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Math & Dyscalculia

The following are past questions and answers from Matt Cohen on this topic.

How can I help my adult daughter get an accommodation or exemption on her math requirements so she can and become a teacher?

My 23-year-old daughter has a well-documented, severe, and longstanding math disability. She has been told that to earn a degree in early childhood special education and to teach with a certificate in New Jersey she must pass two semesters of college-level algebra.

She is in the process of failing remedial algebra again. Can you suggest any agency or way to try to get an accommodation so that she can graduate college, take the Praxis (required exam for teachers), and teach? She has very strong verbal skills and is capable of all of the academic and practical work required for early childhood education.

It has been my experience that even typically developing preschoolers do not have to learn to do quadratic equations. I am not sure why the teacher must demonstrate that competency to teach preschool math. We appreciate any suggestions you can offer. Thank you.

Dear Jane:

I suggest that you contact the state agency responsible for teacher certification. They should have a procedure for granting waivers or accommodations for various requirements for certification. They may feel that these courses are fundamental to the preparation for the job, but as you point out, this seems questionable.

They should also have an appeal procedure to address what to do if they refuse to make an exception. In order to assure that you follow the right procedure, you and your daughter should consult with a knowdledgeable ADA/disability rights lawyer in your area for advice. You may get information on possible lawyers from COPAA, from the American Bar Association's Disability Lawyer Search engine, or by contacting the New Jersey Protection and Advocacy agency to get the New Jersey agency.

You may need expert support to make the point that the math skills being tested are not fundamental to the job for which the license is being sought. You may also be able to identify and propose other ways for satisfying the math requirement.

Can the school force an LD student to take a specific class as an elective?

Our 15-year-old son, diagnosed with Dyscalculia and Dyslexia is being forced to take a second math course in high school as an elective because he scored at Academic Warning in math on state assessments. In so doing, he will lose one of his two electives and have to choose between Band and Study Skills. Losing electives is detrimental to his success in the school setting, in our opinion. What are his rights and how do we advocate on his behalf in this situation.

We would like for this course to be his math elective instead of free choice elective if it is so important for him to pass the state assessments. Surely we aren't the only parents in this situation.


Dear Cathy,

I am unable to determine from your question enough information to fully answer it. However, if your son has been identified with a learning disability in math, it may be appropriate for the IEP team to revisit his math services and develop a more appropriate and effective math program, rather than have him take two periods of math.

While the rules in relation to state tests vary from state to state, the IEP team generally has some authority to provide for individual accommodations and/or deviations from normal requirements to address a child's needs and the schedule and test accommodations that are necessary as a result of their disability.

As to the issue of a math class vs. electives, the IDEA/special education law does not address a specific entitlement to electives. However, Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. One might argue that it is discrimination based on his disability to prevent him from participating in normal electives due to his math problems, particularly if there was a problem with the adequacy of the math instruction.