Assessing for dyscalculia: tips and advice
Checklists are simple and quick to administer and are often the first option to take when trying to identify dyscalculia. However, they can be very subjective and will only ever give an indication of whether the learner is at risk of dyscalculia.
There are many checklists for dyscalculia that can either be purchased or accessed free online including:
The British Dyslexia Association Checklist for Dyscalculia
Ann Arbor Publishers Dyscalculia Checklist
More Trouble with Maths (2012) by Steve Chinn includes a 31-point checklist
A next step after completing a checklist is to administer a dyscalculia screener. There are a number of options to choose from.
This test is free and easy to carry out. It can be downloaded from their website along with test instructions. Children identify which of two numbers or symbols are larger in a series of worksheets. They answer as many questions as they can in two minutes.
This screening tool has been developed by Dynamo Maths, a company that offers online intervention activities for learners with dyscalculia and maths difficulties. It’s a simple online test that identifies specific areas of difficulty. It takes between 20 and 40 minutes to complete.
This screener identifies dyscalculic tendencies in children aged between 6–14 years and provides a report which recommends intervention strategies for support. An accompanying book, Dyscalculia Guidance, is available that details games and activities for such intervention. The test takes around 30 minutes and can be used for individuals or as a whole-class screener. It aims to help practitioners distinguish between those individuals who have poor maths attainment and those whose difficulties are associated with dyscalculia. It assesses the learner’s sense of number through evaluating their ability to understand number size and how well they perform simple calculations.
Cost of screener: £6.25
Cost of guidance book: £72.50
Observation and error analysis
This informal method of assessment can give insight into the misconceptions a learner has, their cognitive processing and the strategies they use. The idea here is to sit with the learner while they complete a range of questions and ask them to verbalise their thinking while they attempt to work through it.
Try not to correct them if they make a mistake, but ask them to explain their thinking and reasoning behind an answer. Observation and error analysis can give you a good idea whether their difficulties stem from gaps in knowledge and common misconceptions, or are due to dyscalculia.
There are a couple of books that can be very helpful in building a more detailed profile of a learner’s difficulties with maths.
Dyscalculia Assessment by Jane Emerson and Patricia Babtie (ISBN: 9781408193716)
The book is written with step-by-step instructions and photocopiable assessment sheets to help you formulate individual intervention programmes. It contains guidance on how to conduct the assessments, including suggested scripts, teaching tips and strategies, as well as instructions on interpretation of the results and a range of motivating games and activities.
More Trouble with Maths by Steve Chinn (ISBN-10: 0415670136)
This is a practical, easy-to-use book which covers assessment of a wide range of factors. Steve Chinn draws on his extensive experience and expertise to show how to consider all the factors relating to mathematical learning difficulties, including:
- Explaining how these factors can be investigated
- Exploring their impact on learning
- Discussing and providing a range of tests ranging from prerequisite skills, such as working memory, to a critique of normative tests for mathematics knowledge and skills
Full diagnostic assessment
A full diagnostic assessment for dyscalculia can be carried out by a specialist assessor or an educational psychologist.
A range of standardised tests help find out whether the underlying difficulty is dyscalculia or a different cause, such as poor-working memory. You can test to assess verbal and visual IQ, working memory, and processing speed. These quantitative assessments need to be interpreted alongside more qualitative assessments to gain a complete picture of the learner’s profile.
Note for parents: we always recommend that if you are concerned your child may have a specific learning difficulty, speak to your child’s teacher for advice and guidance.