If you are a Math Teacher in the state of Georgia, chances are, you fall into one of the following categories: (1) Your district (or charter school) strictly adheres to the state’s pacing guide; or, (2) Your district (or charter school) gives you the flexibility to choose how you introduce and teach the Georgia Standards of Excellence for Math. If you are counted in the first group, I need to share something with you: The state’s Math pacing guide is ableist.
What is ableism and what does it have to do with Math?
Ableism is prejudice or discrimination against people with disabilities. Ableism can take the form of institutionalized discrimination, e.g., what we do (or do not do) in our classrooms and how we serve (or fail to serve) our students with disabilities. In this case, how we teach in our Math classrooms.
Georgia’s pacing guide dictates the amount of time Math Teachers spend teaching each unit. The first 4-5 weeks of the school year are allocated to Number System Fluency. My students and I spent twice the amount of allocated time on that unit, due to both skills gaps and their Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in Math. Midway through the semester, I accepted that we would lag behind the other classes.
Ultimately, my students dictate what they need. It is my job to make sure they get it, even if it takes several extra weeks and I panic about whether I am actually serving them well. Consequently, we also ended the first semester an entire unit behind the other classes. Again, if they do not have the requisite skills for the next unit, I cannot bulldoze my way through the standards simply for the sake of meeting a deadline that ignores students’ needs. It is unfair to students. More importantly, it does not adhere to the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) promised under IDEA. Rushing through content is not least restrictive, for any child.
The expectation that students with Math-related disabilities (Dyscalculia) will ‘get’ the content at the same time as non-disabled students is, in and of itself, ableist. Our state’s standards focus on teaching algorithms; my students require visual representations, lots of repetition and ample opportunities for practice, as do many people with Dyscalculia. Guess which mathematical concept is the most difficult for people with Dyscalculia: NUMERACY. How crudely ironic that the Math topic which causes the most challenges is the same topic we teach first and a prerequisite for the remaining topics throughout the year? If, after 4-5 weeks of struggling through Numeracy, the kids still do not ‘get it’, chances are they will not ‘get’ much else out of the Math curriculum.
Our state education officials need to recognize both the existence and presence of Dyscalculia in our students. We need to begin meaningful conversations about the shifts necessary to effectively teach Math to all of Georgia’s students. It is time for us to pushback.
If you are a Georgia Math Teacher, please share how you creatively circumvent the pacing guide, especially when you recognize that your students (all of them) struggle with Number Fluency. I would be especially interested in hearing from General Education Teachers who CoTeach: How are you serving your students with Math Disabilities?