Maria is twelve years old and in the 7th grade. She was an exemplary student throughout elementary school. A review of Maria’s records indicate that she received grades of "B" or higher in all of her classes from first through fourth grade. Results of local and statewide standardized tests administered in second and fourth grade indicated that she was at, or above grade level in word decoding and reading comprehension, written expression, spelling, and mathematics during these years. Maria also excelled in her art and music classes, computer keyboarding classes, and physical education during elementary school.
Although Maria experienced much in the way of academic success during the first four years of school, her grades in math provide evidence of a gradual and continual decline in performance. The math difficulties that she brings into the 7th grade began during the last grading period of fourth grade. Maria’s lack of success in mathematics during late elementary and throughout middle school stands in stark contrast to her performance in other content areas and electives (e.g., art, choral music, physical education) where she continues to excel.
Her 7th grade math teacher reports that Maria performed well for the first 6-8 weeks of school, when the required computation was relatively straight-forward. During this same time period, according to her parents, Maria was able to complete lengthy math homework assignments with little assistance and even less anxiety. However, since then, her performance has declined dramatically.
Maria’s current performance reflects a superficial understanding of many math concepts such as fractions, complex multiplication, and terms used in math (e.g., compare, change, equalize, and combine). Her problems in math became especially evident during a nine-week period when the teacher introduced algebra. They also consistently recur when Maria must solve story problems.
Maria has said, "I don’t even know where to start solving a story problem. I just sit there and read, read, read it while all of my friends read a problem one time and solve it. So I just solve the problems by doing what I think will work… and forget about problems with just letters and no numbers except for those little ones just above the letters… I don’t understand why I can’t do math, I get A’s and B’s in all of my other classes and I could do math before… I don’t worry too much about it, I guess I am just math dumb… Besides, I fit better in a different world. How many 7th graders have sold pieces of artwork and acted in summer theater like I have? I love that stuff!"
Talk to Maria about the difficulties she is having in math. Make sure to address the growing feeling that she is just "math dumb." Help Maria understand that she is not "dumb," that she has a lot of strengths, and that everyone can work together to help her succeed in math. Develop a management plan with a balance of accommodations and interventions, as well as an integration of Maria’s strengths and affinities.