Supporting Dyscalculia with Early Numeracy Instruction

February 21, 2024

In 2023, at least seven states mandated dyscalculia screenings, due to the emerging data on the pandemic’s impact on math. While many can no longer cling to the age-old, “we’re just not math people” retort; but need to shift to a core curriculum and choose an intervention solution that adheres to numeracy indicators.

With this new legislation, many are hearing of dyscalculia for the first time, despite an estimated 5 to 10 percent of people having dyscalculia ( and at least 10% of students showing persistent struggles with mathematics (NIH). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) describes dyscalculia as:

A learning disability affecting the acquisition of numerical-arithmetical skills. Affected people show persistent deficits in number processing, which are associated with aberrant brain activation and structure.

Identifying students at risk for dyscalculia and intervening early is crucial. These common trends can be observed in students early on:

  • Challenge recognizing numbers
  • Delay in learning to count, addition, and subtraction
  • Misestimation of the concept of time and how long a task takes
  • Struggle with visual-spatial ideas such as patterns and graphs
  • Continue to need visual aids to help count (fingers, counters)
  • Distraction while counting (ChildMind)

These struggles can look different with dyscalculia, depending on the age of the student. Additionally, students may experience a high feeling of frustration, significant levels of anxiety, and better performance in other subjects. 

It’s important to be reactive to the diagnosis. The earlier it’s identified, the better and the quicker you can assist students in learning how to process numbers. The good news is screeners, like the Classworks Universal Screener, can often catch the concern early. 

Early Numeracy Indicators

Research indicates that screeners for K-2nd grade students are effective for indicating when further Dyscalculia testing is appropriate when they include: 

  • Mathematical processing 
  • Number sense 
  • Operations and algebraic thinking tasks

The Classworks Universal Screener is based on that research and measures student performance with key domains that are indicative of mathematical performance:

  • Number Recognition
  • Systematic Counting
  • Awareness of the Relationship Between Number and Quantity
  • Quantity Discrimination
  • Understanding of Different Representations of Number
  • Estimation
  • Simple Arithmetic Competence
  • Awareness of Number Patterns

Each of these strands has been identified as early predictors for further screening for learning disabilities, specifically dyscalculia. When working with students who are showing signs of a learning disability, encourages the use of screeners that are not timed or paper tests but online and student-paced. It is also recommended to have students complete with a pencil and paper to work through the problems. These three suggestions are seamless to implement with the screener. An added benefit of the Classworks Universal Screener is that it limits the number of tests for students to take and easily identifies the students needing additional testing.

You can see student results by running the Mathematics Universal Screener Student Summary Report which shows if a student (K-2) has been identified with a Dyscalculia Indicator and Early Numeracy Indicators.

Early Numeracy Instruction

Use evidence-based Early Numeracy Instruction to best support your identified students to explicitly address the areas of concern readily identified in dyscalculia. For example, Classworks includes  instructional units that address: 

  • Systematic and Skip Counting
  • Number Awareness: Recognition
  • Number Awareness: Representations
  • Number Awareness: Place Value
  • Quantity Discrimination
  • Calculations with Whole Numbers
  • Fractions and Currency

Use these instructional units in the classroom in multiple ways, such as small groups and 1:1. 

Try this: Create focus groups on each assessed early numeracy indicator. Classworks includes a Dynamic Grouping Feature that suggests groups based on math performance. Utilize this feature to see which students are working on the same readiness level. Then, assign the preset Early Numeracy assignments that correspond to the students’ identified needs. We suggest working with these groups of students in stations and during intervention times three times a week. 

In addition to working in groups, students need to have individualized opportunities to strengthen their numeracy skills. In Classworks, students’ individualized learning paths are automatically adapted by their assessment results. Any early numeracy skills identified in their assessments as At Risk will turn on the corresponding skills in the student’s learning path. 

Whether used independently or in small groups, Classworks instructional units follow the best practices suggested by mastery, step-by-step examples, repetition, and unlimited time. 

  • Mastery is easy to obtain with Classworks because units are assigned based on their readiness level, providing students with the right for their instruction. It also gives students and teachers transparency in their unit scores, whether that is Custom Instruction or Individualized Learning Paths. We recommend an 80% unit score before a student moves ahead.
  • Step-by-step examples on how to solve problems are a key component of Mini-lessons, which are included in the Early Numeracy Units and Individualized Learning Paths. Students receive direct instruction on a skill, with an opportunity to practice before moving on to any graded content. 
  • Repetition of applying the strategies just learned for practice and reaching mastery is easily accomplished with scaffolded activities. Instructional units offer students a variety of ways to apply what they have learned in the Mini-lessons by playing games and activities that increase in complexity, challenging the students as they go along. 
  • Unlimited time eases the pressure of processing quickly. Students can work at their own pace, encouraged to take notes and work out math problems while they’re working to follow the step-by-step examples learned earlier. Teachers can monitor students' time on task on any part of the program to reinforce this best practice. 

Instruction that Makes an Impact 

The best way to see if intensive intervention is impacting students is with weekly formal Progress Monitoring. Choose a valid and reliable Progress Monitoring program from the National Center On Intensive Intervention (NCII) Tools Chart.  

Use a Global Indicators Progress Monitoring Tool, like Classworks, to assign skill-based weekly probes based on the biggest numeracy domain deficit identified by their screener assessment. Classworks will automatically assign the correct Progress Monitoring level based on the student’s screener results, making it easy for teachers! 

We feel confident that this is a great way to keep their instructional content relevant to specific needs, while also lessening the typical high-level anxiety, frustration, and low self-esteem with dyscalculia (Child Mind).

Using Classworks for Dyscalculia 

Districts across the nation use Classworks assessments to determine the need for dyscalculia evaluation and support. Chat with us on the bottom right of your screen to get the conversation started.

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