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July 2010

From the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER)

New R&D Center Focuses on Cognition and Math Disabilities

The Institute of Education Sciences' newest Special Education Research and Development Center will focus on improving mathematics instruction for students with mathematics difficulties and will be based at the University of Delaware under the direction of Nancy Jordan. The new center, Improving Understanding of Fractions among Students with Mathematical Learning Difficulties, represents a major investment in discovering the underlying cognitive processes that contribute to learning difficulties in mathematics and in the development and testing of specific interventions to enable students with disabilities to become proficient in mathematics.

Students with disabilities lag substantially behind their peers without disabilities in mathematics achievement. On the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress mathematics assessment, 40 percent of fourth-grade students with disabilities who participated in the assessment scored below the basic level compared to 15 percent of fourth-grade students without disabilities. At fourth grade, scoring below the basic level means that the student is likely to miss problems such as using a ruler to find the total length of three line segments. Relatively little research has been directed at improving mathematics instruction for students with disabilities. However, in the last decade, there has been a substantial increase in knowledge on the cognitive processes underlying learning difficulties in mathematics.

The research team—Nancy Jordan, Lynn Fuchs from Vanderbilt University, Robert Siegler from Carnegie Mellon University, and Russell Gersten with the Instructional Research Group—will conduct small-scale experimental studies to enhance understanding of the cognitive processes involved in learning fractions. They also will develop and test innovative strategies for improving mathematics instruction for students with learning disabilities in mathematics.