Project Math Access

Subject-centered mathematics assessments will help pinpoint a student's current level of functioning, in addition to providing information about specific areas in which the student needs additional instruction. There are many published tests currently in use. The reader is referred to the website of the American Printing House for the Blind, www.aph.org, and the website of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, www.tsbvi.edu, for information regarding these instruments.

Those which have been developed for use with sighted youngsters can be modified, sing a combination of braille and oral administration as appropriate, to assess the general level of performance in mathematics. Since some adaptations involve the use of graphic displays, it is important that teachers work with students to move from real objects to models and two dimensional representations so that they are not penalized by such adaptations. It is also important to review tests before their use to insure that examples and graphics are meaningful to the blind student, and to determine the need for manipulatives. An additional note of caution: standardizations do not apply to braille or oral forms of tests; any comparisons to the norms provided should be interpreted with that in mind. Useful information can, however, be obtained by analyzing strengths and areas of difficulty related to concepts and skills addressed in a particular assessment instrument.

A diagnostic teaching approach also provides excellent opportunities to assess students' understanding of certain concepts and their ability to apply the skills they are learning on an ongoing basis. A combination of these assessment approaches can result in specific and functional data. Attention can then be directed to appropriate educational programming.

It is important that teachers not be misled by their student's verbal fluency or auditory memory, because this may lead to the false assumption that they understand concepts which they actually may not. Having students use their skills to solve problems from everyday situations, explaining the steps they take and the rationale for those steps, will provide evidence of their understanding or lack of it.

Following an analysis of specific areas in mathematics which may require further development, it is important to observe students to determine their mathematics learning style. In order to be successful in learning mathematics, a student must develop the ability to retain (memorize) facts; recognize patterns; recognize relationships (part to whole, sequential and spatial concepts); categorize and classify; organize mathematical information; "sense" numbers to recognize when an answer is reasonable or possible; think through a problem, plan a solution, and predict an outcome; differentiate essential information from that which is superfluous and irrelevant; and use mental flexibility to identify multiple ways to solve a problem.

In addition to the range of mathematics skills that require evaluation, the student's knowledge and use of the Nemeth Code, as well as the use of appropriate calculation tools, must be assessed. This can be done in a number of ways. Formal checklists or those designed by teachers to address specific skills can provide information to document progress or pinpoint areas for instruction. However, ongoing activities such as those listed below can also be helpful:

- Have students orally read problems in Nemeth Code to identify specific symbols which may require attention.
- Use word problems for which the student writes the appropriate number sentence.
- When grading arithmetic classwork or homework, give separate grades for the mathematical calculations and for the use of the Nemeth Code.
- Provide opportunities for several blind students working on the same skills to have "mathematics bowls" for motivation and practice.
- Develop a portfolio of samples of the student's work using Nemeth Code, and/or the braillewriter.
- Have the student talk through the working of problems on the abacus, or the spacing of problems on the braillewriter.
- Use game formats such as card games or board games in which the student a) draws a card from a deck, b) reads the Nemeth Code aloud, and c) works the problem on the braillewriter or the abacus. The student can earn points for correct reading of Nemeth Code, and for the correct use of the calculation tools being evaluated.

Difficulty in mathematics may stem from seemingly unrelated learning problems, including reading skills, language and communication skills (receptive as well as expressive), and attention problems. These difficulties may also create mathematics anxiety which, in turn, can impede learning. If a student is not progressing at a suitable rate, it would be wise to assess these areas. This may be accomplished by thinking through the following questions, as they pertain to a particular student: Does the student...

- analyze patterns?
- recognize part-whole relationships?
- identify relevant information; ignore irrelevant information?
- understand mathematics-related vocabulary?
- need additional time to process information before responding?
- understand verbal directions?
- read problems independently?
- confuse the meaning of the written word?
- understand the relationship between words, graphs or line drawings, and objects?