Penn State Wins $492,000 Grant to Study Mathematics Disabilities in School Children
By Joe Savrock (June 2007)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Researchers at Penn State have received funding of nearly a half million dollars to study the reasons behind the prevalence of mathematics disabilities (MD) among America’s elementary students.
George Farkas, professor of sociology, and Paul Morgan, assistant professor of education, are heading the study titled “Instructional Effects on Achievement Growth of Children with Learning Difficulties in Mathematics.” The two-year, $492,000 project is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences.
“Our project seeks to identify the most effective type of instruction for children with, or at risk for, mathematics disabilities,” said Morgan. “We are investigating both the etiology and the remediation of mathematics disabilities.”
Morgan and Farkas are using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K). The ECLS-K is a nationally representative dataset maintained by the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
In the 1998–99 academic year, NCES collected base-year data on a cohort of 21,260 students who were in kindergarten at the time. Since then, NCES has been tracking the students, who now have reached middle school. The ongoing nature of the ECLS-K provides researchers with data to study the relationship between sociological factors and school performance.
Morgan and Farkas plan to conduct three sets of analyses of the ECLS-K. First, they will work to identify the developmental dynamics of poor mathematics performance in grades K–5. Then they will analyze data to test the effects of instructional time spent on alternative types of mathematics teaching practices and content—for example, skills taught—in preventing or remediating mathematics disabilities. A third set of analyses will replicate these analyses for non-MD students.
“These analyses will test whether the same instructional practices that are effective for MD students are also effective for non-MD students,” noted Morgan. “We expect that the analyses will help identify specific instructional approaches that enable children to learn both basic mathematics skills and higher-order reasoning.”