MeTRC Research Underscores Need for Accessible Math
Steve Noble, Accessibility Research Consultant (Guest Author)
This week I'm in San Antonio, at the Learning Disability Association of America's 50th Annual International Conference. On Thursday, I'll be presenting a session entitled Implementing an Accessible Digital Math Curriculum in the Classroom. In this session, I will discussing some of the research findings of the recently concluded University of Kentucky Curriculum Conversion and Implementation research strand, which was conducted under the auspices of the national Mathematics eText Research Center (MeTRC).
This was a multiyear project to examine the feasibility of implementing a digital math curriculum using MathML for middle school students with learning disabilities who had reading accommodations specified in their Individualized Education Program (IEP). An initial full year pilot was conducted with seventeen students in both resource room and collaborative setting, and followed by another full year case study with six students in a single resource room. Although the relatively small sample of students may limit the significance of the findings, this study nonetheless provides important research findings which underscore the need for accessible math in the classroom.
One relevant finding of this research is a confirmation that students with learning disabilities have a problem with reading math notation without math-enabled assistive technology. The common belief held by many educators is that students with reading disabilities only need text-to-speech (TTS) technologies for subject areas where lots of text has to be read, and the only time TTS might be used in the math classroom is for reading word problems. However, our study found that students who have reading disabilities have two to three times as much difficulty reading math symbols and notation than they do reading plain text. This finding helps to support the conclusion that many students may need accessible content in the math classroom even more than they do for subjects like English and social studies.
Our study findings also suggest that students with learning disabilities who used accessible math with their assistive technology had better learning outcomes than students who used standard print materials with human provided read-aloud accommodations. During the case study period, the students who used accessible math materials outpaced similar students who used standard print materials by twice as much. Since this was a case study without formal controls and a small sample, the results have limitations. Nonetheless, this finding lends support to similar past research which has suggested positive student learning outcomes when accessible math is provided.
If you are interested in reading more details about this study, you may want to look over the presentation we gave last month at ATIA, Accessible Digital Math Curriculum = Reading Words + Symbols. Our research team has also written an extensive article on our findings, which should be published later this spring.
After reading about these results, many of you will be energized about getting accessible math into your schools. In that case, please be sure to look over the resource page, "What can you do to help promote math accessibility?" You'll find a number of suggestions to get you and your school on the road to accessible math.
Steve Noble is a research consultant with a core focus in mathematics accessibility and assistive technology, and served as a researcher for the University of Kentucky's MeTRC research project. Currently he continues to serve on grant-funded research projects with both Bridge Multimedia and ETS, and previously served as Director of Accessibility Policy for Design Science.