at to register.

Sigh–new content

Despite getting virtually no recommendations about future content (3 votes!), I’m starting to post some new content. The new content is, in my obviously biased view (else, why would I post it?), pretty important stuff. It’s about research, practice, knowledge, and all that sort of stuff as it connects to Learning Disabilities. In this page, I discuss big-idea concepts that recur in Learning Disabilities. These are the themes that one sees when one reads a diverse array of literature on the topic of LD.

I recommend it. What’s more, you won’t have to find this post each time you want to refer to the page; it will always be directly accessible under the “special content” link in the top navigation bar.

Differential drug effects in arithmetic

Professor Orly Rubinsten and colleagues found that methylphenidate affects the arithmetic performance of children in different ways, but its effects are not only on children with ADHD. When they received methylphenidate, the active ingredient in Ritalin, children had higher correct responding on problems requiring them to follow a series of steps than when they didn’t receive the drug; in contrast, there were no differences between drug and no-drug conditions on simpler tasks. The effects occurred for children with dyscalculia, less math problems, or no math problems.

Methylphenidate has Differential Effects on Numerical Abilities in ADHD Children with and without Co-Morbid Mathematical Difficulties
Authors: Orly Rubinsten, Anne-Claude Bedard, Rosemary Tannock
doi: 10.2174/1874350100801010011

Objective. To investigate effects of methylphenidate (MPH) on numerical performance in children with Attention- Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with and without concurrent math difficulties. Method. Data were analyzed from three groups of children with ADHD, who varied in arithmetic abilities. Groups were matched for IQ and reading abilities and classification was based on ICD-10 criteria, using scores on a standardized arithmetic achievement test. Thus, we identified one group with severe difficulties in arithmetic (ADHD+Developmental Dyscalculia; DD), second group with more general and less severe difficulties in arithmetic (ADHD+Mathematical Disabilities; MD), and a third group with good arithmetic abilities (ADHD). All children completed a 10-minute arithmetic task involving subtraction problems, during an acute, randomized, placebo-controlled cross-over trial with three dose levels of methylphenidate (10mg, 15mg, 20mg). Results. (1) Both ADHD+MD and ADHD+DD were impaired in using strategies that implicate working memory (i.e., borrowing). However, only the ADHD+DD were impaired in using implicit knowledge of quantities (i.e., doing simple subtractions). (2) MPH improved all children’s performance of arithmetic procedures (borrowing) that involves working memory, but had no effect on basic numerical skills that involves understanding of quantities. Conclusions. We show clear dissociation of MPH functions: it improves working memory functions but does not improve specific cognitive functions such as quantity manipulation. Moreover, MPH shows decreased efficacy for arithmetic performance in ADHD+DD, highlighting the need for additional intervention in this subgroup.

Keywords: Methylphenidate, developmental dyscalculia, ADHD
Affiliation: Neurosciences and Mental Health Research Program, Research Institute, The Hospital for Sick Children, 555 University Ave., Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The study appeared in The Open Psychology Journal and the entire article is available for free via the Open Journal initiative.

Brain Gym (Skeptic’s Dictionary)

Wheeeheee! Over on the Skeptic’s Dictionary, Robert T. Carroll has a take-down and pin of Brain Gym. The contemporary incarnation of some ideas that were thoroughly discredited in Learning Disabilities in the 1970s, Brain Gym is making something of a splash. Shoot, it even appeared in one of my Curry School colleague’s classes for a while, as I understand.

Professor Carroll’s indictment of Brain Gym presents a good opportunity to make an important point. The problem with Brain Gym and many of its siblings is not that the activities might not be worthwhile, it’s that the advocates over-reach so substantially. Shoot, I’m glad to advocate that we teach kids who might fit the clumsy category how to walk, move, dance, play basketball, and etc. I just don’t want people to be sold a bill of goods about how doing so will improve those children’s reading, etc.

Read Professor Carroll’s analysis. Need info on the research about the benefits of perceptual-motor training? Here’s a link to a meta-analysis.

Dyscalculia day

Liz Ditz has a post noting today’s status as “International Dyscalculia Awareness Day, Today.” Read it here.