Tests for Dyscalculia

Allaa Gawish

What tests are available to screen for dyscalculia and what classroom support helps?

What is dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a condition where someone has difficulty learning or understanding numbers. This can affect children's ability to read and write math problems, count change, and add and subtract. This brain-related condition affects about 1 in 20 children worldwide and can have significant implications in school. The symptoms usually start around age 3 and continue throughout childhood. There is no cure for dyscalculia, but there is practical support available.

This condition can often be misdiagnosed as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). If left untreated, dyscalculia can cause severe academic difficulties later in life. A child's academic achievement is a major source of worry for both parents and teachers. Concerns about the child's academic performance are frequently prevalent.

Around the world, many students struggle with a broad spectrum of learning disabilities and over the last few years, we have learned a lot more about these conditions. A learning disability is a neurological disorder or learning impairment that affects a child's brain capacity to send, receive, and process information.

The general daily skills that a child learns might be impacted. If you have been through our other articles you will be aware of some of the different types of learning disabilities. A child may experience multiple learning disabilities at once which include:

  1. Dyslexia: The child's ability to process information visually and auditory is impaired by this learning disability. This causes problems with speech, writing, and reading.
  2. ADHD: which include issues with focus, concentration, behaviour management, and being easily distracted.
  3.  Dysgraphia: issues with fine motor control that limit the child's writing skills.
  4.  Dyspraxia: It is a condition that has an impact on the child's ability to move and coordinate. Poor hand-eye coordination, poor fine-motor abilities, and poor body balance are all impacted.
  5. Dyscalculia: is a mathematical concept-related learning impairment. This is the kind of learning disability that will be covered in the articles.

Despite not being a familiar name, dyscalculia is one of the most common learning disabilities you can expect to encounter in primary school. Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability that affects a student's understanding of numbers. This inevitably makes mathematics more difficult to grasp. It can occur at various ages and with varying abilities.

In other words, dyscalculia is a condition that makes math skills difficult to grasp. It is not as well known among the general public as dyslexia. At the same time, experts believe that it affects many children as dyslexia. Dyscalculia affects 5-10% of the population.

It is a myth that girls are more affected than boys. However, there is no conclusive evidence indicating which gender is more affected by dyscalculia.

This is primarily a simple definition for dyscalculia and there are many other aspects to consider. Let us now continue to the second section, which will investigate the math difficulties that children with dyscalculia face.

Components of Learning Mathematics

Before we discuss the difficulties the child with dyscalculia face, let's explore the components that are needed to teach mathematics. Understanding of mathematical concepts is not just about 'being good at numbers', the learning process is a lot more complex:

  1. Language Component: Language is frequently used as a major component in the development of skills. It is also necessary in math to introduce terms using language. A child can grow and construct ideas and concepts to understand mathematical information through language. Learning math begins with the use of tangible objects. Language in math aids with the transition from using physical objects to employing symbolic math abilities that the child requires in order to focus on numeracy skills. Language is an important tool for teaching math concepts to students.
  2. Conceptual Component: It is referred to as comprehending the meaning of the concepts in depth to enhance math literacy rather than teaching steps to obtain the solution. The concept of conceptual learning is based on the process of teaching why rather than the process of teaching how. It usually begins in early life by employing effective and diverse techniques and tools to teach the child the key concept. It enables the child to apply what he or she has learned in a new setting. This component is essential not just for math but also for life and academic abilities.
  3. Procedural Component: This component includes process knowledge as well as the capacity to teach a child how and when to employ procedures and skills. It is critical because a lack of understanding of procedures will result in incorrect answers. It demands strong attention and memory abilities. As a result, when the child understands the procedures, it is easier for the child to change and adapt the methods.


Components of learning mathematics
Components of learning mathematics

What sort of math problems can children have with dyscalculia?

As previously stated, dyscalculia primarily affects the child's mathematical abilities. Let us go over some of the math difficulties that a child with dyscalculia will face.

  • Children with dyscalculia typically struggle with basic mathematical skills. Even if this skill is simple and appears to be "a piece of cake." A child with dyscalculia, for example, may struggle to solve math problems such as addition, subtraction, multiplying, and dividing.
  • Furthermore, children may struggle to tell time and use an analogue or digital watch.
  • Having difficulties understanding money concepts and calculating money
  • Having difficulty dealing with and comprehending the logical steps required to solve a math problem. For example, if the math problem requires many steps of thinking and solving, the child will find it difficult to work on it.
  • Having difficulty relating numbers to quantities, such as number 4 to 4 people.
  • Having difficulty comparing amounts together, such as determining whether two numbers are greater or smaller. Furthermore, having difficulty using the signs greater, less than, and equal.
  • Having trouble counting backwards and forwards.
  • Difficulty with direction and sorting direction out, from left to right or right to left. 
  • Patterns and order numbers are difficult. For example, what happens if the patterns are: square, triangle, square...? A child with dyscalculia may struggle to follow the pattern.
  • They have trouble counting with their fingers.
  • Having difficulty understanding concepts such as place value.
  • Problems understanding and interpreting graphs and charts.
  • While counting, the child could get off track.

Impact of dyscalculia on Maths Progress

As with any learning disability, the impacts are often individual to the child. The following list might help us throw some light on this complex issue.

  • Children might struggle with, feel negative about, and avoid any tasks that require judging distance, directions, depth, or quantities.
  • During math sessions or any activity that requires mathematical skills, the child might be demotivated.
  • Children might be be unable to focus on mental activities for a long period of time.
  • A child might struggle with any daily activities that require math skills. Going to the supermarket, for example, and using and changing money
  • A child might be unable to deal with distances, speeds, amounts, or recall numbers.
  • It can lead to low self-esteem because the child may believe that he or she is unable to cope in math sessions when compared to his or her peers.

How can dyscalculia impact on academic learning?

Dycalculia, as previously indicated, impairs a child's ability to perform mathematical tasks. However, like with any other difficulty, it will impact not only math skills but also other academic and life skills.

Some of these difficulties will include:

  • Children with dyscalculia sometimes struggle to remember symbols. This will make it tough to understand and remember symbols. For example, when signals or signs come on the streets, they struggle to remember them.
  • It may be tough for them to join in games with their classmates. They may have difficulty playing chess, checkers, or card games.
  • They will never receive the needed sum. For example, if you asked the child to find his friends on the same table, he may miscount his peers or the number of pencils.
  • A dyscalculia child will likely avoid paying in a shop because they are struggling with the concept of money.
  • A child with dyscalculia is frequently late and does not complete tasks on time. The child struggles with the idea of time and has difficulties reading the clock.
  • They will be unable to comprehend the score. For example, if they are watching a football match, they will not know which team won.
  • The child is easily lost. Because the child has difficulty following directions, the child with dyscalculia may ask his or her teacher how to get to the library more than time.
  • They may be unable or afraid of crossing the street. Because the child cannot determine or guess the distance and speed.

Using concrete materials for basic maths functions
Using concrete materials for basic maths functions

What tests are available to screen for dyscalculia?

There are various different tests that educational psychologists utilise to define the nature of a learning disability. The following list outlines some of the standard tests available to learning specialists to screen for dyslexia.

1. Testing Computation Skills

This test evaluates the child's ability to perform math operations in an efficient and accurate manner.

It is vital because computation abilities allow the child to make right calculations. As a result, it should be evaluated to determine the child's proficiency in this skill.

 Tests for computation skills: Woodcock-Johnson IV (WJ IV), Wechsler Individual Achievement Test IV (WIAT-III) Numerical Operations, Mathematical Fluency and Calculations Tests (MFaCTs), Comprehensive Mathematical Abilities Test (CMAT)

In this form of examination, the youngster is given a variety of fundamental math questions to work on with a pencil and paper. The math tasks are assigned based on the child's age and grade level.

There is no time limit or duration specified for the child. If the child has a low score, the assessor reviews the types of faults that child has made. To be able to identify the topics with which the child is struggling.

In rare circumstances, the child may successfully solve two addition problems but incorrectly solve the third. It could imply that the child understands the concepts but has another issue, such as attention issues.

2. Testing Math Fluency

This assesses the child's ability to catch up with math knowledge quickly and accurately. For instance, 4+4 Equals 8. How long does it take the child to respond to this fact?

It is crucial because the faster and more accurately a child can recognize math facts, the less time he or she will need to spend learning new abilities and ideas. For example, if the child learns the bonds of ten, it will be much easier for them to answer addition problems rather than counting on their fingers. It will also assist the child to stay on track and avoid getting lost.

This evaluation is based on how quickly the child can solve math facts. As a result, the child must pay close attention. A low score may indicate one of two issues: math difficulty or attention problems.

Tests for Math Fluency: WJ IV Math Fluency subtest, WIAT-III Math Fluency subtest, MFaCTs Fluency Test

During the assessment, participants must finish as many problems as they can in a given period of time. The amount and length are determined by the age of the child. However, it is most likely between three and five minutes.

3. Testing Mental Computation: 

This evaluation assesses the child's ability to solve math problems mentally.

It is critical because the child must retain and apply the math concepts that have been taught in order to solve math problems and calculations.

A low score may indicate that a child has not yet grasped basic math skills. It can also relate to a problem with working memory or anxiety.

Tests for Mental Computation: Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-V) Arithmetic subtest, Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT), Test of Mental Computation

There are two methods for conducting this evaluation: visually on a computer or orally. In the oral version, the child must first listen to a range of arithmetic operations before providing their solutions. for instance, multiplying 3 plus 4 by 2. The numbers are displayed on the screen in the visual version as flash cards. So, the order is 3, 4, 2, and then 3.

4. Testing Quantitative Reasoning: 

The child's capacity for problem-solving is evaluated by this test.

In order to solve word problems, the child must apply reasoning abilities.

The child must be able to comprehend mathematical concepts in order to do that. If the child's low score indicates that he or she has difficulty grasping language and math concepts,

Tests for Quantitative Reasoning: WIAT-III Math Problem Solving subtest, WJ IV Applied Problems, CMAT Problem Solving

Both verbal and visual methods of testing are used. The child receives a series of math tasks verbally or visually from the assessor. The child can perform calculations with the use of a pencil and paper.

Using physical resources to support dyscalculia
Using physical resources to support dyscalculia

Ways to Support a Child with Dyscalculia 

In some of the other articles we have written, we explore how the concrete-pictorial-abstract idea enables children to grasp new mathematical concepts. There are various classroom tools including numicon and our own learning block that provides children with a physical experience of number. School staff have been using concrete materials for decades and key stage two maths affords us with plenty of opportunities for using manipulatives. Most classes in school will have drawers full of various operators that can be used for making number work more visual. The following list provides us with some ideas about how to support primary - elementary school children.

  • Recap directions, justifications, and expectations at the start of each class.
  • Instruct the child to use "self-talk" in everyday situations. For instance, talking to oneself while doing arithmetic problems, while crossing the street, etc.
  • Give the child additional paper so they can do drawings and problem-solving
  • Line paper is used to assist the children manage their work.
  • Give the pupils a list of the mathematical formulas that are taught and must be applied.
  • To introduce new concepts, use manipulatives like coins, puzzles, and blocks.
  • To help students connect with arithmetic concepts, use role-playing and real-world scenarios.
  • Give straightforward instructions that are broken down into small parts.
  • Regularly check to see if the child comprehends the work. Request that the child repeat the directions and to provide their own unique summary of the idea.
  • Break down and divide the knowledge required to solve the arithmetic problems into steps using graphic organisers or mind maps.
  • Getting the child's attention by explaining the significance offers the child a purpose to learn something.
  • Separate worksheets should be created for word problems and number problems.
  • Adjust the font and size of the paper.
  • Teach your child to highlight and circle important words.
  • Give the child some additional time.
  • Allow students to use a calculator if it is not attempted to assess computation skills.
  • Give the child a rubric to help him or her understand the success criteria for the task.